Parses search strings (as in: what you put into a search engine) into evaluable expressions
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Swift 4.2 Version License Platform Carthage compatible

Parses search strings (as in: what you put into a search engine) into evaluable expressions.


You call the Parser.parse(searchString:). This returns a tree of the parsed expression combinations. You can ask the Expression object if it is matches a given haystack, for example:

import SearchExpressionParser
guard let expr = try? Parser.parse(searchString: "Hello") else { fatalError() }
expr.isSatisfied(by: "Hello World!") // true

Empty search strings evaluate to a wildcard matching anything.

Efficient full-text search

To use search expressions effectively in an app, I found it beneficial to operate on an all-lowercase representation of the text and use C's strstr.

So in a note-taking app, for example, you should consider lowercasing your notes in-memory and then use C-String comparison for the expressions.

First, make your text implement the CStringExpressionSatisfiable protocol:

struct Note {
    let text: String
    private let cString: [CChar]

    init(text: String) {
        self.text = text
        self.cString = text
            // Favor simple over grapheme cluster characters
            .cString(using: .utf8)!

import SearchExpressionParser

extension Note: CStringExpressionSatisfiable {
    func matches(needle: [CChar]) -> Bool {
        return strstr(self.cString, needle) != nil

Then pass this object to the expression.

let warAndPeace = Note(String(contentsOf: "books/Tolstoy/War-and-Peace.txt"))
let protagonist = try! Parser.parse(searchString: "\"Pierre Bezukhov\" OR \"Pyotr Kirillovich\"")
protagonist.isSatisfied(by: warAndPeace) // true

This sadly puts the burden of implementing the matching algorithm on your side, but this is by design so you keep a C-String around instead of relying on the framework to convert the text for you on the fly -- because that's be useless. The speed gain is well worth the couple lines of code compared to regular String.contains matching, which even gets slower when Emoji are involved.


Operators are all caps: AND, OR, NOT/!.

  • foo bar baz is equivalent to foo AND bar AND baz
  • NOT b equals !b
  • ! b (note the space) is ! AND b
  • "!b" is a phrase search for "!b", matching the literal exclamation mark
  • Escaping works in addition to phrase search, too: \!b
  • Escaping in phrase searches also works: hello "you \"lovely\" specimen"
  • Escaping operator keywords treats them literal: \AND. Note that a lowercase "and" will not be treated as an operator, only all-caps will.

You can parenthesize expressions:

!(foo OR (baz AND !bar))

... is, of course, equivalent to:

!foo OR !baz AND !foo OR !bar

As of yet, there is no real operator precedence implementation because the full-text search context I was using this in didn't need that.

The Expression object of this nested term looks like this:

// !(foo OR (baz AND !bar))
    OrNode(lhs: ContainsNode("foo"), 
           rhs: AndNode(lhs: ContainsNode("baz"), 
                        rhs: NotNode(ContainsNode("bar")))))


When you call the high-level Parser.parse(searchString:) entry point, you get an object in return that conforms to Expression.

The Expression protocol is:

public protocol Expression {
    func isSatisfied(by satisfiable: StringExpressionSatisfiable) -> Bool
    func isSatisfied(by satisfiable: CStringExpressionSatisfiable) -> Bool

You can pass the haystack to isStatisfied, e.g. the text you want to search.

When the case of words doesn't matter, remember it's much faster if you make the text you want to search conform to CStringExpressionSatisfiable and pass that in, instead. See above for details.

The expressions provided are:

  • AnythingNode will match anything you put it; it's the wildcard or empty search.
  • ContainsNode represents check similar to String.contains.
  • NotNode wraps 1 other node and reverses the result of its outcome.
  • AndNode and OrNode both take 2 other notes and combine their results with the boolean operator equivalents.


Copyright (c) 2018 Christian Tietze. Distributed under the MIT License.

Apps that use this

  • The Archive, a fast plain-text note-taking app for macOS.