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BigMemory Go Search API


The BigMemory Go Search API allows you to execute arbitrarily complex queries against caches with pre-built indexes. The development of alternative indexes on values provides the ability for data to be looked up based on multiple criteria instead of just keys.

Searchable attributes may be extracted from both keys and values. Keys, values, or summary values (Aggregators) can all be returned. Here is a simple example: Search for 32-year-old males and return the cache values.

Results results = cache.createQuery().includeValues()

What is Searchable?

Searches can be performed against Element keys and values, but they must be treated as attributes. Some Element keys and values are directly searchable and can simply be added to the search index as attributes. Some Element keys and values must be made searchable by extracting attributes with supported search types out of the keys and values. It is the attributes themselves which are searchable.

Making a Cache Searchable

Caches can be made searchable, on a per cache basis, either by configuration or programmatically.

By Configuration

Caches are made searchable by adding a <searchable/> tag to the ehcache.xml.

<cache name="cache2" maxBytesLocalHeap="16M" eternal="true" maxBytesLocalOffHeap="256M">
    <persistence strategy="localRestartable"/>

This configuration will scan keys and values and, if they are of supported search types, add them as attributes called "key" and "value" respectively. If you do not want automatic indexing of keys and values, you can disable it with:

<cache name="cacheName" ...>
    <searchable keys="false" values="false"/>

You might want to do this if you have a mix of types for your keys or values. The automatic indexing will throw an exception if types are mixed.

If you think that you will want to add search attributes after the cache is initialized, you can explicitly indicate the dynamic search configuration. Set the allowDynamicIndexing attribute to "true" to enable use of the dynamic attributes extractor (described in the Defining Attributes section below):

<cache name="cacheName" ...>
    <searchable allowDynamicIndexing="true">

Note: Dynamic search is available for offheap-backed caches only.

Often keys or values will not be directly searchable and instead you will need to extract searchable attributes out of them. The following example shows this more typical case. Attribute Extractors are explained in more detail in the following section.

<cache name="cache3" maxEntriesLocalHeap="10000" eternal="true" maxBytesLocalOffHeap="10G">
    <persistence strategy="localRestartable"/>
        <searchAttribute name="age" class=""/>
        <searchAttribute name="gender" expression="value.getGender()"/>


The following example shows how to programmatically create the cache configuration, with search attributes.

Configuration cacheManagerConfig = new Configuration();
CacheConfiguration cacheConfig = new CacheConfiguration("myCache", 0).eternal(true);
Searchable searchable = new Searchable();
// Create attributes to use in queries.
searchable.addSearchAttribute(new SearchAttribute().name("age"));
// Use an expression for accessing values.
searchable.addSearchAttribute(new SearchAttribute()
searchable.addSearchAttribute(new SearchAttribute()
searchable.addSearchAttribute(new SearchAttribute()
cacheManager = new CacheManager(cacheManagerConfig);
cacheManager.addCache(new Cache(cacheConfig));
Ehcache myCache = cacheManager.getEhcache("myCache");
// Now create the attributes and queries, then execute.

To learn more about the Search API, see the* packages in this Javadoc.

Defining Attributes

In addition to configuring a cache to be searchable, you must define the attributes that will be used in searches.

Attributes are extracted from keys or values during search. This is done using AttributeExtractors. Extracted attributes must be one of the following supported types:

  • Boolean
  • Byte
  • Character
  • Double
  • Float
  • Integer
  • Long
  • Short
  • String
  • java.util.Date
  • java.sql.Date
  • Enum

If an attribute cannot be extracted, due to not being found or being the wrong type, an AttributeExtractorException is thrown on search execution.

Note: On the first use of an attribute, the attribute type is detected, validated against supported types, and saved automatically. Once the type is established, it cannot be changed later. For example, if an integer value was initially returned for attribute named “Age” by the attribute extractor, then it is an error for the extractor to return a float for this attribute later on.

