What Is Elasticsearch & Why You Should Use It In 2023

Jerry Wallis
15 min read

The ability to effectively search, analyse, and visualise vast amounts of data is crucial for businesses and organisations. Elasticsearch is one such powerful and popular search and analytics engine that has gained immense popularity over the years. 

You know, when someone asks, “What is Elasticsearch?” you might get a bunch of different answers that leave you scratching your head. Some say it’s an index, others call it a search engine, and there are even those who compare it to Google! And you know what? They’re all right! Elasticsearch is a bit of a multi-talented wizard, and that’s what makes it so appealing.

Now, picture this: over the years, Elasticsearch has grown into something much bigger than when it first started. It’s not just a simple search engine; it’s become a whole ecosystem known as the “Elastic Stack.” This thing has become an absolute superstar, capable of handling all sorts of tasks—from basic website searches and log data analysis to complex data crunching and beautiful visualisations. No wonder it’s one of the top dogs in the enterprise search engine world and ranks among the most popular DBMS (database management systems) out there!

So, in this article, we will explore what Elasticsearch is, its key features, and why it is essential to use it for various data-related applications.

What is Elasticsearch? 🗃️

Elasticsearch is an open-source distributed search and analytics engine built on top of Apache Lucene, a full-text search library, written in Java. It was first introduced by Elasticsearch N.V. in 2010, and now, it is part of the Elastic Stack, which includes other tools like Kibana, Logstash, and Beats. So, you can think of it as Lucene’s big brother, all grown up and ready to take on the world!

Rapid Real-time Search – Well, Almost!

Picture this: Elasticsearch was born with scalability in mind. It started off as a scalable version of Lucene, but that was just the beginning. It quickly evolved to handle the challenge of horizontally scaling Lucene indices. In simpler terms, it can handle vast amounts of data like a pro!

But that’s not all. The real magic of Elasticsearch lies in its lightning-fast search and analysis abilities. Do you know why? Because instead of sifting through the text directly, it’s got a smart trick up its sleeve. It searches an index! It’s like having a super organised library, and Elasticsearch knows exactly where to find which book or novel you’re looking for. And here’s the kicker—it does it all in near real-time, i.e. within a second! How cool is that? You get your answers in milliseconds, making it the go-to choice for handling huge data volumes with ease.

JSON At Its Core 💻

Alright, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty. Elasticsearch is all about documents, not tables and schemas as you’d find in a typical database. It’s got a fresh perspective, and it’s all about embracing JSON (JavaScript Object Notation). JSON is like the universal language of data on the internet, and Elasticsearch speaks it fluently.

So, think of Elasticsearch as this smart server that can process JSON requests like a breeze. You send it a request, and it responds with JSON data, just like that. It’s like having a smooth conversation with your data, and Elasticsearch always gives you just what you need.

REST API Wizardry 🧙🏻‍♂️

Elasticsearch doesn’t stop there; it comes with an extensive REST API. Now, don’t let the tech jargon scare you—it’s actually quite cool. This API allows you to store and search your data in a snap. It’s like having a powerful set of tools that makes interacting with Elasticsearch a walk in the park, meaning you can leverage Elasticsearch in your own applications to make it more robust and feature-rich.

How does Elasticsearch work? ⚙️

Elasticsearch uses a JSON-based query language to perform real-time searches on a massive amount of data. It stores data in the form of documents, and each document belongs to a type and resides within an index. The index, in turn, is distributed across multiple nodes to ensure high availability and fault tolerance.

But, while all that is well and good, how does the entire ecosystem function exactly? Don’t worry, as we’ll explain just that and possibly more. Let’s start with data absorption, and work our way to visualisation. 

Elasticsearch Data Ingestion 💾

You’ve typically got two ways to deliver data to Elasticsearch. The first one is through its trusty API, a super flexible and powerful tool that makes data transfer a breeze. Just send your JSON documents to Elasticsearch using the API, and it’ll handle the rest with grace and speed.

