Terms Aggregation

A multi-bucket value source based aggregation where buckets are dynamically built - one per unique value.

Example:

{
    "aggs" : {
        "genders" : {
            "terms" : { "field" : "gender" }
        }
    }
}

Response:

{
    ...

    "aggregations" : {
        "genders" : {
            "buckets" : [
                {
                    "key" : "male",
                    "doc_count" : 10
                },
                {
                    "key" : "female",
                    "doc_count" : 10
                },
            ]
        }
    }
}

By default, the terms aggregation will return the buckets for the top ten terms ordered by the doc_count. One can change this default behaviour by setting the size parameter.

Size & Shard Size

The size parameter can be set to define how many term buckets should be returned out of the overall terms list. By default, the node coordinating the search process will request each shard to provide its own top size term buckets and once all shards respond, it will reduce the results to the final list that will then be returned to the client. This means that if the number of unique terms is greater than size, the returned list is slightly off and not accurate (it could be that the term counts are slightly off and it could even be that a term that should have been in the top size buckets was not returned). If set to 0, the size will be set to Integer.MAX_VALUE.

The higher the requested size is, the more accurate the results will be, but also, the more expensive it will be to compute the final results (both due to bigger priority queues that are managed on a shard level and due to bigger data transfers between the nodes and the client).

The shard_size parameter can be used to minimize the extra work that comes with bigger requested size. When defined, it will determine how many terms the coordinating node will request from each shard. Once all the shards responded, the coordinating node will then reduce them to a final result which will be based on the size parameter - this way, one can increase the accuracy of the returned terms and avoid the overhead of streaming a big list of buckets back to the client. If set to 0, the shard_size will be set to Integer.MAX_VALUE.

shard_size cannot be smaller than size (as it doesn’t make much sense). When it is, elasticsearch will override it and reset it to be equal to size.

[1.1.0] Added in 1.1.0. It is possible to not limit the number of terms that are returned by setting size to 0. Don’t use this on high-cardinality fields as this will kill both your CPU since terms need to be return sorted, and your network.

Order

The order of the buckets can be customized by setting the order parameter. By default, the buckets are ordered by their doc_count descending. It is also possible to change this behaviour as follows:

Ordering the buckets by their doc_count in an ascending manner:

{
    "aggs" : {
        "genders" : {
            "terms" : {
                "field" : "gender",
                "order" : { "_count" : "asc" }
            }
        }
    }
}

Ordering the buckets alphabetically by their terms in an ascending manner:

{
    "aggs" : {
        "genders" : {
            "terms" : {
                "field" : "gender",
                "order" : { "_term" : "asc" }
            }
        }
    }
}

Ordering the buckets by single value metrics sub-aggregation (identified by the aggregation name):

{
    "aggs" : {
        "genders" : {
            "terms" : {
                "field" : "gender",
                "order" : { "avg_height" : "desc" }
            },
            "aggs" : {
                "avg_height" : { "avg" : { "field" : "height" } }
            }
        }
    }
}

Ordering the buckets by multi value metrics sub-aggregation (identified by the aggregation name):

{
    "aggs" : {
        "genders" : {
            "terms" : {
                "field" : "gender",
                "order" : { "height_stats.avg" : "desc" }
            },
            "aggs" : {
                "height_stats" : { "stats" : { "field" : "height" } }
            }
        }
    }
}

It is also possible to order the buckets based on a "deeper" aggregation in the hierarchy. This is supported as long as the aggregations path are of a single-bucket type, where the last aggregation in the path may either be a single-bucket one or a metrics one. If it’s a single-bucket type, the order will be defined by the number of docs in the bucket (i.e. doc_count), in case it’s a metrics one, the same rules as above apply (where the path must indicate the metric name to sort by in case of a multi-value metrics aggregation, and in case of a single-value metrics aggregation the sort will be applied on that value).

