out of time

15 October 2009

Sunspot 0.10 released

Late breaking news: Sunspot 0.10 was released about a week ago. Version 0.10 has a lot of great new features, including support for geographical search using LocalSolr, keyword highlighting, and lots of new DisMax features for high-precision relevance tuning.


Much like all gems, Sunspot is no longer released on GitHub. You can install it from RubyForge or Gemcutter:

sudo gem install sunspot

If you’re using Sunspot::Rails, be sure to install the latest version, as it has some changes for compatibility with argument changes to the sunspot-solr executable.

If you’re running a Solr instance besides the one shipped with the sunspot-solr executable - including using rake sunspot:solr:start with a separate solr/ directory in Sunspot::Rails - now might be a good time to skip down to the installing LocalSolr in your Solr instance section. We’ll see you back up here when you’re done.

Geographical Search using LocalSolr

LocalSolr is an extension to Solr that provides geographical search functionality. As anyone who works on mobile or local-heavy applications can tell you, this is pretty cool. Sunspot 0.10 has support for geographical search and indexing, and the Solr instance that ships with the gem now has LocalSolr and its dependencies already installed.

To index geographical data for your model, just specify the coordinates field in the setup:

Sunspot.setup Post do
  coordinates :lat_lng

The models’ value for the coordinates should have one of the following pairs of attributes:

Once you’ve got your geographical data indexed, you can use the near method to search within a given radius:

Sunspot.search(Post) do
  near [40, -70], 5

This will search for posts within 5 miles of the coordinates <40, -70>. The first argument takes the same form as the coordinates value above; the second argument is always a number of miles. Unfortunately, it does not appear that LocalSolr can handle a distance of less than one mile, so hopefully you’re not running a CIA satellite or anything.

One other big gotcha with LocalSolr: unfortunately, the current stable release neither supports filter queries nor subqueries; this means that there is no way (that I know of) to use both regular boolean filters and a dismax query, which is what Sunspot uses for keyword search. So, Sunspot will fail fast if you try to do a query using both a fulltext and a local component. I’ve heard that the trunk version of LocalSolr does support filter queries; I will definitely be investigating and I hope to release a future version of Sunspot without this limitation.

Fine-tuning fulltext relevance with more dismax parameters

One big focus of this release is giving access to all of Solr’s powerful dismax features. In order to do so, Sunspot 0.10 introduces a fulltext block, which presents a DSL for fine-tuning fulltext queries.

This block is invoked with the fulltext method, which is the awesome new name for the keywords method (don’t worry; keywords is still aliased).

The fields method allows you to specify which fields you wish to perform fulltext search on, optionally giving a specific boost to each field:

Sunspot.search(Post) do
  fulltext 'boost control' do
    fields :title, :body => 0.75

The above will search only the title and body fields, applying a boost of 0.75 to the body field (title will have a default boost).

To set per-field boost without restricting which fields are searched (i.e., search all configured text fields), just use the field_boost:

Sunspot.search(Post) do
  fulltext 'boost control' do
    boost_fields :title => 2.0, :body => 0.75

Phrase fields add an extra boost to fields in which all the fulltext keywords appear in the field - it’s great for titles and other high-relevance fields:

Sunspot.search(Post) do
  fulltext 'phrase fields' do
    phrase_fields :title => 2.5

Boost queries allow extra boost to be applied to documents which match an arbitrary set of conditions:

Sunspot.search(Post) do
  fulltext 'boost query' do
    boost 2.0 do
      with :featured, true

The above will apply a boost of 2.0 to featured posts.

Fulltext highlighting

What’s better than giving your users the most relevant results for their keyword searches? Showing them just what in the documents matched the search, of course. Solr comes with built-in keyword highlighting; you can get a full explanation of the highlighting features here: http://wiki.apache.org/solr/HighlightingParameters

Simple highlighting can be activated simply by passing :highlight => true as an option to the keywords method:

Sunspot.search(Post) do
  keywords 'great pizza', :highlight => true

If you’d like to choose specific fields to highlight, pass an array of field names instead of true:

Sunspot.search(Post) do
  keywords 'great pizza', :highlight => %w(title body)

More advanced highlighting options can be passed to the highlight method inside the keywords DSL block:

Sunspot.search(Post) do
  keywords 'great pizza' do
    highlight :title, :body, :max_snippets => 3, :fragment_size => 200

The highlight method accepts the following options:

The maximum number of highlighted snippets to return per field.
The maximum size of a text fragment to consider for highlighting
If two highlighted fragments are adjacent to one another, merge them into a single fragment.
From the Solr wiki: "Use SpanScorer to highlight phrase terms only when they appear within the query phrase in the document. Default is false." Whatever that means.
Require that the field actually matched the query (instead of simply containing the words being searched). Requires :phrase_highlighter to be true.

