DEV Community

Cover image for ⚡ 🔍 Typesense search engine: an easier-to-use alternative to ElasticSearch
Luiz Lelis
Luiz Lelis

Posted on

⚡ 🔍 Typesense search engine: an easier-to-use alternative to ElasticSearch

In a daily development process, it's common the need to search a specific term in a large amount of data. The search engine tools came to solve this kind of problem and one of the most famous is called ElasticSearch. If you have already worked with ElasticSearch you probably know that it's such a powerful tool, but it's also complex and has a steep learning curve. For example, doing an in-house deployment of ElasticSearch you will face a high production ops overhead dealing with over 3000 configuration parameters.

Built in C++, Typesense is an easier-to-use alternative to ElasticSearch. The community describes it as an open-source, fast, typo tolerant, and easy-to-use search engine. The current article is a quick introduction to Typesense using a search engine example for the Nobel Prize Winners.

Server configuration

Just like most search engine tools, Typesense is a NoSql document-oriented database. For the current example, I'll self-host Typesense on my local machine using the official docker image, as you can see in the example source code. There are few parameters to configure the Typesense server, but you could let the default values and just configure the --api-key (admin API key that allows all operations) and the --data-dir (path to the directory where data will be stored on disk) parameters. Take a look at the typesense service on docker-compose:

  typesense:
    image: typesense/typesense:0.22.0.rcs11
    container_name: typesense
    environment:
      - TYPESENSE_API_KEY=Hu52dwsas2AdxdE
      - TYPESENSE_DATA_DIR=/typesense-data
    volumes:
      - "./typesense-data:/typesense-data/"
    ports:
      - "8108:8108"
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

NOTE: when using environment variables, you need to add the TYPESENSE_ prefix to the variable name

One important thing to note is: I choose to create a volume for the typesense-data folder, so the data stored in the container will be persisted locally. Along with the typesense service, I registered a seed-data service on docker-compose.yml to seed the Nobel Prize Winners data in the Typesense server:

  seed-data:
    build:
      context: .
      dockerfile: Dockerfile
    container_name: seed-data
    depends_on:
      - typesense
    environment:
      - TYPESENSE_API_KEY=Hu52dwsas2AdxdE
      - SERVER_HOSTNAME=typesense
    volumes:
      - "./scripts:/app/"
      - "./seed-data:/seed-data/"
    command:
      [
        "/app/wait-for-it.sh",
        "typesense:8108",
        "-s",
        "-t",
        "40",
        "--",
        "/app/batch-import-docs.sh"
      ]
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

The volumes listed above are: a path to the scripts (wait-for-it.sh that waits for typesense to respond on it's port and batch-import-docs.sh which seed the data) and also a path to the dataset formatted as JSONLines.

Create collection and import documents

Before starting to import the documents, it's important to create a collection. In Typesense, a group of related documents is called collection and schema is the name of the fields from the documents added in a collection. It might help to think of a schema as the "types" in a strongly-typed programming language. The most important thing that you should keep in mind is: all fields that you mention in a collection's schema will be indexed in memory. Take a look at the prizes collection created for the current example:

curl "http://${SERVER_HOSTNAME}:8108/collections" \
       -X POST \
       -H "Content-Type: application/json" \
       -H "X-TYPESENSE-API-KEY: ${TYPESENSE_API_KEY}" \
       -d '{
         "name": "prizes",
         "default_sorting_field": "year",
         "fields": [
           {"name": "id", "type": "string" },
           {"name": "year", "type": "int64" },
           {"name": "category", "type": "string", "facet": true },
           {"name": "laureates_full_name", "type": "string[]" }
         ],
         "default_sorting_field": "year"
       }'
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

NOTE: indexes are gonna improve the execution of queries in terms of performance. If an appropriate index exists for a query, Typesense will use it to limit the number of documents to inspect

The schema above has four indexed fields: id, year, category and laureates_full_name, but if you look at the dataset to be imported, you'll notice some extra fields, for example: laureates.motivation, laureates.share, laureates.surname. Those fields will be stored on disk, but will not take up any memory.

For the dataset import, I'm using the import API to index multiple documents in a batch:

curl -H "X-TYPESENSE-API-KEY: ${TYPESENSE_API_KEY}" -X POST --data-binary @../seed-data/documents.jsonl \
"http://${SERVER_HOSTNAME}:8108/collections/prizes/documents/import?action=create"
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Now that all the steps are clear, just type the command below to up the typesense server and also seed the data inside it:

docker-compose up --build
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Searching for the Nobel Prize Winners

Now that the typesense server is up and running, let's start searching for the Nobel Prize winners. First, export the environment variable TYPESENSE_API_KEY to use it locally as a typesense client:

export TYPESENSE_API_KEY=Hu52dwsas2AdxdE
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Then, use the search API to search for documents. For example, imagine that you want to search for the Marie Curie prize, type the command below locally:

curl -H "X-TYPESENSE-API-KEY: ${TYPESENSE_API_KEY}" \
"http://localhost:8108/collections/prizes/documents/search\
?q=Curii&query_by=laureates_full_name\
&sort_by=year:desc"
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Did you notice the typo in the query text? Instead of Curie, Curii was sent in the query. No big deal, Typesense handles typographic errors, take a look at the documents returned (the response body has been cut for didactic purposes only):

{
  "facet_counts": [],
  "found": 2,
  "hits": [
    {
      "document": {
        "category": "chemistry",
        "id": "55",
        "laureates": [
          {
            "firstname": "Marie",
            "id": "6",
            "motivation": "\"in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element\"",
            "share": "1",
            "surname": "Curie"
          }
        ],
        "laureates_full_name": [
          "Marie Curie"
        ],
        "year": 1911
      }
    },
    {
      "document": {
        "category": "physics",
        "id": "12",
        "laureates": [
          {
            "firstname": "Henri",
            "id": "4",
            "motivation": "\"in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity\"",
            "share": "2",
            "surname": "Becquerel"
          },
          {
            "firstname": "Pierre",
            "id": "5",
            "motivation": "\"in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel\"",
            "share": "4",
            "surname": "Curie"
          },
          {
            "firstname": "Marie",
            "id": "6",
            "motivation": "\"in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel\"",
            "share": "4",
            "surname": "Curie"
          }
        ],
        "laureates_full_name": [
          "Henri Becquerel",
          "Pierre Curie",
          "Marie Curie"
        ],
        "year": 1903
      }
    }
  ]
}
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Conclusion

Typesense has been turning into a nice alternative to search engines like Algolia and ElasticSearch. Its simple server setup and intuitive API turns the navigation much easier. For the current example, I used CURL to interact with Typesense Server directly, but there are many clients and integrations developed in your favorite language.

Now, I want to know your opinion, if you're using Typesense in production let the community knows! If you got here and liked the article content, let me know by reacting to the current post. You can also open a discussion below, I'll try to answer it soon. On the other hand, if you think that I said something wrong, please open an issue in the article's github repo.

Discussion (0)