The path must be defined in the following form:

AGG_SEPARATOR       :=  '>'
METRIC_SEPARATOR    :=  '.'
AGG_NAME            :=  <the name of the aggregation>
METRIC              :=  <the name of the metric (in case of multi-value metrics aggregation)>
PATH                :=  <AGG_NAME>[<AGG_SEPARATOR><AGG_NAME>]*[<METRIC_SEPARATOR><METRIC>]
{
    "aggs" : {
        "countries" : {
            "terms" : {
                "field" : "address.country",
                "order" : { "females>height_stats.avg" : "desc" }
            },
            "aggs" : {
                "females" : {
                    "filter" : { "term" : { "gender" : { "female" }}},
                    "aggs" : {
                        "height_stats" : { "stats" : { "field" : "height" }}
                    }
                }
            }
        }
    }
}

The above will sort the countries buckets based on the average height among the female population.

Minimum document count

It is possible to only return terms that match more than a configured number of hits using the min_doc_count option:

{
    "aggs" : {
        "tags" : {
            "terms" : {
                "field" : "tag",
                "min_doc_count": 10
            }
        }
    }
}

The above aggregation would only return tags which have been found in 10 hits or more. Default value is 1.

Terms are collected and ordered on a shard level and merged with the terms collected from other shards in a second step. However, the shard does not have the information about the global document count available. The decision if a term is added to a candidate list depends only on the order computed on the shard using local shard frequencies. The min_doc_count criterion is only applied after merging local terms statistics of all shards. In a way the decision to add the term as a candidate is made without being very certain about if the term will actually reach the required min_doc_count. This might cause many (globally) high frequent terms to be missing in the final result if low frequent terms populated the candidate lists. To avoid this, the shard_size parameter can be increased to allow more candidate terms on the shards. However, this increases memory consumption and network traffic.

[1.2.0] Added in 1.2.0. shard_min_doc_count parameter

The parameter shard_min_doc_count regulates the certainty a shard has if the term should actually be added to the candidate list or not with respect to the min_doc_count. Terms will only be considered if their local shard frequency within the set is higher than the shard_min_doc_count. If your dictionary contains many low frequent terms and you are not interested in those (for example misspellings), then you can set the shard_min_doc_count parameter to filter out candidate terms on a shard level that will with a reasonable certainty not reach the required min_doc_count even after merging the local counts. shard_min_doc_count is set to 0 per default and has no effect unless you explicitly set it.

Setting min_doc_count=0 will also return buckets for terms that didn’t match any hit. However, some of the returned terms which have a document count of zero might only belong to deleted documents, so there is no warranty that a match_all query would find a positive document count for those terms.

When NOT sorting on doc_count descending, high values of min_doc_count may return a number of buckets which is less than size because not enough data was gathered from the shards. Missing buckets can be back by increasing shard_size. Setting shard_min_doc_count too high will cause terms to be filtered out on a shard level. This value should be set much lower than min_doc_count/#shards.

Script

Generating the terms using a script:

{
    "aggs" : {
        "genders" : {
            "terms" : {
                "script" : "doc['gender'].value"
            }
        }
    }
}

Value Script

{
    "aggs" : {
        "genders" : {
            "terms" : {
                "field" : "gender",
                "script" : "'Gender: ' +_value"
            }
        }
    }
}

Filtering Values

It is possible to filter the values for which buckets will be created. This can be done using the include and exclude parameters which are based on regular expressions.

{
    "aggs" : {
        "tags" : {
            "terms" : {
                "field" : "tags",
                "include" : ".*sport.*",
                "exclude" : "water_.*"
            }
        }
    }
}

In the above example, buckets will be created for all the tags that has the word sport in them, except those starting with water_ (so the tag water_sports will no be aggregated). The include regular expression will determine what values are "allowed" to be aggregated, while the exclude determines the values that should not be aggregated. When both are defined, the exclude has precedence, meaning, the include is evaluated first and only then the exclude.

The regular expression are based on the Java™ Pattern, and as such, they it is also possible to pass in flags that will determine how the compiled regular expression will work:

{
    "aggs" : {
        "tags" : {
             "terms" : {
                 "field" : "tags",
                 "include" : {
                     "pattern" : ".*sport.*",
                     "flags" : "CANON_EQ|CASE_INSENSITIVE" 
                 },
                 "exclude" : {
                     "pattern" : "water_.*",
                     "flags" : "CANON_EQ|CASE_INSENSITIVE"
                 }
             }
         }
    }
}

the flags are concatenated using the | character as a separator

The possible flags that can be used are: CANON_EQ, CASE_INSENSITIVE, COMMENTS, DOTALL, LITERAL, MULTILINE, UNICODE_CASE, UNICODE_CHARACTER_CLASS and UNIX_LINES

