Community Blog Lucene IndexWriter: An In-Depth Introduction

Lucene IndexWriter: An In-Depth Introduction

In this article, we will take a deep dive into IndexWriter, one of Lucene's core classes, to explore the whole data writing and indexing process in Lucene.

By Zhaofeng Zhou (Muluo)


In the previous article, we presented a basic overview of Lucene. In this article, we will delve deeper into IndexWriter, one of Lucene's core classes, to explore the whole data writing and indexing process in Lucene.


// initialization
Directory index = new NIOFSDirectory(Paths.get("/index"));
IndexWriterConfig config = new IndexWriterConfig();
IndexWriter writer = new IndexWriter(index, config);
// create a document
Document doc = new Document();
doc.add(new TextField("title", "Lucene - IndexWriter", Field.Store.YES));
doc.add(new StringField("author", "aliyun", Field.Store.YES));
//index a document

Let us first look at how to use IndexWriter for data writing in Lucene. The above is sample code for a simple call. The whole process involves three main steps:

  1. Initialization: the two elements needed to initialize IndexWriter are Directory and IndexWriterConfig. Directory is the abstract interface of the data persistence layer in Lucene. Many different types of data persistence layer can be implemented through this interface layer, for example, in local file systems, network file systems, databases, or distributed file systems. IndexWriterConfig contains many advanced, configurable parameters for advanced users to optimize performance and customize functionality. Several key parameters are described in detail later on.
  2. Document construction: In Lucene documents are represented by Document and a document is made up of Fields. Lucene provides different types of Field and the FieldType determines the index mode supported, which obviously includes custom field. See the previous article for details.
  3. Writing a document: A document is written using the addDocument function, and at the same time, different indexes are created depending on FieldType. The newly written document is not searchable until IndexWriter's commit is called. Once commit has completed, Lucene ensures that the document is persistent and searchable.

The above is a concise example of the process of writing data in Lucene. IndexWriter is at the core and the whole procedure is abstracted clearly and concisely. The most important feature of a well-designed library is that ordinary users can learn and use it at very little cost, while providing advanced users with configurable performance parameters and customizable functionality.


IndexWriterConfig provides some core parameters for advanced users to optimize performance and customize functionality. We will look at a few examples:

  • IndexDeletionPolicy: Lucene enables the management of commit points to implement such functionality as snapshots. By default DeletionPolicy only retains the last commit point in Lucene.
  • Similarity: Relevance is at the core of searching. Similarity is the abstract interface for scoring algorithms. By default, Lucene uses the TF-IDF and BM25 algorithms. Relevance is scored when data is written and searched. Scoring during data writing is called index-time boosting. Normalization is calculated and written to the index. Scoring during a search is called query-time boosting.
  • MergePolicy: Lucene's internal data writing generates many Segments. When a query is made, many segments are queried and the results merged. As the number of Segments affects query efficiency to a certain extent, segments are merged. The merging procedure is called Merge, and MergePolicy determines when Merge is triggered.
  • MergeScheduler: After MergePolicy triggers Merge, MergeScheduler takes care of executing Merge. The merge process usually puts a heavy load on the CPU and I/O. MergeScheduler enables the customization and management of the process of merging.
  • Codec: Codecs are a core component of Lucene defining Lucene's internal encoders and decoders for all types of indexes. Lucene configures codecs at the Config level. The main purpose is to enable processing of different data versions. Most Lucene users have little need to customize this layer and it is mostly advanced users who configure codecs.
  • IndexerThreadPool: Manages IndexWriter's internal index thread pool (DocumentsWriterPerThread). This is also part of Lucene's internal resource management customization.
  • FlushPolicy: FlushPolicy determines when in-memory buffers are flushed. By default the timing will depend on the size of RAM and number of documents. FlushPolicy is invoked to make a decision every document add/update/delete.
  • MaxBufferedDoc: The maximum amount of memory allowed to be used by DocumentsWriterPerThread in the FlushByRamOrCountsPolicy implemented in the default FlushPolicy provided by Lucene. Exceeding this value triggers a flush.
  • RAMBufferSizeMB: The maximum number of documents DocumentsWriterPerThread is permitted to use in the FlushByRamOrCountsPolicy implemented in the default FlushPolicy provided by Lucene. Exceeding this value triggers a flush.
  • RAMPerThreadHardLimitMB: As well as FlushPolicy deciding on flushes, Lucene also has a metric to forcibly limit the amount of memory used by DocumentsWriterPerThread. Exceeding the threshold forces a flush.
  • Analyzer: A tokenizer. This is most frequently customized, especially for different languages.