Using highlights

If you’ve performed your search with highlights, you access them using the highlights method of the Sunspot::Search::Hit object. highlights can take a field name as an argument, in which case it will only return highlights for the specified field; otherwise, it will return all highlights for the given hit.

The objects returned by the highlights method allow deferred formatting, which is to say your view layer can decide how to format the highlights, when it’s time to display them:

<div class="results">
  <% @search.hits.each do |hit| %>
    <div class="result">
      <h3><%= hit.instance.title %></h3>
        <%= hit.highlights(:body).first.format { |phrase| "<span class=\"highlight\">#{phrase}</span>" } %>
  <% end %>

Note that in order for highlighting to work, the highlighted field needs to be a stored text field (pass :stored => true in the field definition).

Default search-time boost

While index-time boost is useful, it means that any change to field boost requires a reindex of your data. An alternative is to set a default search-time boost in the setup:

Sunspot.setup(Post) do
  text :title, :default_boost => 2.0

This means that a boost of 2.0 will be applied to the title field in all searches, unless the boost is specified in the search itself. This will, of course, only occur for searches issued with Sunspot.

Prefix queries

By popular demand, Sunspot 0.10 supports prefix queries, using the starts_with method in the DSL:

Sunspot.search(Post) do

Restrict field facet to a list of interesting values

Let’s say I’m faceting by category, but I’m not interested in all categories; I just want to show the top-level ones. Requesting a field facet for category_id will waste resources both at the Solr level and potentially at the Sunspot level (particularly if you’re using reference facets) loading rows you’re not interested in. Sunspot 0.10 introduces an :only option to the facet method, which only returns facets for the values you want. Use it like this:

Sunspot.search(Post) do
  facet :category_ids, :only => Category.top_level.map { |category| category.id }

Under the hood, this doesn’t actually issue a field facet request at all - instead it constructs a set of query facets, which are built so that, from the perspective of the Sunspot API, act exactly like a field facet. This is one of the rare places where Sunspot actually extends Solr’s functionality, instead of simply encapsulating it. I hope to build more of these in the future.

Query facets support all facet options

Query facets now support all the options that you’re used to for field facets. The difference here is that the options are applied after the search is run, while building the Sunspot::Facet object. The end result, however, is the same.

Scope by text fields

In possibly my least favorite feature of Sunspot 0.10, it is now possible to apply scope to text fields, using the text_fields block. This works exactly like normal scope, except that the field names passed refer to text fields, instead of attribute fields. Since text fields are tokenized, the behavior here is not always intuitive; be sure to read up on tokenization, and expect that your mileage may vary:

Sunspot.search(Post) do
  text_fields do
    with(:body, 'Short body')

Other enhancements

Installing LocalSolr in your Solr instance

Add the LocalSolr libraries

In the solr home directory (the one that contains the conf/ directory), create a directory called lib/, if there isn’t one already. Copy the the contents of /path/to/your/gems/sunspot-0.10.2/solr/solr/lib into that directory.

Add extra handlers to solrconfig.xml

Add the following lines somewhere inside the config node:

  <processor class='com.pjaol.search.solr.update.LocalUpdateProcessorFactory'>
    <str name='latField'>lat</str>
    <str name='lngField'>long</str>
    <int name='startTier'>9</int>
    <int name='endTier'>16</int>
  <processor class='solr.RunUpdateProcessorFactory'></processor>
  <processor class='solr.LogUpdateProcessorFactory'></processor>
<searchComponent class='com.pjaol.search.solr.component.LocalSolrQueryComponent' name='localsolr'>
  <str name='latField'>lat</str>
  <str name='lngField'>long</str>
<requestHandler class='org.apache.solr.handler.component.SearchHandler' name='geo'>
  <arr name='components'>

You’re doing great. One more step.

Add extra fields to your schema

Add this inside the types node:

<fieldtype name="sdouble" class="solr.SortableDoubleField" omitNorms="true"/>

Then add this inside the fields node:

<field name="lat"        type="sdouble" indexed="true" stored="true"  multiValued="false" />
<field name="long"       type="sdouble" indexed="true" stored="true"  multiValued="false" />
<dynamicField name="_local*" type="sdouble" indexed="true" stored="false" multiValued="false" />

Great job! You’re done.

To the future!

Well, that’s all for Sunspot 0.10. I’m hoping the next release will be 1.0; the focus will be working out any bugs and inconsistencies that come up, and making the experience of using and managing Sunspot and Solr as smooth as possible. Here are a few things I have in mind:

Up next, though, is a big new release of Sunspot::Rails - lots of great patches from great committers have been coming in, and I’m very excited to get them all into a release. Stay tuned!