Ditching ElasticUtils on Input for elasticsearch-dsl-py

Note: This is an old post in a blog with a lot of posts. The world has changed, technologies have changed, and I've changed. It's likely this is out of date and not representative. Let me know if you think this is something that needs updating.

What was it?

ElasticUtils was a Python library for building and executing Elasticsearch searches. I picked up maintenance after the original authors moved on with their lives, did a lot of work, released many versions and eventually ended the project in January 2015.

Why end it? A bunch of reasons.

It started at PyCon 2014, when I had a long talk with Rob, Jannis, and Erik about ElasticUtils the new library Honza was working on which became elasticsearch-dsl-py.

At the time, I knew that ElasticUtils had a bunch of architectural decisions that turned out to be make life really hard. Doing some things was hard. It was built for a pre-1.0 Elasticsearch and it would have been a monumental effort to upgrade it past the Elasticsearch 1.0 hump. The code wasn't structured particularly well. I was tired of working on it.

Honza's library had a lot of promise and did the sorts of things that ElasticUtils should have done and did them better--even at that ridiculously early stage of development.

By the end of PyCon 2014, I was pretty sure elasticsearch-dsl-py was the future. The only question was whether to gut ElasticUtils and make it a small shim on top of elasticsearch-dsl-py or end it.

In January 2015, I decided to just end it because I didn't see a compelling reason to keep it around or rewrite it into something on top of elasticsearch-dsl-py. Thus I ended it.

Now to migrate to something different.

ElasticUtils and Input

Even after ending ElasticUtils, Input continued to use it for months because our Elasticsearch cluster was stuck at 0.90.10. We finally got upgraded to Elasticsearch 1.2.4 (which is still not supported, but at least it's beyond the 1.0 hump) which was preventing us from ditching ElasticUtils for elasticsearch-dsl-py.

This week at the Mozilla Whistler all-hands week, I spent some quality time with the Elasticsearch code in Input and rewrote it to use elasticsearch-dsl-py.

Figuring other people might have to do this, I thought it'd be worth writing up a blog post with my thoughts.

Which version of elasticsearch-dsl-py?

At the time of this writing, the latest released version is elasticsearch-dsl-py 0.4. However, the DocType has no good way of converting to a Python dict. In master tip, there's a .to_dict() method on DocType which does what I need.

Thus I went with master tip figuring I'll pick up the next release when it gets released.

ElasticUtils MappingType to elasticsearch-dsl-py DocType

In ElasticUtils, we had MappingType and Indexable and you could build classes that declaratively state the shape of the mapping for your doctype. These classes had some functions to make it easy to index, delete, search those mapping types. There was a fair amount of scaffolding required to use these, though. Plus the way they were structured didn't really save you much time to use them.

In elasticsearch-dsl-py, the DocType class does a lot more. Declaring the mapping of your document is a lot cleaner and it's a lot easier to do things with DocTypes.

ElasticUtils blog mapping type:

class BlogEntryMappingType(MappingType, Indexable):
    def get_index(cls):
        return 'blog-index'

    def get_mapping_type_name(cls):
        return 'blog-entry'

    def get_model(cls):
        return BlogEntry

    def get_es(cls):
        return get_es(urls=['http://localhost:9200'])

    def get_mapping(cls):
        return {
            'properties': {
                'id': {'type': 'integer'},
                'title': {'type': 'string'},
                'tags': {'type': 'string'},
                'created': {'type': 'date'}

    def extract_document(cls, obj_id, obj=None):
        if obj == None:
            obj = cls.get_model().get(id=obj_id)

        doc = {}
        doc['id'] = obj.id
        doc['title'] = obj.title
        doc['tags'] = obj.tags
        doc['created'] = obj.created
        return doc

    def get_indexable(cls):
        return cls.get_model().get_objects()

In elasticsearch-dsl-py:

class BlogDocType(DocType):
    id = Integer()
    title = String(analyzer='snowball')
    tags = String(analyzer='keyword')
    created = Date()

    class Meta:
        name = 'blog-entry'
        index = 'blog-index'

    def get_indexable(cls):
        return cls.get_model().get_objects()

    def from_obj(cls, obj):
        return cls(

The latter is a lot less code and a lot easier to deal with. Converting from one to the other was pretty straight forward.

