Introduction

Brodie and I recently started presenting code, prototypes and ideas to the other Devs we work with. This post came about after Brodie presented a search engine prototype. He was interested to find if we could load about 100,000 pages of text to in-memory collections for fast searching. The prototype used WCF and LINQ to create a RESTful server that binds to a HTTP endpoint. I thought it was a really cool prototype, it used less memory than I expected and was many orders a magnitude faster than the incumbent full-text indexed SQL query.

We were discussing how we could make non-cached searches faster and agreed the String.IndexOf() and String.Contains() methods inside the filtering and relevance Linq queries would be the best place to start. I probably wouldn't have done anything more with it but I couldn't stop thinking about how different indexing full-text methods we discussed might perform, particularly a tree base algorithm.

The following week I presented a text search engine interface, some implementation prototypes, a testing framework prototype and the use of the StructureMap to inject concrete implementations of a text search engine interface into Brodies prototype. I'd already taken this way further than I ever intended, but I decided that since I had gone this far I might as well wrap it up in a blog post too.

I started off by creating a search engine interface. I used an interface from the start as I wanted to try mock testing and dependency injection.

public interface ITextSearchEngine
{
    object Setup(string searchText);
    bool Contains(string query);
    int Find(string query);
    List<int> FindAll();
}

The most simple search engine is just using a string and the methods on System.String. It shows how easy it is to implement the ITextSearchEngine interface:

public class SimpleTextSearch : ITextSearchEngine
{
    private string _contents;

    #region ITextSeach Members

    public object Setup(string searchText)
    {
        _contents = searchText;
        return _contents;
    }

    public bool Contains(string searchText)
    {
        return _contents.Contains(searchText);
    }

    public int Find(string query)
    {
        return _contents.IndexOf(query);
    }

    public List<int> FindAll()
    {
        throw new NotImplementedException();
    }

    #endregion
}

Search Engine Test Framework

The test framework is a custom framework that can load types that implement ITextSearchEngine, ITestHarness and ITextDataStore from external assemblies at runtime. ITestHarness instances are created and passed new instances of ITextSearchEngine and ITextDataStore. The test methods in the test harness are executed and the results a saved as XML and also transformed to HTML.

The ITextDataStore was added to make it possible to write tests that are independent of actual data. This is for performance tests where the data will effect the results. I intend to verify this by running a tests against different data.

public interface ITextDataStore
{
    string SearchText();
}

The ITestHarness interface must be implemented by test classes. The Create(..) method allows the test framework to inject ITextSearchEngine and ITextDataStore implementations into the test class.

public interface ITestHarness
{
    void Create(ITextSearchEngine engine, ITextDataStore datastore);
    void Setup();
}

Now we can start implementing some tests before we've even implemented a search engine. To do this we start by creating a base test class:

public class TestHarnessBase : ITestHarness
{
    #region Data Members
    protected ITextSearchEngine _searchEngine;
    protected ITextDataStoreTest _dataStore;
    #endregion

    #region ITestHarness Members
    public void Create(ITextSearchEngine engine, ITextDataStoreTestdatastore)
    {
        _searchEngine = engine;
        _dataStore = datastore;
    }

    public virtual void Setup()
    {
    }

    #endregion
}

The test framework will consider public methods with a known return type and no parameters as test methods.

public class SearchEngineSearchTests : TestHarnessBase
{
    #region Test Methods
    public bool Contains_FindExistingWord()
    {
        _searchEngine.Setup("The quick brown fox jumps over the lazydog");
        return _searchEngine.Contains("fox");
    }

    public bool Contains_NotFindNonExistingWord()
    {
        _searchEngine.Setup("The quick brown fox jumps over the lazydog");
        return !_searchEngine.Contains("cat");
    }

    #endregion
}

Text Searching Algorithms and Indexing

There is lots of documentation on the Boyer-Moore algorithm, I didn't look into it too deeply as its already been implemented in .NET, but also as it is designed to work when is only possible to enumerate through the searchable text. As we have our searchable text in-memory we could leverage random access to the data. Aho-Corasick is the same, but it uses a cool tree to search for multiple words at the same time. It was that tree and later some influence from the Suffix Tree that led me to think I could store the entire searchable text in a tree.

A Text Tree

Consider the string "big bad barry" represented as a tree as below.

image_thumb1

This tree is great for exact match string searching; Start with the root node and the first character of the search string. Check if the current node has a child matching the current character. If it does, move to the node and the next character and repeat the process. If it doesn't then the word doesn't exist in the searchable text. If we find a match for every letter, the word exists in the searchable text.

A Text Tree With Indexes

The previous tree is only good for the Contains() method as the tree has no information about where the matches are found or how many times they occur. To add this information to the tree we could add a new node at the end of every word with its index in the original text

image_thumb2

We follow the same procedure as before to find words, only this time we know if we have found a complete word (if there is one or more index nodes on the last node we check). We can also find all instances of the word by traversing the rest of the tree and returning all the index nodes found. For example we can see that "ba" is in the string twice by finding all the index nodes after the 'a' node; In this case at characters 4 and 8.

From this tree we can also find entire sentences if our search algorithm is good enough. Basically it just needs to find the words in the sentence individually and then using the indexes and the word lengths work out which words combinations were next to each other in the original text.

The reason this is all possible is the tree has enough information to re-build the original string.

A Text Tree With Indexes and Suffixes

In the previous trees we can only search efficiently for words and prefixes. What if we want to be able to search for substrings? We can do this by also adding all the suffixes of each word to the tree.

image_thumb3

Now we can search for words, substrings and sentences and get all the occurrences. That's pretty cool, but this tree is getting pretty massive compared to the original string.

Tree Implementation

I'm not actually going to describe how to implement this tree, its easier just to check the code and step through it if you have too.

The search engines I have implemented are

SimpleTextSearch Using IndexOf() and Contains() methods on System.String

RegexTextSearch Quick and dirty Regex implementation

SimpleTreeTextSearch The basic tree with no index information. Only implements the Contains() method

IndexTreeTextSearch The basic tree with index information. Search algorithm only looks for a single word

ExtendedIndexTextTreeSearch Extends the IndexedTreeTextSearch search algorithm to support multiple word search phrases

SuffixIndexTreeTextSearch Extends the IndexedTreeTextSearch to include suffixes in the tree.

ExtendedSuffixIndexTreeTextSearch Includes suffixes and the search algorithm from above that supports multiple word search phrases.

Some things I didn't do but would look into if I was actually going to use this anywhere:

To be continued...

To be honest, I got distracted away from this by getting into the new Silverlight 2 SDK for my DevSta entry, Desktop Racer. DevStar is an Australian Microsoft Visual Studios development competition and I figured Silverlight 2 is a little more exciting than a text searching algorithm by someone with little to no background text search theory. Never-the-less I've got the ExtendedSuffixIndexTreeTextSearch passing all the functional search test I've written. I've uploaded a copy of the results and the project in its current state.

HTML Functional Test Results

TextSearch VS2008 Project

I haven't yet written any performance tests to establish each engines setup speed, search speed, CPU usage and memory usage. I think this will be very interesting, while I'm pretty confident the tree search methods will be quick, I suspect they will require significantly more memory than storing plain text. I would not be surprised to find that the memory usage and setup times for my implementations of tree searches make them impractical to use for most real world search problems. Regardless, it has been lots of fun just getting the tree search functional but I'd be surprised if I've added any value to one of the most researched topics in computer science.

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