Understanding elastic search and installation

Elasticsearch is a highly scalable open-source full-text search and analytics engine. It allows you to store, search, and analyze big volumes of data quickly and in near real time. It is generally used as the underlying engine/technology that powers applications that have complex search features and requirements.

There are a few concepts that are core to Elasticsearch. Understanding these concepts from the outset will tremendously help ease the learning process.

Cluster

A cluster is a collection of one or more nodes (servers) that together holds your entire data and provides federated indexing and search capabilities across all nodes. A cluster is identified by a unique name which by default is “elasticsearch”. This name is important because a node can only be part of a cluster if the node is set up to join the cluster by its name.

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Node

A node is a single server that is part of your cluster, stores your data, and participates in the cluster’s indexing and search capabilities. You can define any node name you want if you do not want the default. A node can be configured to join a specific cluster by the cluster name. By default, each node is set up to join a cluster named elasticsearch which means that if you start up a number of nodes on your network and—assuming they can discover each other—they will all automatically form and join a single cluster named elasticsearch.

Index

An index is a collection of documents that have somewhat similar characteristics. For example, you can have an index for customer data, another index for a product catalog, and yet another index for order data. An index is identified by a name (that must be all lowercase) and this name is used to refer to the index when performing indexing, search, update, and delete operations against the documents in it.

Type

Within an index, you can define one or more types. A type is a logical category/partition of your index whose semantics is completely up to you. In general, a type is defined for documents that have a set of common fields. For example, let’s assume you run a blogging platform and store all your data in a single index. In this index, you may define a type for user data, another type for blog data, and yet another type for comments data.

Document

A document is a basic unit of information that can be indexed. For example, you can have a document for a single customer, another document for a single product, and yet another for a single order. This document is expressed in JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) which is an ubiquitous internet data interchange format.

Within an index/type, you can store as many documents as you want. Note that although a document physically resides in an index, a document actually must be indexed/assigned to a type inside an index.

Shards & Replicas

An index can potentially store a large amount of data that can exceed the hardware limits of a single node. For example, a single index of a billion documents taking up 1TB of disk space may not fit on the disk of a single node or may be too slow to serve search requests from a single node alone.

To solve this problem, Elasticsearch provides the ability to subdivide your index into multiple pieces called shards. When you create an index, you can simply define the number of shards that you want. Each shard is in itself a fully-functional and independent “index” that can be hosted on any node in the cluster.

Sharding is important for two primary reasons:

  • It allows you to horizontally split/scale your content volume
  • It allows you to distribute and parallelize operations across shards (potentially on multiple nodes) thus increasing performance/throughput

The mechanics of how a shard is distributed and also how its documents are aggregated back into search requests are completely managed by Elasticsearch and is transparent to you as the user.

In a network/cloud environment where failures can be expected anytime, it is very useful and highly recommended to have a failover mechanism in case a shard/node somehow goes offline or disappears for whatever reason. To this end, Elasticsearch allows you to make one or more copies of your index’s shards into what are called replica shards, or replicas for short.

Replication is important for two primary reasons:

  • It provides high availability in case a shard/node fails. For this reason, it is important to note that a replica shard is never allocated on the same node as the original/primary shard that it was copied from.
  • It allows you to scale out your search volume/throughput since searches can be executed on all replicas in parallel.

To summarize, each index can be split into multiple shards. An index can also be replicated zero (meaning no replicas) or more times. Once replicated, each index will have primary shards (the original shards that were replicated from) and replica shards (the copies of the primary shards). The number of shards and replicas can be defined per index at the time the index is created. After the index is created, you may change the number of replicas dynamically anytime but you cannot change the number shards after-the-fact.

By default, each index in Elasticsearch is allocated 5 primary shards and 1 replica which means that if you have at least two nodes in your cluster, your index will have 5 primary shards and another 5 replica shards (1 complete replica) for a total of 10 shards per index.

Installation

Elasticsearch requires at least Java 7. Suffice to say, before you install Elasticsearch, please check your Java version first by running (and then install/upgrade accordingly if needed):

Once we have Java set up, we can then download and run Elasticsearch. The binaries are available from www.elastic.co/downloads along with all the releases that have been made in the past. For each release, you have a choice among a zip or tar archive, or a DEB or RPM package. For simplicity, let’s use the tar file.

Let’s download the Elasticsearch 2.3.3 tar as follows (Windows users should download the zip package):

Then extract it as follows (Windows users should unzip the zip package):

It will then create a bunch of files and folders in your current directory. We then go into the bin directory as follows:

And now we are ready to start our node and single cluster (Windows users should run the elasticsearch.bat file):

Also note the line marked http with information about the HTTP address (192.168.8.112) and port (9200) that our node is reachable from. By default, Elasticsearch uses port 9200 to provide access to its REST API. This port is configurable if necessary.

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