Friday 8 March 2013

Free your Nutch crawls with pluggable indexers

I have just committed what should be a very important new feature of the next 1.x release of Apache Nutch, namely the possibility to implement indexing backends via plugins. This is currently on the trunk only but should hopefully be ported to 2.x at some point. The Nutch-1047 JIRA issue contains a history of patches and discussions for this feature.

As you'll see by reading the explanations below, this is not the same thing as the indexing filters or the storage backends in Nutch 2.x.

Historically, Nutch used to manage its own Lucene indices itself and provide a web interface for querying them. Support for SOLR was added much later in the 1.0 release (NUTCH-442) and users had two separate commands for indexing directly with Lucene or sending the documents to SOLR, in which case the search could be done outside the Nutch search servers and directly with SOLR. We then decided to drop the Nutch search servers and the Lucene-based indexing altogether in Nutch 1.3 (NUTCH-837) and let the SOLR indexer become the only option. This was an excellent move as it greatly reduced the amount of code we had to look after and meant that we could focus on the crawling while benefiting from the advances in SOLR.

One of the nice things about Nutch is that most of its components are based on plugins. The actual plugin mechanism was borrowed from Eclipse and allows to have endpoints and extensions. Nutch has extension points for URLFilters, URLNormalizers, Parsers, Protocols, etc... The full list of Nutch extensions can be found here. Basically pretty much everything in Nutch is done via plugins and I found that most customisations of Nutch I do for my clients are usually implemented via plugins only.

As you've guessed, NUTCH-1047 is about having generic commands for indexing and handling the backend implementations via plugins. Instead of piggybacking the SOLR indexer code to send the documents to a different backend, one can now use the brand new generic IndexingJob and isolate the logic of how the documents are sent to the backend via an extension of the new IndexWriter endpoint in a custom plugin.

The IndexWriter interface is pretty straightforward :
public String describe();
public void open(JobConf job, String name) throws IOException;
public void write(NutchDocument doc) throws IOException;
public void delete(String key) throws IOException;
public void update(NutchDocument doc) throws IOException;
public void commit() throws IOException;
public void close() throws IOException;
Having this mechanism allows us to move most of the SOLR-specific code to the new indexer-solr plugin (and hopefully all of it as soon as we have a generic de-duplicator which could use the IndexWriter plugins) but more importantly will facilitate the implementation of popular indexing backends such as ElasticSearch or Amazon's CloudSearch service without making the core code of Nutch more complex. We frequently get people on the mailing list asking how to store the Nutch documents on such or such database and being able to do that in a plugin will definitely make it easier. It will also be a good way of storing Nutch documents as files, etc...

This is quite a big change to the architecture of Nutch but we tried to make it as transparent as possible for end users. The only indexer plugin currently available is a port of the existing code for SOLR and is activated by default. We left the old solr* commands and modified them so that they use the generic commands with the indexing plugins in the background so from a user point of view there should be no difference at all. 

There is already a JIRA for a text-based CSV indexing plugin and I expect that the ElasticSearch one will get rapid adoption.

I had been willing to find the time to work on this for quite some time and I'm very pleased it is now committed, thanks to the comments and reviews I got from my fellow Nutch developers. I look forward to getting more feedback and seeing it being used, extended, improved, etc... 


  1. Hi,

    Can you please provide a step by step tutorial on how to get Nutch 1.7 working with Elasticsearch. I am at the point where I can crawl data, I get no errors in the logs but the index of Elasticsearch is empty.
    I have asked the following question on stack overflow but no success:
    I know it's about Nutch 2.2.1 but I get the same with Nutch 1.7.

    You help will be much appreciated.
    Thank you.

    Kind regards,
    Andrei Visan

    1. Am sure you realised there is a very good mailing list on where people get answers to that sort of questions

  2. I mailed them but didn't get any answer on my problem.


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