Tag Archives: swish-e

Re-solving My Search Engine Problem

14 years ago, I created a web database of 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System games. To make it useful, I developed a very primitive search feature.

A few months ago, I decided to create a web database of video game music. To make it useful, I knew it would need to have a search feature. I realized I needed to solve the exact same problem again.

Requirements
The last time I solved this problem, I came up with an excruciatingly na├»ve idea. Hey, it worked. I really didn’t want to deploy the same solution again because it felt so silly the first time. Surely there are many better ways to solve it now? Many different workable software solutions that do all the hard work for me?

The first time I attacked this, it was 1998 and hosting resources were scarce. On my primary web host I was able to put static HTML pages, perhaps with server side includes. The web host also offered dynamic scripting capabilities via something called htmlscript (a.k.a. MIVA Script). I had a secondary web host in my ISP which allowed me to host conventional CGI scripts on a Unix host, so that’s where I hosted the search function (Perl CGI script accessing a key/value data store file).

Nowadays, sky’s the limit. Any type of technology you want to deploy should be tractable. Still, a key requirement was that I didn’t want to pay for additional hosting resources for this silly little side project. That leaves me with options that my current shared web hosting plan allows, which includes such advanced features as PHP, Perl and Python scripts. I can also access MySQL.

Candidates
There are a lot of mature software packages out there which can index and search data and be plugged into a website. But a lot of them would be unworkable on my web hosting plan due to language or library package limitations. Further, a lot of them feel like overkill. At the most basic level, all I really want to do is map a series of video game titles to URLs in a website.

Based on my research, Lucene seems to hold a fair amount of mindshare as an open source indexing and search solution. But I was unsure of my ability to run it on my hosting plan. I think MySQL does some kind of full text search, so I could have probably made a solution around that. Again, it just feels like way more power than I need for this project.

I used Swish-e once about 3 years ago for a little project. I wasn’t confident of my ability to run that on my server either. It has a Perl API but it requires custom modules.

My quest for a search solution grew deep enough that I started perusing a textbook on information retrieval techniques in preparation for possibly writing my own solution from scratch. However, in doing so, I figured out how I might subvert an existing solution to do what I want.

Back to Swish-e
Again, all I wanted to do was pull data out of a database and map that data to a URL in a website. Reading the Swish-e documentation, I learned that the software supports a mode specifically tailored for this. Rather than asking Swish-e to index a series of document files living on disk, you can specify a script for Swish-e to run and the script will generate what appears to be a set of phantom documents for Swish-e to index.
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