Well-known Attributes

The parts of an Element that are well-known attributes can be referenced by some predefined, well-known names. If a key and/or value is of a supported search type, it is added automatically as an attribute with the name "key" or "value". These well-known attributes have the convenience of being constant attributes made available on the Query class. So, for example, the attribute for "key" may be referenced in a query by Query.KEY. For even greater readability, it is recommended to statically import so that, in this example, you would just use KEY.

Well-known Attribute Name Attribute Constant
key Query.KEY
value Query.VALUE

Reflection Attribute Extractor

The ReflectionAttributeExtractor is a built-in search attribute extractor which uses JavaBean conventions and also understands a simple form of expression. Where a JavaBean property is available and it is of a searchable type, it can be simply declared:

    <searchAttribute name="age"/>

The expression language of the ReflectionAttributeExtractor also uses method/value dotted expression chains. The expression chain must start with one of either "key", "value", or "element". From the starting object a chain of either method calls or field names follows. Method calls and field names can be freely mixed in the chain. Some more examples:

    <searchAttribute name="age" expression="value.person.getAge()"/>
     <searchAttribute name="name" expression="element.toString()"/>

Note: The method and field name portions of the expression are case sensitive.

Custom Attribute Extractor

In more complex situations, you can create your own attribute extractor by implementing the AttributeExtractor interface. The interface's attributeFor method allows you to specify the element to inspect and the attribute name, and it returns the attribute value.

Note: These examples assume there are previously created Person objects containing attributes such as name, age, and gender.

Provide your extractor class, as shown in the following example:

<cache name="cache2" maxEntriesLocalHeap="0" eternal="true">
  <persistence strategy="none"/>
     <searchAttribute name="age" class=""/>

For example, a custom attribute extractor could be passed an Employee object and then extract a specific attribute:

returnVal = employee.getdept();

If you need to pass state to your custom extractor, you may do so with properties, as shown in the following example:

    <searchAttribute name="age"
    properties="foo=this,bar=that,etc=12" />

If properties are provided, then the attribute extractor implementation must have a public constructor that accepts a single java.util.Properties instance.

Dynamic Attributes Extractor

The DynamicAttributesExtractor provides flexibility by allowing the search configuration to be changed after the cache is initialized. This is done with one method call, at the point of element insertion into the cache. The DynamicAttributesExtractor method returns a map of attribute names to index and their respective values. This method is called for every Ehcache.put() and replace() invocation.

Assuming that we have previously created Person objects containing attributes such as name, age, and gender, the following example shows how to create a dynamically searchable cache and register the DynamicAttributesExtractor:

Configuration config = new Configuration();
CacheConfiguration cacheCfg = new CacheConfiguration(“PersonCache”);
Searchable searchable = new Searchable().allowDynamicIndexing(true);


CacheManager cm = new CacheManager(config);
Ehcache cache = cm.getCache(“PersonCache”);
final String attrNames[] = {“first_name”, “age”};
// Now you can register a dynamic attribute extractor that would index the cache elements, using a subset of known fields
cache.registerDynamicAttributesExtractor(new DynamicAttributesExtractor() {
    Map<String, Object> attributesFor(Element element) {
        Map<String, Object> attrs = new HashMap<String, Object>();
        Person value = (Person)element.getObjectValue();
        // For example, extract first name only
        String fName = value.getName() == null ? null : value.getName().split(“\\s+”)[0];
        attrs.put(attrNames[0], fName);
        attrs.put(attrNames[1], value.getAge());
        return attrs;
// Now add some data to the cache
cache.put(new Element(10, new Person(“John Doe”, 34, Person.Gender.MALE)));

Given the code above, the newly put element would be indexed on values of name and age fields, but not gender. If, at a later time, you would like to start indexing the element data on gender, you would need to create a new DynamicAttributesExtractor instance that extracts that field for indexing.

Dynamic Search Rules
  • In order to use the DynamicAttributesExtractor, the cache must be configured to be searchable and dynamically indexable (refer to Making a Cache Searchable above).

  • A dynamically searchable cache must have a dynamic extractor registered before data is added to it. (This is to prevent potential races between extractor registration and cache loading which might result in an incomplete set of indexed data, leading to erroneous search results.)

