What Data Structure Does Elasticsearch Use?


Larry Thompson

Data structures play a crucial role in the performance and efficiency of any search engine. Elasticsearch, being a distributed, real-time search and analytics engine, utilizes various data structures to store and retrieve data efficiently.

Primary Data Structure: Inverted Index

The key data structure used by Elasticsearch is the inverted index. An inverted index is an index data structure that maps content from its original form to its location within a document or set of documents. It allows for fast full-text searches by mapping terms to their respective documents.

The inverted index consists of two main components: the term dictionary and the postings list. The term dictionary stores all unique terms present in the indexed documents, along with their associated metadata such as term frequency and document frequency. The postings list contains information about which documents contain a particular term and the positions of those terms within each document.

By using an inverted index, Elasticsearch can quickly locate relevant documents based on search queries by matching terms against the indexed data.

Additional Data Structures

In addition to the inverted index, Elasticsearch employs several other data structures to enhance its search capabilities:

  • Fielddata: Elasticsearch uses fielddata structures to enable aggregations, sorting, and scripting on fields that are not analyzed or are analyzed in a way that doesn’t support these operations directly.
  • Bloom Filters: Bloom filters are probabilistic data structures used by Elasticsearch for efficient query routing. They help determine whether a shard contains any matching documents for a specific query without actually loading and examining all the documents.
  • Doc Values: Doc values are columnar field-value data structures optimized for fast sorting, aggregations, and scripting.

    They store field values in a columnar format, providing efficient access to document field data.

  • Caches: Elasticsearch implements various cache data structures to improve search performance. These include the filter cache, query cache, and field data cache. Caching frequently accessed data helps reduce disk I/O and speeds up query execution.


Elasticsearch leverages a combination of data structures to provide high-performance search capabilities. The inverted index serves as the primary structure for mapping terms to documents and enabling fast full-text searches. Additional data structures such as fielddata, Bloom filters, doc values, and caches further enhance search efficiency and enable advanced functionalities like sorting, aggregations, and scripting.

Understanding the underlying data structures used by Elasticsearch can help developers optimize their queries and make the most out of this powerful search engine.

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