Core operations

IndexWriter provides several simple operation interfaces. This chapter gives a simple explanation of their features and uses while the next chapter gives a detailed breakdown of their internals. The core APIs provided by IndexWriter are as follows:

  • addDocument: a straightforward API to add a document to Lucene. Lucene does not have a primary key index internally. Every newly added document is treated as a new document and assigned an independent docId.
  • updateDocument: This updates a document but is different from updating a database. A database updates after a query whereas Lucene updates by deleting a document and adding it again after a query. The process is delete by term then add document. But this process has a different effect to just calling delete then add. Only an update will ensure the atomicity of the delete and add within the thread. Details of the process will be discussed in the next chapter.
  • deleteDocument: deletes a document. It supports two types of delete: by term and by query. These two types of delete have different processes in terms of IndexWriter internals. Details will be discussed in the next chapter.
  • flush: triggers a hard flush so that every In-memory buffer in a thread is flushed to a segment file. This action frees up memory and forces data to become persistent.
  • prepareCommit/commit/rollback: Data is only searchable after a commit. Commit is a two-stage operation. The first stage of the process is prepareCommit, and commit can be called to complete a step. Rollback rolls back to the last commit.
  • maybeMerge/forceMerge: maybeMerge triggers a MergePolicy decision while forceMerge forces a merge.

Data Path

The last few chapters presented the basic processes, configuration and core interfaces of IndexWriter. These are very simple and easy to understand. In this chapter we take a closer look at IndexWriter internals to explore the kernel implementation.


The above chart shows IndexWriter's internal core processes. Next we explain IndexWriter's internal data path in terms of its main operations, add/update/delete/commit.

Concurrency Model

The core interfaces provided by IndexWriter are thread-safe and involve some internal concurrency tuning to optimize multi-thread writing. IndexWriter opens up an independent space for every thread to write. These spaces are controlled by DocumentsWriterPerThread. The whole multi-thread, data-processing process is:

  1. Multiple threads concurrently invoke an IndexWriter interface and IndexWriter's specific internal request is executed by DocumentsWriter. Before DocumentsWriter internally processes the request, it allocates DocumentsWriterPerThread based on the thread currently executing the operation.
  2. Every thread processes data in its own independent DocumentsWriterPerThread space, including tokenizing, relevance scoring and indexing.
  3. After data processing is finished, some post-processing is carried out at the DocumentsWriter level, such as triggering a FlushPolicy decision.

After introducing DocumentsWriterPerThread (DWPT), Lucene only needs to lock the first and third steps when processing data internally. The second step does not have to be locked as each thread processes data in its own independent space. Generally speaking, the first and third steps are lightweight while the second step needs the most computing power and memory. Doing it this way greatly reduces locking time, improving concurrency efficiency. Every DWPT includes its own in-memory buffer, which is eventually flushed into a different, independent segment file.

This solution greatly improves the performance of multi-thread, concurrent writes. When new documents are added, there is no conflict between any of the data writes, and this scenario is particularly suited to this type of space-separated writing. However, when documents are deleted, a single delete operation can delete data in different thread spaces. In this case, Lucene adopts a special method of interaction to reduce lock overhead. This is analyzed in detail when discussing delete.

In the search scenario, the whole stage of indexing is basically a new file write, and the subsequent index increment stage (especially when the data source is a database) involves a large quantity of update and delete operations. In terms of principles, one of the best practices is to assign the same processing thread to documents containing the same, unique primary key term so that the data updates in the same independent thread space to avoid cross-threading.

Add & Update

The add interface is used to add a new document and the update interface is used to update a document. But Lucene updates in a different way to databases. Databases update after a query while Lucene deletes and re-adds a document after a query. Lucene does not support updating the internal sorting of a document. The process is delete by term then add document.

The add and update interfaces provided by IndexWriter are all mapped to the update interface of DocumentsWriter. See the following interface declarations:

long updateDocument(final Iterable<? extends IndexableField> doc, final Analyzer analyzer,
    final Term delTerm) throws IOException, AbortingException 

The internal process of this function is:

  1. Allocate DWPT depending on Thread
  2. Execute delete in DWPT
  3. Execute add in DWPT

The delete operation is discussed in detail in the next summary. The add operation writes the documents directly to the in-memory buffer in DWPT.


Compared to add and update, delete is a completely different data path. Even though update and delete internally delete data, they are different data paths. Deleting a document has no direct effect on data in the in-memory buffer and you must use another way to delete it.


The key data structure in the Delete path is Deletion queue. A global Deletion Queue is generated in IndexWriter known as Global Deletion Queue, and each DWPT has an independent Deletion Queue known as Pending Updates. DWPT Pending Updates and Global Deletion Queue synchronize bi-directionally because document deletion is global in scope and is not restricted to DWPT.

Pending Updates records each delete in the order of occurrence and marks the range of documents affected by the delete. The range of documents is marked by recording the largest DocId so far written (DocId Upto), meaning that the delete only affects documents with a DocId smaller than or equal to the DocId in question.