But hey, that’s not all! Elasticsearch understands that you might have other favourite tools for data ingestion. This is why it’s compatible with tools such as Logstash and Amazon Kinesis Data Firehose. These cool tools can help you send data directly to Elasticsearch without breaking a sweat. It’s like having multiple VIP entry points to the Elasticsearch party!

The Elasticsearch Index: Where Magic Happens 🪄

Now, let’s talk about what happens to your data once it reaches Elasticsearch’s doorstep. Elasticsearch is quite the organiser. It takes your original JSON documents, stores them safely, and then adds a little something special—an easily searchable reference to each document. It’s like having a well-kept library, where every book has its own catalogue card.

So, your data is neatly organised into what we call an “index.” This index is like a special collection of related documents, all nicely grouped together. It’s like putting all your cooking recipes in one neat recipe book—easy to find and even easier to explore!

Search and Retrieve: Elasticsearch’s Superpowers 🔌

Alright, now comes the fun part—searching and retrieving your data! Thanks to Elasticsearch’s smarts, it can quickly scour through all those documents and find exactly what you need. You can use its API to perform searches and fetch the data you’re after. It’s like having a personal data detective, always ready to fetch your information in a flash.

Visualise and Create: Kibana Joins the Party 📊

But wait, there’s more! Remember that cool friend I mentioned earlier, Kibana? Well, here’s where it comes in handy. Kibana is like a visualisation tool that compliments Elasticsearch perfectly. It takes your data and turns it into stunning visualisations and interactive dashboards. It’s like having your data come to life in a beautiful art show!

Getting to Know the Elasticsearch Basics – Documents & Indices 🗒️

So, at the heart of Elasticsearch, we have these little things called “documents.” Picture them as neat packages of information represented in JSON format. These documents are like the building blocks of Elasticsearch, and they can contain all sorts of data—numbers, texts, dates, you name it! Each document has its own unique ID, and it describes what it’s all about. 

Think of it as an encyclopaedia article or some log entries from a web server. These documents are then grouped together into what we call “indices.” 

Now, indexes, as mentioned earlier, are an organised collection of related documents. It’s like having separate drawers for different types of stuff. For instance, on an e-commerce website, you’d have one drawer for customers, another for products, and yet another for orders. It’s all about keeping things tidy and making it easy to find what you need.

The Ingenious Inverted Index 🖇️

Okay, now this is where things get really cool. Elasticsearch uses something called an “inverted index” under the hood. Don’t be scared by the fancy name; it’s actually quite clever. Imagine it as a magical map that connects words to their exact locations in the documents. 

So, when you’re searching for something, Elasticsearch knows exactly where to find it lightning-fast! Let’s break it down a bit further. Instead of storing strings directly, the inverted index splits each document into individual search terms, like single words. 

Then, it maps these search terms to the documents where they appear. It’s like creating a word list, and each word points to the documents it appears in. Pretty nifty, right?

Meet the Backend Heroes of Elasticsearch 🦸🏻

Now that we’ve grasped the basics let’s meet the backend heroes that make Elasticsearch tick!

📚 The Cluster

You can imagine an Elasticsearch cluster as a bustling team of servers working together towards a common goal. It’s like a united front of node instances. The real power of this cluster lies in how it divides tasks, making searches and indexing super efficient.

The Node

Now, a node is like a single soldier in that incredible cluster army. Each node is a server, and it plays a crucial role. It stores data and takes part in all the search and indexing actions.

These nodes can be of different types:

  • Controller Node: This one is the big boss, calling the shots for the entire cluster. It handles all those cluster-wide operations, like creating or deleting an index and adding or removing nodes.
  • Data Node: As the name suggests, this node handles data-related operations, like searches and aggregations. It’s the data guru of the cluster.
  • Client Node: This node is like the middleman, passing cluster requests to the controller node and data-related requests to the data nodes.

