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SWISH-SEARCH - Swish-e Searching Instructions

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This page describes the process of searching with Swish-e. Please see the SWISH-CONFIG page for information the Swish-e configuration file directives, and SWISH-RUN for a complete list of command line arguments.

Searching a Swish-e index involves passing command line arguments to it that specify the index file to use, and the query (or search words) to locate in the index. Swish-e returns a list of file names (or URLs) that contain the matched search words. Perl is often used as a front-end to Swish-e such as in CGI applications, and perl modules exist to for interfacing with Swish-e.

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Searching Syntax and Operations

The -w command line argument (switch) is used specify the search query to Swish-e. When running Swish-e from a shell prompt, be careful to protect your query from shell metacharacters and shell expansions. This often means placing single or double quotes around your query. See Searching with Perl if you plan to use Perl as a front end to Swish-e.

The following section describes various aspects of searching with Swish-e.

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Boolean Operators

You can use the Boolean operators and, or, or not in searching. Without these Boolean operators, Swish-e will assume you're anding the words together. The operators are not case sensitive.

[Note: you can change the default to oring by changing the variable DEFAULT_RULE in the config.h file and recompiling Swish-e.]

Evaluation takes place from left to right only, although you can use parentheses to force the order of evaluation.


     swish-e -w "smilla or snow" -f myIndex

Retrieves files containing either the words ``smilla'' or ``snow''.

     swish-e -w "smilla and snow not sense" -f myIndex 
     swish-e -w "(smilla and snow) and not sense" -f myIndex (same thing)

retrieves first the files that contain both the words ``smilla'' and ``snow''; then among those the ones that do not contain the word ``sense''.

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The wildcard (*) is available, however it can only be used at the end of a word: otherwise is is considerd a normal character (i.e. can be searched for if included in the WordCharacters directive).

     swish-e -w "librarian" -f myIndex

this query only retrieves files which contain the given word.

On the other hand:

     swish-e -w "librarian*" -f myIndex

retrieves ``librarians'', ``librarianship'', etc. along with ``librarian''.

Note that wildcard searches combined with word stemming can lead to unexpected results. If stemming is enabled, a search term with a wildcard will be stemmed internally before searching. So searching for running* will actually be a search for run*, so running* would find runway. Also, searching for runn* will not find running as you might expect, since running stems to run in the index, and thus runn* will not find run.

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Order of Evaluation

Expressions are always evaluated left to right:

    swish -w "juliet not ophelia and pac" -f myIndex 

retrieves files which contain ``juliet'' and ``pac'' but not ``ophelia''

However it is always possible to force the order of evaluation by using parenthesis. For example:

    swish-e -w "juliet not (ophelia and pac)" -f myIndex 

retrieves files with ``juliet'' and containing neither ``ophelia'' nor ``pac''.

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Meta Tags

MetaNames are used to represent fields (called columns in a database) and provide a way to search in only parts of a document. See SWISH-CONFIG for a description of MetaNames, and how they are specified in the source document.

To limit a search to words found in a meta tag you prefix the keywords with the name of the meta tag, followed by the equal sign:

    metaname = word
    metaname = (this or that)
    metatname = ( (this or that) or "this phrase" )

It is not necessary to have spaces at either side of the ``='', consequently the following are equivalent:

    swish-e -w "metaName=word"
    swish-e -w "metaName = word" 
    swish-e -w "metaName= word" 

To search on a word that contains a ``='', precede the ``='' with a ``\'' (backslash).

    swish-e -w "test\=3 = x\=4 or y\=5" -f <index.file> 

this query returns the files where the word ``x=4'' is associated with the metaName ``test=3'' or that contains the word ``y=5'' not associated with any metaName.

Queries can be also constructed using any of the usual search features, moreover metaName and plain search can be mixed in a single query.

     swish-e -w "metaName1 = (a1 or a4) not (a3 and a7)" -f index.swish-e

This query will retrieve all the files in which ``a1'' or ``a2'' are found in the META tag ``metaName1'' and that do not contain the words ``a3'' and ``a7'', where ``a3'' and ``a7'' are not associated to any meta name.

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Phrase Searching

To search for a phrase in a document use double-quotes to delimit your search terms. (The phrase delimiter is set in src/swish.h.)

You must protect the quotes from the shell.

For example, under Unix:

    swish-e -w '"this is a pharase" or (this and that)'
    swish-e -w 'meta1=("this is a pharase") or (this and that)'

Or under Windows:

    swish-e -w \"this is a pharase\" or (this and that)

You can use the -P switch to set the phrase delimiter character. See SWISH-RUN for examples.

=head2 Context

At times you might not want to search for a word in every part of your files since you know that the word(s) are present in a particular tag. The ability to seach according to context greatly increases the chances that your hits will be relevant, and Swish-e provides a mechanism to do just that.

