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Simple Query String, what about it?

Posted by    |       |    Tagged as Hibernate Search

In the last Hibernate Search release announcement, you might have noticed something about Simple Query Strings.

The documentation is still a little sparse and we wanted to give this feature some more light and have some feedback before going Final with it.

This feature is part of the already released 5.8.0.Beta1 so you can already play with it (either with the Lucene backend or with the new Elasticsearch backend).

What’s a Simple Query String?

Let’s begin with some history.

Lucene 4.7.0 introduced a new query parser, the SimpleQueryParser, presented as a "parser for human-entered queries". The point of this parser is to be a very simple lenient state machine to parse queries entered by your end users.

The parser is capable to transform keyword "some phrase" -keywordidontwant fuzzy~ prefix* into a Lucene query, giving your users a little more power (phrase queries, fuzzy queries, boolean operators…​). The lenient part is important as it will try to build the best possible query without throwing a parse exception, even if the query is not what we would consider syntactically correct.

Another nice feature is that it allows to search on multiple fields. You basically end up establishing the following contract with Lucene:

  • users will enter a search query (more or less syntactically correct)

  • it will search on the fields you have specified (and you can also specify a specific boost for each field)

  • you can enable each of the features that you want to expose to the users (i.e. you can enable the phrase queries but not the boolean operators)

  • building the query won’t throw an exception

So, what is a Simple Query String for us? Just a string following the SimpleQueryParser syntax or, in user terms, what the user entered in the search box.

Let’s take an example

In the following, we will base our discussion on the following Book entity:

public class Book {

    // [...]

    private String title;

    private String summary;

    private String author;

    // [...]

Our goal is to be able to search war peace on the title field with a boost of 5 and on the summary field with a boost of 2 and have only the results containing both words. A Book containing war in title and peace in summary should be considered a valid result.

Until now, to fulfill these requirements with Hibernate Search, you had the following possibilities:

Use the DSL
  • Manually split the search query into keywords

  • Manually build a (rather complicated) query using the keyword() entry point of the DSL (keyword() only supports OR so you would have to build several different keyword() queries for each keyword and for each field)

  • Downsides:

    • it is not possible to allow the users to optionally enter phrase queries, fuzzy queries…​ without implementing a parser (or having checkbox options to enable them)

    • it might lead to a lot of boilerplate code if you want to search in more than 2 fields

Use the Lucene MultiFieldQueryParser
  • Quite efficient

  • Downsides:

    • Not lenient: can throw a ParseException

    • You expose the full power of the Lucene default QueryParser which might not be what you want

    • You can define the default fields but the user can search on other fields with the field:keyword syntax: it might not be what you want

How would we do it with the new simpleQueryString() DSL entry point?

It is as simple as:

String simpleQueryString = "war peace"; // what the end user is looking for

QueryBuilder qb = fullTextSession.getSearchFactory()
            .forEntity( Book.class)
            .get(); // instantiate the QueryBuilder providing the DSL

Query query = qb.simpleQueryString()
            .onField( "title" ).boostedTo( 5.0f )
            .andField( "summary" ).boostedTo( 2.0f )
            .withAndAsDefaultOperator() // we want AND to be the default operator
            .matching( simpleQueryString )
List<Book> results = fullTextSession.createFullTextQuery( query, Book.class ).getResultList();

Important precision: the default operator used if you don’t define the operator explicitly is OR. In the general case, it might not be what you’re looking for, thus the call to withAndAsDefaultOperator() in the example above.

If you also want to search on the author field, just add another andField() clause and you’re done.

The thing I particularly like about it is the fact that you’re able to define a simple contract with your Lucene index and that the users have some flexibility to define more advanced queries inside the contract you defined:

  • -war peace: documents contain peace but not war

  • war | peace: documents contain war or peace (you can omit the | operator if it is defined as the default)

  • war + pea*: documents contain war and at least a word starting with pea (you can omit the + operator if it is defined as the default)

  • "war and peace": documents contain the phrase war and peace

  • pease~: documents contain pease with a fuzzy search so documents containing peace will be returned too

  • war + (peace | harmony): documents contain war and either peace or harmony

  • and any combinations of the above…​

  • or none: simple searches are obviously also supported!

What do you think about it?

Still there? We have a few questions for you.

First, after a lot of discussions, we have chosen to name the DSL entry point simpleQueryString(). It has the advantage to be consistent with Elasticsearch. If you can think of a better (and maybe more explicit) name, it’s not too late to join the party! Once we go final, we will stick to this name foreeeever.

Your feedback is very welcome in the comments below or on the hibernate-dev mailing list.

Secondly, for now, we haven’t exposed the ability to disable particular features. By default, the following features are all enabled:

  • boolean operators (+, - and |)

  • precedence operators (parenthesis)

  • phrase search ("some phrase")

  • prefix operator (prefix*)

  • fuzzy operator (fuzzy~)

  • slop for phrase search ("some phrase"~2)

Think it might be useful to be able to disable features? Feel free to open an issue on our JIRA or even better propose a pull request! You can find the original patch here:, it might help you to start.

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