lucene-java-user mailing list archives

Site index · List index
Message view « Date » · « Thread »
Top « Date » · « Thread »
From "Walt Stoneburner" <>
Subject Mixing Case and Case-Insensitive Searching
Date Fri, 11 May 2007 20:49:56 GMT
Time to give a little something back to the Lucene community, even if
it's just a little knowledge for the maintainers...

Back on 17-Apr-2007 (for those searching the archives), I expressed a
need to match on queries using an intermix of case-sensitive with
case-insensitive terms.

The example that I cited was the word LET, which is an acronym when it
appears in uppercase, and extremely common word otherwise, such that
it appears in a large bulk of documents as a false positive,
especially when one tries this query: "company LET"~10

Erick Erickson had a fantastic idea to prefix a token with a dollar
sign to signify that was an acronym and do a little translating back
and forth.

Chris "Hoss" Hostetter suggested a "customized bastard stepchild of
StopFilter and LowercaseFiltter", doing processing based on whether
something was an acronym or not.

However, in producing a concrete example for the sake of discussion, I
neglected to indicate that it was the mixing of case-sensitive and
case-insensitive matching in a single Lucene field that I was after,
not acronyms in general.

Turns out there was no way to know an acronym list up front, and worse
yet, I'd be searching for people's names... some foreign, which also
happened to be stop words in English.

Thanks to both Erick and Hoss's input, I was actually able to develop
a working hybrid solution!  And, I'd like to share a smidge bit of the
technical part on the off chance such a thing would be valuable to
other people.

I can now search for things like "+company +$LET" and case-insensitive
match on 'company' while doing a case-sensitive match on 'LET',
ignoring other cases of 'let'.

Warning: what follows is a high-level technical walk-thru of how to
bastardize your Lucene .jar file to make the above possible.  Coding
skills required.

STEP ZERO:  Go read the Lucene Tutorial by Steven J. Owens at -- this is the best walk through of the
Lucene classes that I've yet to encounter.  It starts you off assuming
zero knowledge on your part, goes through no specific implementation
details, and addresses the responsibilities and relationships of the
Lucene classes in such a way that there's no forward references in the

In this tutorial he stresses not once, not twice, but three times that
the same Analyzer that is used to build an index -must- also be used
when performing a Query.  There is great detail explaining why this is

However, in order to get our magic to work, we need to violate this
rule in a very clever way.

STEP ONE: Building an index that has both case-sensitive and
case-insensitive tokens in it.

As a document is ingested and turned into a stream of tokens, we want
to do something different than the StandardAnalyzer.  For each token
encountered, we want to emit two tokens into the index, both at the
same physical position: one is the case-sensitive token, the other is
the case-insensitive token.

We accomplish this by building our own class derived Analyzer, though
we don't do the LowerCaseFilter or the StopFilter steps.  Instead, we
call a new custom filter that we'll write.

It creates a token, unchanged, and prefixes a dollar sign on the front
as-is.  It also creates a lower-cased version, which is used for the
case insensitive.

While it's common to think of filters as tossing out tokens, they can
also be used to inject extra ones.  A reasonable way of doing this can
be found on page 130 of the rather dated book Lucene In Action (ISBN
1-932394-28-1) using the synonym example as a template.

Using Luke, it's possible to verify that indeed that two tokens make
it into the index.

STEP TWO:  Being able to query with dollar signs.

This step is where things get complicated.  It turns out that
StandardAnalyzer, which uses the StandardTokenizer, throws away dollar
signs.  So, it doesn't matter how many you type in your query, they
all vanish, never giving you the opportunity to do anything with them

By luck, this wasn't a problem in step one.  Any dollar signs in the
query are thrown away, and it's only after we construct the custom
token is one prepended.  Which, as luck would turn out, is exactly the
format we want anyhow.

It also turns out, though, that we can't use the special analyzer we
just built in step one, because it's spewing two tokens for every one
provided.  If a document contained only "let" and we queries for
"+LET", then re-using the tokenizer would produce a query that looked
like "+let +$LET", and since the latter term doesn't appear in the
document, we won't get a hit when we should.

Consequently, we've got three problems to solve before this all ties
together nicely.

First, we need to build a new Analyzer for queries.  It needs to take
a special tokenizer that can handle dollar signs  ...more on that in a

Second, we need to run it's output through a new custom filter the
conditionally converts a term to lowercase or not.

This is easy, because if the token's termText() starts with a dollar
sign, we leave it alone.  Otherwise, we lowercase the token.

Follow that...  If we type "$LET" it searches for "$LET", but if we
type "LET" it searches for "let".  Anything that isn't flagged with
the dollar sign is converted to lowercase.  This nicely fits the
syntax Erick suggested, plus it works for everything without the need
to know the acronyms up front.  "Let" becomes "let", and "$Let" stays
"$Let" which is different from "$LET".

The third problem is the ugly one... making the tokenizer handle
dollar signs.  When Hoss was talking about customized, bastard
stepchildren, he wasn't kidding.

We're actually going to have to go inside Lucene and twiddle the
grammars for the Lucene parser and tokenizer.  This requires a little
bit of knowledge of JavaCC, because you're not modifying the source,
but the .jj files, which are used to generate the .java files.

In the QueryParser.jj file, we need to let the tokenizer know a term
can start with a dollar sign, so "$" has to be added to the end of the
TERM_CHAR line (just like - and + are).

Next we copy the StandardTokenizer.jj file to our own dollar aware
version, making a new class (replace StandardTokenizer with the class
name of your choice throughout the file).  Now we teach it that an
optional dollar sign can appear before certain tokens.  Here's how.

In front of the expressions for ALPHANUM, APOSTROPHE, ACRONYM,
COMPANY, EMAIL, HOST, and NUM we add (["$"])? which is the JavaCC way
of doing regexs.  The dollar sign now means that a new case-sensitive
token is starting.

Of course, you'll have to modify the build.xml file for Lucene to add
your special class right after the StandardTokenizer.jj rule, the
jjdoc rule, and the clean-javacc rule.  Then rebuild with  ant javacc
and then  ant  to make a new .jar file, which you'll then use with
your software.

Bringing it all together, it's now possible to user your new query
version token analyzer with the QueryParser.  And calling .parse()
with dollar sign prefixed strings will search for exact-case matches,
where omitting it works like the regular old Lucene we all know and

The down side...?  The index has twice as many tokens.

Given all of the Lucene internal code is new to me, I can't promise
that I've done things in the most optimal fashion or that I haven't
introduced some subtle problem.

But from what I can tell using hand crafted sample documents,
ingesting, and inspecting them with Luke, while stepping through
source looking at generated queries, it all seems to be working

I'd love to see a formal syntax like this officially enter the Lucene
standard query language someday.

If someone can figure point me at how to do this without twiddling
Lucene's code directly, I'd be happy to contribute the modification.

-Walt Stoneburner

To unsubscribe, e-mail:
For additional commands, e-mail:

View raw message