🔷 Shards

Ah, now here’s a clever way to handle tons of data. Elasticsearch can slice an index into multiple pieces called “shards.”Each shard is like a mini-index that can live on any node in the cluster. 

By breaking things down into shards and distributing them across multiple nodes, Elasticsearch ensures safety against hardware failures and a massive boost in query capacity.

🗿 Replicas

Just like making backup copies of your precious files, Elasticsearch lets you create “replicas” of your shards. These replicas are basically duplicates of the primary shards. 

Every document in an index belongs to a primary shard, and replicas act as backups to safeguard against hardware hiccups and to ramp up read requests, like searching for or fetching documents.

What is Elasticsearch? Here's an image of a IT professional managing a data server running on Elastic

The Elastic Stack – Kibana, Logstash & Beats 💸

At the heart of the Elastic Stack, we have Elasticsearch, the rock-solid search engine that can handle data like a pro. It’s the central component that powers all the magic. But it doesn’t stop there; it’s a jack-of-all-trades, working seamlessly with its fellow teammates.

Kibana: The Visualization Whiz 🗞️

Meet Kibana, the data visualization and management tool that’s all about turning data into art! It plays beautifully with Elasticsearch, offering real-time histograms, line graphs, pie charts, and maps. With Kibana, you can explore your Elasticsearch data and sail through the Elastic Stack. You start with a question, and Kibana guides you on an interactive journey, revealing insights and stories hidden within your data.

Logstash: The Data Magician 🔮

Next up is Logstash, the wizard of data aggregation and processing. It’s like the ultimate data pipeline, ingesting data from various sources simultaneously and transforming it into a common format. With Logstash on your side, you can tie together different systems—web servers, databases, Amazon services, you name it—and send the data wherever it needs to go. It’s all about making sense of scattered data and creating a harmonious flow.

Beats: The Lightfooted Data Agents 🎧

Last but not least, we have Beats, the nimble data shipping agent. These lightweight agents can sit on hundreds or even thousands of machines and systems, effortlessly sending data to Logstash or Elasticsearch. Beats are perfect for gathering data from various sources and centralizing it in Elasticsearch. Whether it’s log files, server monitoring, or data streams, Beats have got you covered.

Unleash the Power of ELK! 🦍

When Elasticsearch joined forces with Kibana, Logstash, and Beats, the Elastic Stack became an unstoppable data powerhouse. Together, they handle data ingestion, enrichment, storage, analysis, and visualization like a dream team.

And while Kibana is fantastic for real-time visualizations, we know there are times when more advanced use cases call for extra magic. That’s where Knowi comes in, offering the ability to join Elasticsearch data from multiple indexes and blend it with other data sources in a business-user-friendly UI.

So, whether you’re a data enthusiast or a developer, the ELK Stack is here to empower you with its flexibility, performance, and visualization prowess. Get ready to explore and conquer the world of data with the Elastic Stack by your side! Until next time, keep unleashing the magic of ELK!

Key Features of Elasticsearch

Scalability and Flexibility 🛞

Elasticsearch is designed to scale horizontally, allowing you to add more nodes to the cluster seamlessly. This capability makes it ideal for handling large-scale applications and big data processing. Moreover, it can adapt to various use cases, such as log analytics, full-text search, and business intelligence.

Near Real-time Data Analysis ⏱️

One of the most significant advantages of Elasticsearch is its ability to provide almost real-time insights into data. When new data is indexed, it becomes immediately available for searching and analysis. This feature is invaluable for applications that require up-to-date information, like monitoring systems and real-time analytics.

Full-text Search Capabilities 🖺

Elasticsearch’s foundation on Apache Lucene grants it robust full-text search capabilities. It can efficiently execute complex queries across various fields and return relevant results promptly. Additionally, it supports advanced features like fuzzy search, phrase matching, and autocomplete, enhancing the user experience.