  • Each call on the DynamicAttributesExtractor method replaces the previously registered extractor, as there can be at most one extractor instance configured for each such cache.

  • If a dynamically searchable cache is initially configured with a predefined set of search attributes, then this set of attributes will always be queried for extracted values, regardless of whether or not there is a dynamic search attribute extractor configured.

  • The initial search configuration takes precedence over dynamic attributes, so if the dynamic attribute extractor returns an attribute name already used in the initial searchable configuration, an exception will be thrown.

Creating a Query

BigMemory Go Search uses a fluent, object-oriented Query API, following DSL principles, which should be familiar to Java programmers. Here is a simple example:

Query query = cache.createQuery().addCriteria(age.eq(35)).includeKeys().end();
Results results = query.execute();

Using Attributes in Queries

If declared and available, the well-known attributes are referenced by their names or the convenience attributes are used directly, as shown in this example:

Results results = cache.createQuery().addCriteria(Query.KEY.eq(35)).execute();
Results results = cache.createQuery().addCriteria(;

Other attributes are referenced by the names given them in the configuration. For example:

Attribute<Integer> age = cache.getSearchAttribute("age");
Attribute<String> gender = cache.getSearchAttribute("gender");
Attribute<String> name = cache.getSearchAttribute("name");


A Query is built up using Expressions. Expressions may include logical operators such as <and> and <or>, and comparison operators such as <ge> (>=), <between>, and <like>. The configuration addCriteria(...) is used to add a clause to a query. Adding a further clause automatically "<and>s" the clauses.

query = cache.createQuery().includeKeys().addCriteria(age.le(65)).add(gender.eq("male")).end();

Both logical and comparison operators implement the Criteria interface. To add a criteria with a different logical operator, explicitly nest it within a new logical operator Criteria Object. For example, to check for age = 35 or gender = female, do the following:

query.addCriteria(new Or(age.eq(35),

More complex compound expressions can be further created with extra nesting. See the Expression JavaDoc for a complete list of expressions.

List of Operators

Operators are available as methods on attributes, so they are used by adding a ".". For example, "lt" means "less than" and is used as, which is a shorthand way of saying age LessThan(10). The full listing of operator shorthand is shown below.

Shorthand Criteria Class Description
and And The Boolean AND logical operator
between Between A comparison operator meaning between two values
eq EqualTo A comparison operator meaning Java "equals to" condition
gt GreaterThan A comparison operator meaning greater than.
ge GreaterThanOrEqual A comparison operator meaning greater than or equal to.
in InCollection A comparison operator meaning in the collection given as an argument
lt LessThan A comparison operator meaning less than.
le LessThanOrEqual A comparison operator meaning less than or equal to
ilike ILike A regular expression matcher. '?' and "*" may be used. Note that placing a wildcard in front of the expression will cause a table scan. ILike is always case insensitive.
not Not The Boolean NOT logical operator
ne NotEqualTo A comparison operator meaning not the Java "equals to" condition
or Or The Boolean OR logical operator

Making Queries Immutable

By default, a query can be executed and then modified and re-executed. If end is called, the query is made immutable.

Obtaining and Organizing Query Results

Queries return a Results object which contains a list of objects of class Result. Each Element in the cache found with a query will be represented as a Result object. So if a query finds 350 elements, there will be 350 Result objects. An exception to this would be if no keys or attributes are included but aggregators are -- in this case, there will be exactly one Result present.

A Result object can contain:

  • the Element key - when includeKeys() is added to the query,
  • the Element value - when includeValues() is added to the query,
  • predefined attribute(s) extracted from an Element value - when includeAttribute(...) is added to the query. To access an attribute from a Result, use getAttribute(Attribute<T> attribute).
  • aggregator results - Aggregator results are summaries computed for the search. They are available through Result.getAggregatorResults which returns a list of Aggregators in the same order in which they were used in the Query.


Aggregators are added with query.includeAggregator(\<attribute\>.\<aggregator\>). For example, to find the sum of the age attribute:


For a complete list of aggregators, refer to the Aggregators JavaDoc.