The update and delete interfaces can both be used to delete documents but there are some differences:

  • The update interface only deletes documents by term while delete supports deletion by term and by query.
  • When update deletes, it first acts on DWPT then on Global. After that it synchronizes the other DWPTs with Global.
  • The delete interface first acts at the Global level, then asynchronously synchronizes the changes down to the DWPT level.

The differences between the update and delete processes also account for differences in their behaviors, as update first acts on DWPT internally, and happens at the same time as add, ensuring the atomicity of the delete and add within the DWPT. That is, it ensures that all qualifying documents are definitely deleted before the add occurs.

When does the delete operation in DWPT Pending Updates actually act on the data? The data in Lucene Segment is not actually deleted. There is a special file in Segment called live docs, which internally is a bitmap structure that records which DocIds in the Segment are live and which have been deleted. So the process of deleting is just the process of building a bitmap of live docs flags. The data is not actually deleted, but its flag is deleted from live docs. Term deletion and Query deletion build live docs at different stages. A Term deletion requires all the docs referenced by a Term query to be enumerated, so this clearly happens when the inverted index is being built. A Query deletion requires a complete query to get the corresponding docIds and occurs after a segment has been flushed. After the index file has been built based on the flush, IndexReader can then complete the search.

Note that live docs only affects the inverse index so there is no way to retrieve documents flagged for deletion from live docs, but the stored fields can be queried by doc id. Naturally the document data is eventually deleted physically and this process occurs during a merge.


A flush is the process of making in-memory buffers in DWPT into data-persistent files. A flush is automatically triggered after a new document is added based on FlushPolicy, and a flush can also be manually triggered using IndexWriter's flush interface.

Every DWPT is flushed into a segment file. A segment file is not searchable after a flush has completed, and is only searchable after a commit, when all flushed documents become searchable.


A commit triggers a forced data flush. Only after a commit does the data flushed before this become searchable. A commit triggers the generation of a file called a commit point. A commit point is managed by the IndexDeletionPolicy. Lucene's default policy only retains the last commit point. Naturally Lucene provides other policies to choose from.


A merge is the merging of segment files. The advantage of merging is that it improves query efficiency and enables some deleted documents to be reclaimed. When merge flushes a segment file, it causes MergePolicy to decide on automatic triggering, and it can also do a force merge using IndexWriter.


In the previous few chapters we looked at the processes of several key operations. This section looks at how DWPT, the most core part of Lucene, internally implements the process of indexing. The key concept in Lucene's internal indexing is IndexingChain, which as its name suggests, is chain-like indexing. Why is it a chain? This is related to the whole structure of Lucene's indexing system. Lucene provides different types of indexes, such as inverted indexes, forward indexes (column storage), StoreField, and DocValues. Each different type of index corresponds to a different type of indexing algorithm, data structure, and file storage. Some of them are at column-level, some are file-level and some are document level. So after a document is written, it is processed by many different types of index, some of which share memory buffers and some are completely independent. Lucene is theoretically able to extend other types of index based on this framework, something the best users can try.


Within IndexWriter, the order of indexing on the indexing chain is inverted index, store fields, doc values and point values. Some types of index write the index directly to a file (mainly store field and term vector) after document processing, whereas other index types write the document contents into a memory buffer, which are then written to a file at the next flush. It is usually document-level indexes that can write the index of files, and indexing can be incremental at the document level. Indexes that cannot write files, for example inverted indexes, have to wait for all documents in a segment to be written and then carry out a complete sort of the Terms and only then can it create the index, so a memory-buffer is needed to cache all the documents.

Previously we mentioned that IndexWriterConfig supports the configuration of codecs. Codecs are the encoder and decoder for each type of index. As can be seen from the above figure, Lucene 7.2.1 has these main codecs:

  • BlockTreeTermsWriter: Codec for inverted indexes, among these the inverted list uses Lucene50PostingsWriter(Block-written inverted index chain) and Lucene50SkipWriter(SkipList Index for Block), while the dictionary uses FST (Block-level dictionary search for inverted index).
  • CompressingTermVectorsWriter: writer for term vector indexes. The lowest level is in compressed block format.
  • CompressingStoredFieldsWriter: writer for Store fields index. The lowest level is in compressed block format.
  • Lucene70DocValuesConsumer: writer for doc values index.
  • Lucene60PointsWriter: writer for point values index.

This chapter mainly looked at the document indexing processes of the Indexing Chain internals. The core is chained-phase indexes, and different indexes support configuration of codecs.


This article mainly looks at IndexWriter from a global perspective, explaining its configuration, interfaces, and concurrency models, as well as data paths of core operations and index chains. The next article takes a deeper look at the indexing process of different types of indexes, exploring the implementation of memory buffers, indexing algorithms and data storage formats.

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