On Replacing Lucene October 15, 2019 Author: Oren Eini, CEO RavenDB
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On Replacing Lucene

by  Oren Eini
published: October 15, 2019 | updated: October 15, 2019
RavenDB News

My previous post got an interesting comment:

I smell a Lucene.NET replacement for Raven 5 in the future 🙂

I wanted to deal with this topic, but before we get to it, please note. I’m not committing to any features / plans for RavenDB in here, merely outlining my thinking.

I really want to drop Lucene. There are many reasons for this.

  • The current release version of Lucene.NET was released over 7 years ago(!) and it matches a Lucene (JVM) version that was out in 2010.
  • The active development of Lucene.NET is currently focused on released 4.8 (dated 2014) and has been stalled for several years.
  • Lucene’s approach to resource utilization greatly differs from how I would like to approach things in modern .NET Core applications.

There is a problem with replacing Lucene, however. Lucene is, quite simply, an amazing library. It is literally the benchmark that you would compare yourself against in its field. This isn’t the first time that I have looked into this field, mind. Leaving aside the fact that I believe that I reviewed most of the open source full text search libraries, I also wrote quite a few spikes around that.

Lucene is big, so replacing it isn’t something that you can do in an afternoon or a weekend. You can get to the 80% functionality in a couple of weeks, for sure, but it is the remaining 20% that would take 300% of the time Smile. For example, inverted indexes are simple, but then you need to be able to handle phrase queries, and that is a whole other ball game.

We looked into supporting the porting of Lucene.NET directly as well as developing our own option, and so far neither option has gotten enough viability to take action.

2015 – 2018 has been very busy years for us. We have rebuilt RavenDB from scratch, paying attention to many details that hurt us in the past. Some of the primary goals was to improve performance (10x) and to reduce support overhead. As a consequence of that, RavenDB now uses a lot less managed memory. Most of our memory utilization is handled by RavenDB directly, without relying on the CLR runtime or the GC.

Currently, our Lucene usage is responsible for the most allocations in RavenDB. I can’t think of the last time that we had high managed memory usage that wasn’t directly related to Lucene. And yes, that means that when you do a memory dump of a RavenDB’s  process, the top spot isn’t taken by System.String, which is quite exceptional, in my experience.

Make no mistake, we are still pretty happy with what Lucene can do, but we have a lot of experience with that particular version and are very familiar with how it works. Replacing it means a substantial amount of work and introduce risks that we’ll need to mitigate. Given these facts, we have the following alternatives:

  1. Write our own system to replace Lucene.
  2. Port Lucene 8 from JVM to .NET Core, adapting it to our architecture.
  3. Upgrade to Lucene.NET 4.8 when it is out.

The first option gives us the opportunity to build something that will fit our needs exactly. This is most important because we also have to deal with both feature fit and architectural fit. For example, we care a lot about memory usage and allocations. That means that we can build it from the ground up to reduce these costs. The risk is that we would be developing from scratch and it is hard to scope something this big.

The second option means that we would benefit from modern Lucene. But it means having to port non trivial amount of code and have to adapt both from JVM to CLR but also to our own architectural needs. The benefit here is that we can likely not port stuff that we don’t need, but there is a lot of risk involved in such a big undertaking. We will also effectively be either forking the .NET project or have just our own version. That means that the maintenance burden would be on us.

Upgrading to Lucene.NET 4.8 is the third option, but we don’t know when that would be out (stalled for a long time) and it does move us very far in the Lucene’s versions. It also likely going to require a major change in how we behave. Not so much with the coding wise (I don’t expect that to be too hard) but in terms of the different operational properties than what we are used to.

The later two options are going to keep Lucene as the primary sources of allocations in our system, while the first option means that we can probably reduce that significantly for both indexing and querying, but we’ll have to push our own path.

We have made no decisions yet, and we’ll probably won’t for a while. We are playing around with all options, as you can see on this blog, but that is also mostly because it is fun to explore and learn.

Woah, already finished? 🤯

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