Autocomplete with AWS CloudSearch

04/18/20162 Min Read — In Cloudsearch, AWS

In this post we will discuss supporting Autocomplete with AWS CloudSearch. CloudSearch is a full featured search engine that allows AWS users a performant way to query NoSQL solutions via index columns. Read the following article if you would like to learn how to port DynamoDB data to CloudSearch to follow along. Getting Started Searching DynamoDB Data with Amazon CloudSearch

CloudSearch is a natural searching choice in the AWS world due to it’s ease of integration with DynamoDB. In any searching solution there are a few common scenarios that users need to handle.

  1. Autocomplete searching
  2. Full text searching
  3. Faceted searching

Today we will be focusing on the first scenario. We have a website that allows users to search movies their favorite actors have starred in. This system will provide text autocomplete as users spell out the name of their favorite actor.

Consider the following list.


If our user types “jes” into our autocomplete search box to lookup their favorite actor by name they expect to get back an autocomplete list of all actors that have “jes” contained somewhere within their name. They do not expect to find Tom Hardy as his name does not contain a “jes” even though it is part of his username.


The default query does phrase matching. Because of this we cannot approach solving autocomplete by using the default syntax . The default query will return 0 results, as none of our users have a single phrase of “jes” contained in their user data. However, all of our desired users have “jes” as the prefix in a desired column. We can use the * wildcard character to specify any result that is prefixed by our desired search phrase.


This seems to work on the surface, however, we are now receiving all results including Tom Hardy (since his username contains jes as a prefix). To resolve this we need to limit the scope of our prefix search to the first and last name fields only. This can be done by utilizing a structured query. For more information on structured queries, click here.

search?q=(or (prefix field%3Dfirst_name 'jes') (prefix field%3Dlast_name 'jes'))

Note: In queries the = sign must be HTML encoded as %3D Note: I have broken this request onto 4 separate lines to limit horizontal scrolling. It is one HTTP GET request

This request will get all users with a prefix of “jes” but what happens if we add another “s” so that we are now searching for “jess”? Well, since our user Jess Harnell does not have any continuing characters in their first name they will fail the CloudSearch requirement and will not be returned. For this reason we will need to support searching for phrases (as we did in our first example) as well as prefixes.

search?q=(or (or (prefix field%3Dfirst_name 'jes') (phrase field%3Dfirst_name
'jes')) (or (prefix field%3Dlast_name 'jes') (phrase field%3Dlast_name 'jes')))

The phrase syntax can be shorthanded to the following however I prefer the more explicit declaration

search?q=(or (or (prefix field%3Dfirst_name 'jes') (or first_name: 'jes')) (or
(prefix field%3Dlast_name 'jes') (or last_name: 'jes'))) &q.parser=structured

By default, CloudSearch will return the top 10 results, which may be a little much for an autocomplete feature. I personally prefer to show the top 5. This can be specified through the size parameter

search?q=(or (or (prefix field%3Dfirst_name 'jes') (or first_name: 'jes')) (or
(prefix field%3Dlast_name 'jes') (or last_name: 'jes'))) &q.parser=structured

Now we are able to get a smaller result set which will help to declutter the UI as the user continues typing to narrow their search. If we do not provide a sort index or any scoring rules CloudSearch will attempt to score our results for us. Which will rank results with phrase hits higher than prefix hits. If we decide we prefer our results to be alphabetical regards of scoring, we can choose to apply a sort and a sort direction.

search?q=(or (or (prefix field%3Dfirst_name 'jes') (or first_name: 'jes')) (or
(prefix field%3Dlast_name 'jes') (or last_name: 'jes'))) &q.parser=structured
&size=5 &sort=first_name asc

And that concludes this walkthrough on AWS CloudSearch as an autocomplete solution. For more information about the Search API, [](click here.)