What Data Structure Is Used in Elasticsearch?


Heather Bennett

What Data Structure Is Used in Elasticsearch?

Elasticsearch is a highly scalable and distributed search and analytics engine that stores data in a specific data structure called an inverted index. The inverted index is a fundamental component of Elasticsearch that enables efficient full-text searching and powerful querying capabilities.

The Inverted Index

In traditional databases, data is typically stored in row-based tables. However, Elasticsearch takes a different approach by using the inverted index data structure. The inverted index maps each unique term or word in the entire dataset to the documents that contain it.

This mapping allows Elasticsearch to quickly retrieve relevant documents for a given query by using the inverted index as an efficient lookup mechanism. By indexing all terms upfront, Elasticsearch can provide near-instantaneous search results even for vast amounts of data.


Before creating the inverted index, Elasticsearch performs tokenization on the input text. Tokenization is the process of breaking down text into individual units called tokens, usually based on whitespace or punctuation.

For example, consider the sentence: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” After tokenization, this sentence would be split into tokens such as “The,” “quick,” “brown,” “fox,” “jumps,” “over,” “the,” “lazy,” and “dog.”

Inverted Index Construction

Once tokenization is complete, Elasticsearch constructs an inverted index by associating each token with its corresponding document(s). Each document contains one or more fields, such as title or content.

For instance, let’s assume we have three documents:

  • Document 1: Title – “Introduction to Elasticsearch”, Content – “Elasticsearch is a powerful search engine. “
  • Document 2: Title – “Getting Started with Elasticsearch”, Content – “Elasticsearch provides scalable search capabilities.

  • Document 3: Title – “Advanced Elasticsearch Techniques”, Content – “Explore advanced features of Elasticsearch. “

The inverted index for the term “Elasticsearch” would look like this:

  • Term: “Elasticsearch”
    • Document 1
    • Document 2
    • Document 3

Benefits of the Inverted Index

The inverted index used by Elasticsearch offers several advantages:

  • Faster Searching: By pre-indexing all terms, Elasticsearch can quickly find relevant documents without having to perform costly full-text scans.
  • Real-time Indexing: As new documents are added or existing ones are updated, the inverted index can be efficiently updated in real-time, ensuring that search results are always up-to-date.
  • Flexible Queries: The inverted index allows for various query types, including simple term matches, phrase searches, fuzzy searches, and more complex queries using Boolean operators.

In Conclusion

Elasticsearch utilizes an inverted index as its underlying data structure for efficient and powerful search capabilities. By indexing all terms upfront and associating them with their corresponding documents, Elasticsearch can provide lightning-fast search results while offering flexibility in querying.

If you’re looking for a search and analytics engine that can handle large volumes of data and deliver near-instantaneous results, Elasticsearch with its inverted index is an excellent choice.

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