DataSunrise is sponsoring RSA Conference2024 in San Francisco, please visit us in DataSunrise's booth #6178

Elasticsearch Inverted Index

Elasticsearch Inverted Index

Elasticsearch Inverted Index


Elasticsearch is a popular choice for organizations looking to search and analyze large amounts of data. Elasticsearch’s search power comes from the inverted index, a structure that makes text search fast and efficient. This article explains the Elasticsearch inverted index, its benefits, and how it is different from other indexing methods.

What is an Inverted Index?

An inverted index is a data structure used by search engines like Elasticsearch.

It is also known as a postings file or inverted file. The purpose of the inverted index is to assist with fast text searches. It maps each unique term in a collection of documents to the locations where it appears.

An inverted index saves a list of unique terms and their frequencies in documents. This is done instead of saving documents word by word. The index stores the terms and their frequencies for easy retrieval and analysis. This method helps in quickly finding relevant information within the documents.

Here’s a simple example to illustrate how an inverted index works:

Document 1: "Elasticsearch is a powerful search engine"
Document 2: "Elasticsearch enables fast data retrieval"

The inverted index for these documents would look like this:

"elasticsearch":         [1, 2]
"is":                     [1]
"a":                      [1]
"powerful":               [1]
"search":                 [1]
"engine":                 [1]
"enables":                [2]
"fast":                   [2]
"data":                   [2]
"retrieval":              [2]

You can see that each unique term is mapped to the document IDs where it appears. This structure allows Elasticsearch to quickly locate relevant documents based on search queries.

What is Document ID?

you can see the document IDs used in the Elasticsearch index. In Elasticsearch engine, each document has a unique identifier called the “_id” field. This field is either automatically generated by Elasticsearch or explicitly provided by you when indexing a document.

You can get the “_id” field and other document fields when searching or retrieving documents from an Elasticsearch index. Here are a few examples of how you can access the document IDs:

When indexing a document, you can specify the “_id” field:

PUT /my-index/_doc/1
   "title": "Example Document",
   "content": "This is an example document."

In this case, you explicitly set the document ID to “1”.

When searching for documents, you can include the “_id” field in the response:

GET /my-index/_search
   "query": {
   "match": {
   "title": "example"
   "_source": ["_id", "title", "content"]

The “_source” parameter specifies which fields to include in the response. We also included “_id” along with “title” and “content”.

When getting a specific document by its ID:

GET /my-index/_doc/1

This retrieves the document with the ID “1”, and the response will include the “_id” field.

The “_id” field is not a hidden parameter in Elasticsearch. The field is visible and accessible, and it uniquely identifies each document in an index.

Users use document IDs for various tasks. These tasks include updating or deleting specific documents. You can also use them to link documents together. You can do this using “parent-child” or “nested” document types.

Elasticsearch can create unique document IDs for you, but you can also choose to assign your own custom IDs if necessary.

How Elasticsearch Uses the Inverted Index

When you set up Elasticsearch and index your data, it automatically creates an inverted index behind the scenes. As you add, update, or delete documents, Elasticsearch maintains and updates the inverted index to ensure accurate search results.

When you perform a search query in Elasticsearch, it leverages the inverted index to efficiently retrieve matching documents. Elasticsearch doesn’t scan through documents one by one. Instead, it looks up terms in the inverted index to find the document IDs. This approach significantly reduces the search time, especially for large datasets.

Alternatives to Inverted Index

The inverted index is commonly used in search engines, but it’s important to note the forward index as well. A forward index stores documents as a sequence of words and associates each document with its terms.

Using the same example documents from earlier, a forward index would look like this:

Document 1: ["elasticsearch", "is", "a", "powerful", "search", "engine"]
Document 2: ["elasticsearch", "enables", "fast", "data", "retrieval"]

Forward indexes are less efficient for text search compared to inverted indexes. Searching for a specific term would require scanning through each document’s term list, which can be time-consuming for large collections.

Advantages of Inverted Index

The inverted index offers several advantages over other indexing approaches:

  1. Fast search performance: By mapping terms to document IDs, the inverted index enables Elasticsearch to quickly locate relevant documents. This happens without scanning through the entire dataset.
  2. Efficient storage: The inverted index only stores unique terms once. It doesn’t matter how many times they show up in the documents. This reduces storage requirements compared to storing duplicate terms in each document.
  3. Scalability: Elasticsearch distributes indexes across nodes in a cluster for efficient searching and managing large datasets.

Controlling Indexing Rules in Elasticsearch

Elasticsearch provides flexibility in controlling indexing rules through the use of analyzers and mappings. Analyzers determine how to tokenize, normalize, and filter text before indexing it. Custom analyzers can be created to tailor the indexing process to your specific requirements. This can include handling synonyms, removing stop words, and utilizing stemming.

Mappings define the structure and data types of your documents. You can specify which fields should be indexed, how they should be analyzed, and additional properties like term vectors or similarity algorithms. By carefully designing your mappings, you can optimize the indexing process and improve search relevance.

Here’s an example of Elasticsearch setup a custom analyzer:

PUT /my-index
   "settings": {
      "analysis": {
      "analyzer": {
      "my_custom_analyzer": {
      "type": "custom",
      "tokenizer": "standard",
      "filter": [

In this example, we create a custom analyzer named “my_custom_analyzer.” This analyzer uses the standard tokenizer, converts terms to lowercase, and removes stop words. You can then apply this analyzer to specific fields in your mappings.


The Elasticsearch inverted index is a powerful data structure that enables fast and efficient text search. By mapping unique terms to document IDs, it allows Elasticsearch to quickly retrieve relevant documents based on search queries. Compared to alternative approaches like forward indexes, the inverted index offers superior search performance and scalability.

You can improve your search engine setup by understanding how the inverted index works. Using Elasticsearch’s flexibility to control indexing rules can also help. This will lead to providing great search experiences for your users.

At DataSunrise, we offer user-friendly and flexible tools for database security, audit, and compliance. Our experts are ready to give you an online demo of DataSunrise to help secure and optimize your database deployment.


Snowflake Cross Apply

Snowflake Cross Apply

Learn More

Need Our Support Team Help?

Our experts will be glad to answer your questions.

General information:
[email protected]
Customer Service and Technical Support:
Partnership and Alliance Inquiries:
[email protected]