The -t option in the search command line allows you to search for words that exist only in specific HTML tags. Each character in the string you specify in the argument to this option represents a different tag in which the word is searched; that is you can use any combinations of the following characters:

    H means all<HEAD> tags 
    B stands for <BODY> tags 
    t is all <TITLE> tags 
    h is <H1> to <H6> (header) tags 
    e is emphasized tags (this may be <B>, <I>, <EM>, or <STRONG>) 
    c is HTML comment tags (<!-- ... -->)

    # This search will look for files with these two words in their titles only.
    swish-e -w "apples oranges" -t t -f myIndex

    # This search will look for files with these words in comments only.
    swish-e -w "keywords draft release" -t c -f myIndex

    This search will look for words in titles, headers, and emphasized tags.
    swish-e -w "world wide web" -t the -f myIndex

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Searching with Perl

Perl ( ) is probably the most common programming language used with Swish-e, especially in CGI interfaces. Perl makes searching and parsing results with Swish-e easy, but if not done properly can leave your server vulnerable to attacks.

When designing your CGI scripts you should carefully screen user input, and include features such as paged results and a timer to limit time required for a search to complete. These are to protect your web site against a denial of service (DoS) attack.

Included with every distribution of Perl is a document called perlsec -- Perl Security. Please take time to read and understand that document before writing CGI scripts in perl.

Type at your shell/command prompt:

    perldoc perlsec

If nothing else, start every CGI program in perl as such:

    #!/usr/local/bin/perl -wT
    use strict;

That alone won't make your script secure, but may help you find insecure code.

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CGI Danger!

There are many examples of CGI scripts on the Internet. Many are poorly written and insecure. A commonly seen way to execute Swish-e from a perl CGI script is with a piped open. For example, it is common to see this type of open():

    open(SWISH, "$swish -w $query -f $index|");

This open() gives shell access to the entire Internet! Often an attempt is made to strip $query of bad characters. But, this often fails since it's hard to guess what every bad character is. Would you have thought about a null? A better approach is to only allow in known safe characters.

Even if you can be sure that any user supplied data is safe, this piped open still passes the command parameters through the shell. If nothing else, it's just an extra unnecessary step to running Swish-e.

Therefore, the recommended approach is to fork and exec swish-e directly without passing through the shell. This process is described in the perl man page perlipc under the appropriate heading Safe Pipe Opens.


    perldoc perlipc

If all this sounds complicated you may wish to use a Perl module that does all the hard work for you.

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Perl Modules

There are a couple of Perl modules for accessing Swish-e. One of the modules is included with the distribution, and the other module (or set of modules) is located on CPAN. The included module provides a way to embed Swish-e into your perl program, while the modules on CPAN provide an abstracted interface to it. Hopefully, they make using Swish-e easier.

The Included SWISHE Perl Module

When compiling Swish-e from source the build process creates a C library (see the Swish-e INSTALL documentation). The Swish-e distribution includes a perl directory with files required to create the module. This module will embed Swish-e into your perl program so that searching does not require running an external program. Embedding the Swish-e program into your perl program results in faster Swish-e searches since it avoids the cost of forking and exec'ing a separate program and opening the index file for each request.

You will probably not want to embed Swish-e into perl if running under mod_perl as you will end up with very large Apache processes.

Building and usage instructions for the module can be found in the SWISH-PERL man page.

Here's an edited snip from that man page:

    my $handle = SwishOpen( $indexfiles )
        or die "Failed to open '$indexfiles'";

    my $num_results = SwishSearch($handle, $query, 1, $props, $sort);

    unless ( $num_results ) {
        print "No Results\n";

        my $error = SwishError( $handle );
        print "Error number: $error\n" if $error;

        return;  # or next.

    while( my($rank,$index,$file,$title,$start,$size,@props)
        = SwishNext( $handle ))
        print join( ' ',
              map{ qq["$_"] } @props,

SWISH Modules on CPAN

The Comprehensive Perl Archive Network, or CPAN, is a collection of modules for use with Perl. Always search CPAN ( before starting any new program. Chances are someone has written just what you need.

On CPAN are also modules for searching with Swish-e. They can be found at The main SWISH module (different from the SWISH&E; module included with the Swish-e distribution) provides a high-level Object Oriented interface to Swish-e, and the same interface can be used to used to either fork and exec the Swish-e binary, or use the Swish-e C Library if installed by just changing one line of code. A server interface will be written when a Swish-e server is written.

The main idea is that you can write a program to search with Swish-e, but not have to change your code (much) when you wish to change to a new way of accessing Swish-e.

Here's an example of SWISH module usage from the synopsis:

    use SWISH;

    $sh = SWISH->connect('Fork',
       prog     => '/usr/local/bin/swish-e',
       indexes  => 'index.swish-e',
       results  => sub { print $_[1]->as_string,"\n" },
    ) or die $SWISH::errstr unless $sh;

    $hits = $sh->query('metaname=(foo or bar)');

This takes care of running Swish-e in a secure way, parsing the output from it, and providing OO methods of accessing the resulting data.

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Document Info

$Id: SWISH-SEARCH.pod,v 1.4 2002/04/15 02:34:43 whmoseley Exp $

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