Revamping the web search, part 1

Over the past couple of weeks (that's how I mostly do these things - an hour here, half an hour there, over an extended period of time), I've been working on revamping the search on and oday we're using a custom patched version of ASPSeek backed with a PostgreSQL database. Unfortunatly, it's a real pain to maintain - upstream didn't want the patches John wrote (if I understood the situation correctly), it requires a very special version of GCC to build, even the web interface is in C++ and thus a pain to edit for layout changes etc. Short story, time to look at something else.

The new solution I'm working on is based on PostgreSQL 8.2 with tsearch2 and GIN indexes. So far it's showing good performance, and a very good flexibility given that you get to use metadata in the PostgreSQL database to further enhance hits. Plus, the web interface can be integrated with the main site layout engine. Finally, the indexer is "context aware" and knows how to read our archives in a way

This has also taught me some bad things about the common languages/frameworks used out there, and their (non) dealing with encoding. Basically, the system needs to deal with multiple encodings (iso-8859-1, utf-8 etc etc), and more specifically with files that have broken encodings (such as claiming to be utf-8 but half the file is utf-8 and the other half iso-8859-1).

Initially, my indexer implementation was in Perl using LWP and HTML::Parser. Eventually I had to abandon this completely, because I could just not find any way to get Perl to ensure the output data was proper UTF-8, which is required to insert it into a PostgreSQL database with UTF8 encoding. I tried several different ways (after all, it's Perl, so you should do it different ways), but it always broke one way or another.

I've currently re-implemented most of the indexer in PHP instead. This does appear to work much better. The iconv() function actually works as advertised and can be set to always output clean UTF8 and just ignore broken encoding on input characters replacing them with blanks. Initially, I was using the Tidy extensions to PHP to parse the HTML, but had to give this one up because of the insane memory leaks (such as eating up a gigabyte of memory after indexing <10,000 pages - and I need to index more than 500,000). There's also a bug in 5.1.x at least wrt strtotime() that causes a coredump, but it appears to be fixed in 5.2.

Current version uses preg_match() with a couple of fairly simple regexps, and this appears to be working much better. It also gives significantly better performance than the Perl version, because all the "heavy duty" work is in C code linked into PHP, and not in interpreted code.

There are still some issues with the PHP indexer, but it looks a lot better. Will keep posting more info when I have it :-)


I speak at and organize conferences around Open Source in general and PostgreSQL in particular.


Stockholm PUG 2016/5
Oct 25, 2016
Stockholm, Sweden
PGConf.EU 2016
Nov 1-4, 2016
Tallinn, Estonia
Berlin PUG
Nov 17, 2016
Berlin, Germany
PGConf.Asia 2016
Dec 2-3, 2016
Tokyo, Japan
FOSDEM + PGDay 2017
Feb 2-4, 2017
Brussels, Belgium


Postgres Vision 2016
Oct 11-13, 2016
San Francisco, USA
Postgres Open
Sep 13-16, 2016
Dallas, USA
Stockholm PUG 2016/4
Aug 31, 2016
Stockholm, Sweden
PG Day'16 Russia
Jul 6-8, 2016
St Petersburg, Russia
PGDay UK 2016
Jul 05, 2016
London, UK
More past conferences