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Pelican Search

This is a collection to add fast, dynamic, and scalable searching to a website that was generated with pelican. It uses sphinxsearch as the backend.

Background

Pelican is a static website generatior. When it is done, the dynamic stuff is all scripts that execute client side. This is not ideal when it comes to searching your website.

Two options existed before now. The first was to use an external search service such as Google to index your site and do the searching for you. The other option is to generate a json file with your entire website. Any time a user wants to search your site, they would have to download the javascript application and a json dump of the entire content on your website and then run the search on their own computers.

Downloading an entire dump of your website sucks if you have any reasonable amount of content. It's the only option in some cases, but where it can be avoided it should be.

Purpose

The purpose of this project is to build a dynamic, scalable, and fast search option for websites. My goal was to build something that would run without issues on a server with as little as 128MB RAM. It's possible that this will run well on less but I haven't testet it.

A little warning, we are creating an external search service and hosting it ourselves. This is usually an incredibly complicated task. This project is half documentation and half code.

Getting Prepared

The first thing you need is a functional Pelican website. If you need help with this, please, see their Getting Started page.

Assumptions:

  • You understand the basics of Linux
  • You're using Nginx to host this site
  • You can follow gaps in my instructions

Once you've read through the Pelican Getting Started page, you should also take a look at my own Pelican and Nginx blog post. Once you've read and been able to follow that, you will have a fully functional Pelican website running behind Nginx. At this point, you're now ready to start adding search magic!

Getting Started

This project is divided into four sub-projects. Each directory relates to one piece of the puzzle (documented sub-project). It's best to follow them in order.

  • pelican: Get pelican generating what we need
  • sphinxsearch: Get sphinxsearch reading the data pelican created
  • bottle: Get the search application running
  • nginx: Make search requests go to the search application

What Happens

The end result is basically this:

  • Pelican has extra pieces added to the theme
  • Pelican creates a template for the Bottle application
  • Pelican creates a dump of the entire site for SphinxSearch to index
  • SphinxSearch indexes the site dump Pelican created
  • SphinxSearch listens to a port for mysql connections
  • Bottle is run by uwsgi
  • Bottle takes search arguments in the query string with ?q=
  • Bottle makes a connection to the mysql port SphinxSearch opened
  • Bottle performs the search
  • Bottle returns the search results, themed via the template file Pelican created
  • Uwsgi runs the Bottle application
  • Uwsgi creates a socket for Nginx to connect to
  • Nginx passes /search requests to uwsgi
  • User makes a request to Nginx

So:

  • User <-> Nginx <-> Pelican (static files)
  • User <-> Nginx <-> Uwsgi <-> Bottle <-> SphinxSearch
  • Pelican -> <static file> <-> SphinxSearch
  • Pelican -> <static file> <-> Bottle

Adaptations

It would be perfectly viable to have pelican generate the XML file and run all other dynamic pieces on a different server. You could even have the search box generated send search requestst to search.yourdomain.tld. This would allow you to host your Pelican site on a static service such as pages.github.com and run the search on a cheap VPS.

I'd offer a service to run something like this, but that means you're no longer in control and that obviously defeats a large purpose of this project.

To Do

I'm still not really happy with this project. However, there's only so much any one person can do. If you're interested, please see if you can help me with any of the following.

  • pelicanconf.py needs to be told to generate the search template, I don't like this.
  • On first request, it's possible sphinxsearch dropped the connection, I need to figure out how to re-establish that connection without just letting the first request die.

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Add lightning-fast dynamic searching to your static pelican site using sphinxsearch and bottle.

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