Indexing with Elasticsearch and Django

So, every decent webapp needs a search feature? Okay, here we go.

All starts with downloading elasticsearch
After extracting start it with

bin/elasticsearch -f

The -f paramter gives you a little output, especially the port and host. By standard this would be localhost:9200.

So let’s get to the Django bit.
First thing to check is whether the model object you want to index for search has one or more foreign key fields.
If so, you might not want to index the ids (it is very unlikely that some user would search for an id).
So what to do? Since data is passed to elasticsearch as a JSON object we will use djangos built in serializer to convert our model object into a JSON object and then pass that on. The serializer provides an option to use something called natural keys, which is called by adding

use_natural_keys = True

to the serializers.serialize(‘json’, modelObject) as a third element. The successfully use this, the model which the foreign key field references has to be extended by a method natural_key.

As an example let’s say, we got to model classes one is product which has a foreign key field manufacturer which references a model of said name:


    manufacturer <- there it is, a foreign key to the above

So if we want to index products for search we may want the manufacturer field to be a name (or a name and address combination etc.). Therefore we define a method “natural_key” in the Manufacturer class i.e.:

def natural_key(self):
  return (

Thus when serializing a Product the “unsearchable” ID is converted to the manufacturer’s name.

The general idea now is to pass the object as an serialized string to a function that then does the indexing on its own. Doing something ike this:

new_product = Product(...)
myIndexModule.add_to_index(serializers.serialize('json', [new_product], use_natural_keys=True))

So, now to the indexing itself. I use pyelasticsearch for no special reason except that its documentation seemed decent.
The indexer is located in a module since I wanted it to be separated from the rest of the application and it is pretty short.

from pyelasticsearch import ElasticSearch
import json

ES = ElasticSearch('http://localhost:9200')

def add_to_index(string):
    deserialized = json.loads(string)
    for element in deserialized:
        name = element["model"].split('.')[1] <- (this is to get rid of the module prefix but this is just cosmetics)
        index = name + "-index"
        element_type = name
        data = element["fields"]
        ES.index(index, element_type, data, id=element_id)

That’s it. One could certainly do more sophisticated stuff (like plural for the index and singular for the element type and than do something clever about irregular plurals…) but it does the job.

Now let’s use ElasticSearc as a datastore for an application.

But why should we do this. Let’s assume we have an application with a member and a non-member area. Members can do stuff on a database and non-members can not. Since you want to keep the database load from user that do not add anything to your service to a minimum to provide a snappy experience for your members you don’t want them to clog the connection with database requests and decide to let ElasticSearch handle that.
And anyway, it’s just for fun 🙂

So the idea is to make an ajax call to elasticsearch and show a list of the last ten products added to the index to the user. In one of your views for non-members you put a javascript function like this:

$.getJSON('http://localhost:9200/product-index/_search?sort=added&order=asc&from=0&size=10', function(response){....})

and in the function you can now start to play around with the fields like

$.each(response.hits.hits, function(i, item){

and present them to the users.