Ordering Results

Query results may be ordered in ascending or descending order by adding an addOrderBy clause to the query, which takes as parameters the attribute to order by and the ordering direction. For example, to order the results by ages in ascending order:

query.addOrderBy(age, Direction.ASCENDING);

Grouping Results

BigMemory Go query results may be grouped similarly to using an SQL GROUP BY statement. The BigMemory GroupBy feature provides the option to group results according to specified attributes by adding an addGroupBy clause to the query, which takes as parameters the attributes to group by. For example, you can group results by department and location like this:

Query q = cache.createQuery();
Attribute<String> dept = cache.getSearchAttribute("dept");
Attribute<String> loc = cache.getSearchAttribute("location");
q.addGroupBy(dept, loc);

The GroupBy clause groups the results from includeAttribute() and allows aggregate functions to be performed on the grouped attributes. To retrieve the attributes that are associated with the aggregator results, you can use:

    String dept = singleResult.getAttribute(dept);
    String loc = singleResult.getAttribute(loc);

GroupBy Rules

Grouping query results adds another step to the query--first results are returned, and second the results are grouped. This necessitates the following rules and considerations when using GroupBy:

  • In a query with a GroupBy clause, any attribute specified using includeAttribute() should also be included in the GroupBy clause.
  • Special KEY or VALUE attributes may not be used in a GroupBy clause. This means that includeKeys() and includeValues() may not be used in a query that has a GroupBy clause.
  • Adding a GroupBy clause to a query changes the semantics of any aggregators passed in, so that they apply only within each group.
  • As long as there is at least one aggregation function specified in a query, the grouped attributes are not required to be included in the result set, but they are typically requested anyway to make result processing easier.
  • An addCriteria() clause applies to all results prior to grouping.
  • If OrderBy is used with GroupBy, the ordering attributes are limited to those listed in the GroupBy clause.

Limiting the Size of Results

By default a query will return an unlimited number of results. For example the following query will return all keys in the cache.

Query query = cache.createQuery();

If too many results are returned, it could cause an OutOfMemoryError The maxResults clause is used to limit the size of the results. For example, to limit the above query to the first 100 elements found:

Query query = cache.createQuery();

Note: When maxResults is used with GroupBy, it limits the number of groups.

When you are done with the results, call discard() to free up resources. In the distributed implementation with Terracotta, resources may be used to hold results for paging or return.

Interrogating Results

To determine what was returned by a query, use one of the interrogation methods on Results:

  • hasKeys()
  • hasValues()
  • hasAttributes()
  • hasAggregators()

Finding Null (or Not Null) Values

You can find null values (or not-null values) by replacing the null value with the string "NULL" in every element with a null value. A custom attribute extractor can be used to search for the string "NULL" to find null values (or use a not-equal search for not-null values).

If a string cannot be used for element values, then for each field (that may be a search target) set up a related dummy field and assign it a value of "0" (null) or "1" (not null). Queries can then check the dummy field to find nulls or not-nulls.

Sample Application

We have created a simple standalone sample application with few dependencies for you to easily get started with BigMemory Search. You can also check out the source:

git clone git://

The Ehcache Test Sources page has further examples on how to use each Search feature.

Scripting Environments

BigMemory Search is readily amenable to scripting. The following example shows how to use it with BeanShell:

Interpreter i = new Interpreter();
//Auto discover the search attributes and add them to the interpreter's context
Map<String, SearchAttribute> attributes = cache.getCacheConfiguration().getSearchAttributes();
for (Map.Entry<String, SearchAttribute> entry : attributes.entrySet()) {
i.set(entry.getKey(), cache.getSearchAttribute(entry.getKey()));"Setting attribute " + entry.getKey());
//Define the query and results. Add things which would be set in the GUI i.e.
//includeKeys and add to context
Query query = cache.createQuery().includeKeys();
Results results = null;
i.set("query", query);
i.set("results", results);
//This comes from the freeform text field
String userDefinedQuery = "age.eq(35)";
//Add on the things that we need
String fullQueryString = "results = query.addCriteria(" + userDefinedQuery + ").execute()";
results = (Results) i.get("results");
assertTrue(2 == results.size());
for (Result result : results.all()) {"" + result.getKey());

Implementation and Performance

BigMemory uses a Search index that is maintained at the local node. The index is stored under a directory in the DiskStore and is available whether or not persistence is enabled. Any overflow from the on-heap tier of the cache, whether to the off-heap tier or to the disk tier, is searched using indexes.