My one issue here (and something I should go fix) is that the documentation for elasticsearch-dsl-py isn't particularly clear on the various types or some of the options. I ended up reading through the code. As elasticsearch-dsl-py continues to mature, I'm sure this issue will go away (especially if I go fix it).

Facets to Aggregations

ElasticUtils was of the pre-1.0 world and thus supported facets but not aggregations. When converting Input from ElasticUtils to elasticsearch-dsl-py, I spent most of my time on this part partially because I'd never used aggregations before so I had to understand how they worked first.

I'm going to ditch the blog entry example I was using and instead just show the code before and after for the two things I had to convert in Input.

First, we have faceted navigation on the front page dashboard. On the left side, you'd see a bunch of categories and for each category, you'd see all the values in that category and how many pieces of input had that value.

In ElasticUtils, that code looked like this:

facets = search.facets(['happy', 'product', 'locale', 'version'],
for category, buckets in facet.facet_counts().items():
    for bucket in buckets:
        key = bucket['term']
        count = bucket['count']

In elasticsearch-dsl-py, that code looks like this:

# Note: .aggs modifies the search *in-place*.
for key in ['happy', 'product', 'locale', 'version']:
    search.aggs.bucket(key, 'terms', field=name)

restuls = search.execute()

for category in ['happy', 'product', 'locale', 'version']:
    buckets = getattr(results, aggregations, category)['buckets']
    for bucket in buckets:
        key = bucket['key']
        count = bucket['doc_count']

I like that I don't have to do that filtered=... goofy thing anymore.

The other case where we used facets was for date histogram data. That's a little more complex because with ElasticUtils, we did two date_histogram facets and in elasticsearch-dsl-py we use aggregations.

In ElasticUtils:

# Do a facet for happy and one for sad.
happy_f = f & F(happy=True)
sad_f = f & F(happy=False)
histograms = search.facet_raw(
        'date_histogram': {'interval': 'day', 'field': 'created'},
        'facet_filter': search._process_filters(happy_f.filters)
        'date_histogram': {'interval': 'day', 'field': 'created'},
        'facet_filter': search._process_filters(sad_f.filters)

# Reshape the data so it's a dict of time in ms -> count.
happy_data = dict((p['time'], p['count']) for p in histograms['happy'])
sad_data = dict((p['time'], p['count']) for p in histograms['sad'])

In elasticsearch-dsl-py:

# Top-level, do a date_histogram bucket for number of Input
# feedback per day.
search.aggs.bucket('histogram', 'date_histogram', field='created', interval='day')

# Under that, get counts by sentiment type (e.g. happy and sad).
search.aggs['histogram'].bucket('per_sentiment', 'terms', field='happy')

results = search.execute()

# We need to draw two lines, so we build two dicts of time-in-ms -> count.
happy_data = {}
sad_data = {}
for bucket in results.aggregations['histogram']['buckets']:
    t = bucket['key']
    counts_dict = dict(
        (item['key'], item['doc_count'])
        for item in bucket['per_sentiment']['buckets']

    happy_data[t] = counts_dict.get('T', 0)
    sad_data[t] = counts_dict.get('F', 0)


The aggregations code here is more complicated mostly because we have to transform the results into a different shape which is better for creating the chart in the front end. Otherwise, aggregations is easier to deal with plus it's way more powerful--something this example doesn't show.


I'm still tweaking the changes and haven't posted a PR, yet. The preliminary changes cover 17 files with 559 insertions and 508 deletions.

I'm not seeing any differences in the time it takes to run the tests. Maybe that means there isn't much of a performance change.

For the most part it seems like converting the code is fairly straight-forward.

There was a bunch of other code I had to change that I didn't talk about above, but that was mostly due to it being old in the tooth and me wanting to rework how indexing works and some other things. Plus some unadulterated yak shaving.

I hope this blog post was helpful. If you have questions or there are issues, let me know by sending me an email.

Want to comment? Send an email to willkg at bluesock dot org. Include the url for the blog entry in your comment so I have some context as to what you're talking about.