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Full document text search in nodejs using elasticsearch and elasticsearch mapper attachments plugin


In one of our recent meteor applications we included a full document search feature using elasticsearch. Elasticsearch creates an index of documents based on metadata and their plain text content. For this feature we needed to support PDF and office filetypes (doc, docx, pptx etc.) as well. To accomodate this, elasticsearch has a plugin called elasticsearch-mapper-attachments.

Because we wanted to use a docker image to run elasticsearch, we decided to extend the elasticsearch:2.3.3 image and add the plugin on top of it. The plugin takes care of transforming the documents into a plaintext format using apache tika. The plaintext of the document is then used to create a document in elasticsearch.

FROM elasticsearch:2.3.3

RUN bin/plugin install mapper-attachments

EXPOSE 9200 9300
CMD ["elasticsearch"]

My colleague Bryan pushed it to dockerhub for anyone to use under the tag bryantebeek/elasticsearch-mapper-attachments:2.3.3. We can now provision our server with this docker image using ansible, and configure the volumes to ensure the indexes created by elasticsearch are persisted on the docker host disk.

-   name: elasticsearch | docker | start/update elastiscsearch
    name: elasticsearch
    image: bryantebeek/elasticsearch-mapper-attachments:2.3.3
    state: started
    restart_policy: always
    volumes: - /var/data/elasticsearch:/usr/share/elastiscsearch/data
    ports: - "9200:9200" - "9300:9300"
    tags: elasticsearch

The elasticsearch service is now running and ready to accept connections from node application code. Before we can index any documents, we have to create the index itself. We use the elasticsearch npm module to setup the connection to elasticsearch:

import elasticsearch from 'elasticsearch';

let client = new elasticsearch.Client({
    host: 'localhost:9200',
    log: ['error', 'warning'],

Now we can create an index, we call it "files" and set the file property to be of type "attachment" to trigger the use of the mapper plugin:

client.indices.create({ index: 'files' }).then(() => {
    // create a mapping for the attachment
    return elastic.client.indices.putMapping({
        index: 'files',
        type: 'document',
        body: {
            document: {
                properties: {
                    file: {
                        type: 'attachment',
                        fields: {
                            content: {
                                type: 'string',
                                term_vector: 'with_positions_offsets',
                                store: true,

Whenever we now upload a document in the application, we read it into memory, transform it into base64 and use the same elasticsearch client to create a new entry in the "files" index:

const fileContents = fse.readFileSync('some/uploaded/filepath');
const fileBase64 = new Buffer(fileContents).toString('base64');

        index: 'files',
        type: 'document',
        id: 'somefileid',
        body: {
            file_id: 'somefileid',
            file: {
                \_content: fileBase64,
    .catch((err) => {
        console.error('Error while creating elasticsearch record', err);

The document is now added to elasticsearch, and ready to be retrieved in the result of a search query. When the user uses the search functionality, a query is sent to the elasticsearch client and the results returned to the front-end:
        q: query,
        index: 'files',
    (error, result) => {
        if (error) return done(error);

The hits object in the result contains an array of hits sorted by search score, which can then be rendered as pleased!