Full-Text Search for Your Application: When and Why?

There are many factors to consider when building an application. One of the most important decisions you will make is what type of search engine to use. Full-text software search engines are a great option for some applications, but they may not be the best choice for others. 

Below, we discuss the concept of full-text search and when you should use a full-text search engine like Elasticsearch.

What Is Full-Text Search, and How Does It Work?

Full-text search is a type of search that allows users to find documents based on the full text of those documents, as opposed to just their metadata. It is a potent tool for finding information and is especially well-suited for searching extensive collections of documents. Software development companies commonly use full-text searches for search engines and document management systems. 

Full-text search engines usually work by indexing the text of documents in a database and then allowing users to query that database. For small collections of documents, it is feasible for the full-text software to scan the contents of each document with each query, a method known as “serial scanning.”

However, when the number of documents to search is large or the quantity of search queries is significant, full-text searching often needs to be divided into two parts: indexing and searching. The indexing step will scan all the text in the documents and produce a list of search words – usually known as an index, but more correctly called a concordance. Then, only the index is used when performing a particular query, not the original texts.

The indexer will create an entry for each term or phrase identified in a document and, if appropriate, provide its position within the document. The stop words (such as “the” and “and”) that are both frequent and meaningless enough to be ineffective in searching are generally ignored by the indexer. Some indexers apply language-specific stemming on the terms being indexed. For example, because the words “drives,” “drove,” and “driven” all refer to the same concept, they will be recorded in the index under one word (“drive”).

Image source: Researchgate.net

While you can use full-text search to find any document, it is handy for finding text-heavy documents such as books, articles, and legal briefs.

When to Use Full-Text Search

As a top software development company that has executed numerous app development projects, we have realized that not all applications need a full-text search. However, in general, you should use a full-text search software when: 

  • You are creating an application where users need to search through an extensive database of information containing millions of records.
  • The text in the documents is unstructured (e.g., free-form text). A full-text search may not add much value if the data set is highly structured, with well-defined fields and records.
  • There is a need to support fuzzy search functionality, such as when users are allowed to make typos or misspellings in their queries. Additionally, you can use a full-text search to power autocomplete functionality, which can be very helpful for users who are unsure how to spell the word they are searching for.

How to Implement Full-Text Search

There are many full-text software solutions (open-source and proprietary) that you can use to implement full-text search in your application. A few examples include Elasticsearch, Apache Solr, and Sphinx. 

If you want to add this functionality to your application, contact Expeed today for a no-obligation consultation.