Collect mode

[1.3.0] Added in 1.3.0. Deferring calculation of child aggregations

For fields with many unique terms and a small number of required results it can be more efficient to delay the calculation of child aggregations until the top parent-level aggs have been pruned. Ordinarily, all branches of the aggregation tree are expanded in one depth-first pass and only then any pruning occurs. In some rare scenarios this can be very wasteful and can hit memory constraints. An example problem scenario is querying a movie database for the 10 most popular actors and their 5 most common co-stars:

{
    "aggs" : {
        "actors" : {
             "terms" : {
                 "field" : "actors",
                 "size" : 10
             },
            "aggs" : {
                "costars" : {
                     "terms" : {
                         "field" : "actors",
                         "size" : 5
                     }
                 }
            }
         }
    }
}

Even though the number of movies may be comparatively small and we want only 50 result buckets there is a combinatorial explosion of buckets during calculation - a single movie will produce n² buckets where n is the number of actors. The sane option would be to first determine the 10 most popular actors and only then examine the top co-stars for these 10 actors. This alternative strategy is what we call the breadth_first collection mode as opposed to the default depth_first mode:

{
    "aggs" : {
        "actors" : {
             "terms" : {
                 "field" : "actors",
                 "size" : 10,
                 "collect_mode" : "breadth_first"
             },
            "aggs" : {
                "costars" : {
                     "terms" : {
                         "field" : "actors",
                         "size" : 5
                     }
                 }
            }
         }
    }
}

When using breadth_first mode the set of documents that fall into the uppermost buckets are cached for subsequent replay so there is a memory overhead in doing this which is linear with the number of matching documents. In most requests the volume of buckets generated is smaller than the number of documents that fall into them so the default depth_first collection mode is normally the best bet but occasionally the breadth_first strategy can be significantly more efficient. Currently elasticsearch will always use the depth_first collect_mode unless explicitly instructed to use breadth_first as in the above example. Note that the order parameter can still be used to refer to data from a child aggregation when using the breadth_first setting - the parent aggregation understands that this child aggregation will need to be called first before any of the other child aggregations.

It is not possible to nest aggregations such as top_hits which require access to match score information under an aggregation that uses the breadth_first collection mode. This is because this would require a RAM buffer to hold the float score value for every document and this would typically be too costly in terms of RAM.

Execution hint

[1.2.0] Added in 1.2.0. Added the global_ordinals, global_ordinals_hash and global_ordinals_low_cardinality execution modes

[1.3.0] Deprecated in 1.3.0. Removed the ordinals execution mode

There are different mechanisms by which terms aggregations can be executed:

  • by using field values directly in order to aggregate data per-bucket (map)
  • by using ordinals of the field and preemptively allocating one bucket per ordinal value (global_ordinals)
  • by using ordinals of the field and dynamically allocating one bucket per ordinal value (global_ordinals_hash)
  • by using per-segment ordinals to compute counts and remap these counts to global counts using global ordinals (global_ordinals_low_cardinality)

Elasticsearch tries to have sensible defaults so this is something that generally doesn’t need to be configured.

map should only be considered when very few documents match a query. Otherwise the ordinals-based execution modes are significantly faster. By default, map is only used when running an aggregation on scripts, since they don’t have ordinals.

global_ordinals_low_cardinality only works for leaf terms aggregations but is usually the fastest execution mode. Memory usage is linear with the number of unique values in the field, so it is only enabled by default on low-cardinality fields.

global_ordinals is the second fastest option, but the fact that it preemptively allocates buckets can be memory-intensive, especially if you have one or more sub aggregations. It is used by default on top-level terms aggregations.

global_ordinals_hash on the contrary to global_ordinals and global_ordinals_low_cardinality allocates buckets dynamically so memory usage is linear to the number of values of the documents that are part of the aggregation scope. It is used by default in inner aggregations.

{
    "aggs" : {
        "tags" : {
             "terms" : {
                 "field" : "tags",
                 "execution_hint": "map" 
             }
         }
    }
}

the possible values are map, global_ordinals, global_ordinals_hash and global_ordinals_low_cardinality

Please note that Elasticsearch will ignore this execution hint if it is not applicable and that there is no backward compatibility guarantee on these hints.