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Solr Search

Look, the Apache Solr search server is installed on the Blinkmonitor.com site now!

You will be thinking “big whup” perhaps, because WordPress (WP) already has Search built into it.

But .. WP’s search speed is limited by MySQL’s text search speed. That is fine for a few thousand posts, but when there are millions you will find yourself waiting for search results. Solr has its own inverted database, and indexes all the words in the posts or pages.

Better still, Solr has faceted search (not so for WP). Looking at the search results, you can select a category like ‘books’, or confine your search to a tag such as ‘Heritage’. You can order the results by relevance, or list  the newest ones first.

And highlighting is a big benefit. Looking at the search results, you will see snippets of the pages you were searching for, with the searched text highlighted.

How does this all work, it might seem unlikely that a complex PHP project like WP could be integrated with a complex Java project like Solr. This is all ‘easy’ because Solr has a RESTful interface. It responds to HTTP requests (such as GET, POST et al). When you type, say, “charlie” into the search box, WP does a GET to Solr. Solr accepts the search argument “charlie”, checks its index to find out which pages contain “charlie”, and returns a list of pages in the GET result. WP displays the list as links you can click on to see the pages.

When an author writes a WP page, WP sends it to Solr to be indexed. And when a page is updated, it gets sent to Solr again.

WordPress (WP) needs a plugin for this all to work.  There are several WP Solr plugins, and I chose the great WPSOLR plugin. It is free, but there are paid options that you might want to consider (disclosure: I am just a user, and am not paid for this mention). Paid installation support is available, but this will not be necessary if you are familiar with Solr.

Solr is quick enough to provide ‘autocomplete’ suggestions in the search box. I have that configured using the older spellchecker method. There is a suggester module, new as of last year, but I have not yet persuaded it to build its index. Soon..

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