Indexation service with Xapian

In a previous post on my french Blog, I was explaining how to use Xapian from its Python binding, to index text content for documents. The idea was to use the indexing part of Xapian and not to store any data in the documents.When I started to hook my code into my Django application, I realized it was not very robust, because I had to open only one Xapian connector to index content. This was not easy to do and depends a lot on how the web framework loads the code. Furthermore, the website had to take care of launching threads to avoid waiting for the indexation to be finished.

I rewrote the tool to avoid these issues, by decoupling indexation and queries: when the website needs an indexation, it writes the data into a special table in a SQL database. On the other side, a thread in a separated process (eg a worker) reads this table and launch indexations when it finds lines in it. This producers-consumer pattern makes the solution very fast and simple.

It is better to perform this kind of pattern than a solution like a live server, based for example on XML-RPC, because it is more robust:
- if any part of the application crashes, the work in process is not lost in the SQL database; - if the indexer program crashes, the website can still query the Xapian database.

Queries are made with read-only Xapian connectors, which can be used concurrently with no problems.

These were the changes I made:
- A sqlite database is used to store indexation queries in a table (since it's based on SQLALchemy, postgres or mysql can be used as well); - a thread scans the table to pick its work and delete rows when its done; - the search API launches standalone and read-only Xapian connectors to perform each search.

When documents are modified and added on the website, a query is made on the database. This is done through the Django event framework wich allows to hook code on events like "A document was created". (explained here:

The package I wrote can be used this way:
- The thread in charge of indexations is launched via the script - the searcher and indexer modules can be used to work with the API

Here's the complete doctest of my package, which provide examples on how to use these API:

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The indexer provides:

- client-side modules : API for client to ask for indexations and query the

Xapian database. When an indexation is asked, it is stored in a sql


- server-side application: a standalone thread that indexes what has been

asked by reading the sql database.

Let's import the modules used by the client-side::

>>> import indexer

>>> import searcher

Let's reset the SQL DB first::

>>> indexer.reset()

Let's also reset the Xapian DB::

>>> from xapindexer import force_reset

>>> force_reset()

The Xapian DB should be empty now::

>>> searcher.corpus_size()




Each indexable content has a unique id, and a text to index::

>>> uid = '1'

>>> text = 'my taylor is not rich anymore'

Let's index it::

>>> indexer.index_document(uid, text)

Another one::

>>> indexer.index_document('2', 'pluto is a dog')

Let's start the worker that is in charge of asynchronous indexation::

>>> from xapindexer import start_server

>>> start_server()

Let's wait a bit so the worker has the time to read the SQL Database

and do the work::

>>> import time

>>> while indexer.is_working():

...     time.sleep(0.2)

`is_working` looks in the SQL DB if there is some work left.

The Xapian DB has two documents now::

>>> searcher.corpus_size()




Let's search now, with `searcher`. Operator is AND by default::

>>> res ='rich')

>>> list(res)


>>> res ='pluto')

>>> list(res)


>>> res ='dog')

>>> list(res)


>>> res ='rich dog')

>>> list(res)


Or operator::

>>> res ='rich dog', or_=True)

>>> res = list(res)

>>> res.sort()

>>> res

['1', '2']

We have an API to detect if a document is present::

>>> searcher.document_exists('2')


>>> searcher.document_exists('ttt')


And another one to retrieve indexed terms::

>>> list(searcher.document_terms('2'))

['dog', 'is', 'pluto']



The document can also be reindexed::

>>> indexer.index_document('2', 'pluto is a cat')

>>> indexer.work_in_process()

([2], [])

Let's wait a bit::

>>> while indexer.is_working():

...     time.sleep(0.2)

Let's make sure the document has been reindexed::

>>> list(searcher.document_terms('2'))

['cat', 'is', 'pluto']

Then check the indexation has changed::

>>> res ='rich dog', or_=True)

>>> list(res)


Or deleted::

>>> res ='pluto')

>>> list(res)


>>> indexer.delete_document('2')

>>> while indexer.is_working():

...     time.sleep(0.2)

>>> res ='pluto')

>>> list(res)


The complete code is here :

It is not packaged yet, but can be used to provide an indexation service for a website or any other application.

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