Distributed Architecture 🏢

By distributing data across multiple nodes, Elasticsearch ensures high availability and fault tolerance. If one node fails, the data can still be retrieved from other nodes in the cluster, reducing the risk of data loss and downtime. This distributed architecture also contributes to its high-performance levels, as queries can be executed in parallel.

Advantages Of Using Elasticsearch 🥇

Impressively Fast Time-to-Value ⏱️

Alright, here’s the deal—Elasticsearch is all about simplicity. It offers easy-to-use REST-based APIs and a super-friendly HTTP user interface. Plus, it’s compatible with schema-free JSON documents, which means you can dive right in and start building applications in no time! No complex setup, no fuss—just fast time-to-value.

Power-Packed Performance for Big Data 🔋

Prepare to be amazed by Elasticsearch’s distributed magic! Its ability to process massive volumes of data in parallel is mind-blowing. Do you know what that means? Lightning-fast search results! It’s like having a team of experts searching for the best matches for your queries, and they do it in a snap!

Super Fast and Efficient Search 🚄

For applications dealing with large volumes of data, traditional databases may struggle to provide quick search results. Elasticsearch’s distributed architecture and advanced indexing techniques enable it to handle complex queries and return results in milliseconds. This speed is vital for delivering a seamless user experience and gaining a competitive edge.

Elasticsearch and Its Complimentary Tooling – The Perfect Team 🏆

Elasticsearch comes with some cool allies that make data management a breeze. Kibana, for instance, is the perfect partner for Elasticsearch, offering stunning visualisations and reporting capabilities. And that’s not all! Don’t forget about Beats and Logstash, the dynamic duo that helps you transform and load data into your Elasticsearch cluster. 

Rich Functionality with Open-Source Plugins 🔌

Elasticsearch offers a treasure trove of open-source plugins that add rich functionality to your applications. From language analysers to suggesters, these plugins are like sprinkles on your ice cream—they make everything even more delicious!

Real-Time Awesomeness: Near Real-Time Operations 🕰️

Imagine getting things done in a snap. With Elasticsearch, reading or writing data is lightning-fast, taking less than a second to complete. This opens up a world of possibilities for near real-time use cases. From monitoring applications to detecting anomalies, Elasticsearch is your go-to guru!

Multi-faceted Analytics 🌡️

Elasticsearch’s ability to serve a variety of analytics needs is a game-changer for businesses. Whether it’s monitoring website traffic, analysing social media data, or tracking application logs, Elasticsearch can deliver up-to-date insights promptly. Real-time analytics empower organisations to make data-driven decisions swiftly.

Easy Integration with Existing Systems

Integrating Elasticsearch into your existing tech stack is relatively straightforward due to its open-source nature and extensive API support. It can be seamlessly combined with other tools like Kibana for data visualisation or Logstash for data ingestion. This compatibility makes it an attractive option for various use cases.

Choose Your Language: Easy Application Development 🧏

Elasticsearch speaks the language of developers! It supports a wide range of programming languages, including Java, Python, PHP, JavaScript, Node.js, Ruby, and many more. So, whether you’re a coding wizard or just starting, Elasticsearch should be fairly accommodating regardless of your experience and expertise.

Conclusion – So, What Is Elasticsearch & How Good Is It? 😎

All in all, Elasticsearch is a powerful search and analytics engine that offers high performance, real-time data analysis, and scalability. Its ability to handle complex queries and provide fast search results makes it a valuable asset for businesses dealing with massive amounts of data. 

Whether you are building a search application, monitoring system, or data analytics platform, Elasticsearch can significantly enhance your capabilities. And thus, embracing Elasticsearch in your tech stack empowers you to unlock the true potential of your data-driven applications and stay ahead in today’s data-centric world.

With this in mind, if you are interested in learning more about harnessing the power of Elasticsearch and how it can advance your business, book a discovery call with us to discuss how we can help you build custom applications tailored to your specific needs. We look forward to hearing from you soon and advancing data-centric applications together. Let technology be your ally!

Published On

July 28, 2023