Search operations perform in O(log(n)) time. For tips that can aid performance, refer to Best Practices.

For caches that are on-heap only, the implementation does not use indexes. Instead, it performs a fast iteration of the cache, relying on the very fast access to do the equivalent of a table scan for each query. Each element in the cache is only visited once. Attributes are not extracted ahead of time. They are done during query execution.

Search operations perform in O(n) time. Check out this Maven-based performance test showing performance of an on-heap-only search. The test shows search performance of an average of representative queries at 4.6 ms for a 10,000 entry cache, and 427 ms for a 1,000,000 entry cache. Accordingly, this implementation is suitable for development and testing.

Best Practices for Optimizing Searches

  1. Construct searches wisely by including only the data that is actually required.

    • Only use includeKeys() and/or includeAttribute() if those values are actually required for your application logic.
    • If you don't need values or attributes, be careful not to burden your queries with unnecessary work. For example, if result.getValue() is not called in the search results, then don't use includeValues() in the original query.
    • Consider if it would be sufficient to get attributes or keys on demand. For example, instead of running a search query with includeValues() and then result.getValue(), run the query for keys and include cache.get() for each individual key.

    Note: includeKeys() and includeValues() have lazy deserialization, which means that keys and values are de-serialized only when result.getKey() or result.getValue() is called. This means there is a time cost only when the key is needed. However, there is still some time cost with includeKeys() and includeValues(), so consider carefully when constructing your queries.

  2. Searchable keys and values are automatically indexed by default. If you will not be including them in your query, turn off automatic indexing with the following:

    <cache name="cacheName" ...>
      <searchable keys="false" values="false"/>
  3. Limit the size of the results set with query.maxResults(int number_of_results). Another recommendation for managing the size of the result set is to use a built-in Aggregator function to return a summary statistic (see the package in this Javadoc).

  4. Make your search as specific as possible. Queries with "ILike" criteria and fuzzy (wildcard) searches may take longer than more specific queries. Also, if you are using a wildcard, try making it the trailing part of the string instead of the leading part ("321*" instead of "*123"). If you want leading wildcard searches, then you should create a <searchAttribute> with the string value reversed in it, so that your query can use the trailing wildcard instead.

  5. When possible, use the query criteria "Between" instead of "LessThan" and "GreaterThan", or "LessThanOrEqual" and "GreaterThanOrEqual". For example, instead of using le(startDate) and ge(endDate), try not(between(startDate,endDate)).

  6. Index dates as integers. This can save time and may even be faster if you have to do a conversion later on.

Concurrency Notes

Unlike cache operations which have selectable concurrency control and/or transactions, queries are asynchronous and Search results are eventually consistent with the caches.

Index Updating

Although indexes are updated synchronously, their state will lag slightly behind the state of the cache. The only exception is when the updating thread then performs a search.

For caches with concurrency control, an index will not reflect the new state of the cache until a commit has been called.

Query Results

There are several ways unexpected results could present:

  • A search returns an Element reference which no longer exists.
  • Search criteria select an Element, but the Element has been updated and a new Search would no longer match the Element.
  • Aggregators, such as sum(), might disagree with the same calculation done by redoing the calculation yourself by re-accessing the cache for each key and repeating the calculation.
  • Because the cache is always updated before the search index, it is possible that a value reference may refer to a value that has been removed from the cache. If this happens, the value will be null but the key and attributes which were supplied by the now stale cache index will be non-null. Because values in Ehcache are also allowed to be null, you cannot tell whether your value is null because it has been removed from the cache since the index was last updated or because it is a null value.


Because the state of the cache can change between search executions, the following is recommended:

  • Add all of the aggregators you want for a query at once, so that the returned aggregators are consistent.
  • Use null guards when accessing a cache with a key returned from a search.