Search Results Behavior

The previous article covered ways to display search results. This article covers these additional Search Results concepts and configurations:

Filtering Results with Facets

Results are filtered using facets. Most users have encountered similar filtering capabilities in other applications, particularly during commerce activities. Users enter a search term, are presented with a list of results and search facets, which you can think of as buckets that group results together if they share a common characteristic.

Administrators can configure facets. Read about configuring facets to learn more.

Search Results Relevance

The search engine decides which results appear at the top of the list using the concept of relevance. Relevance is a score calculated by the search engine. There are numerous factors contributing to the total score of a returned document, and all of the implementation details of how relevance scoring works are algorithms provided by the search engine.

Permissions and Search Results

Users lacking VIEW permission on an asset don’t see it in the search results. A logged in User with the Site Administrator role likely sees more search results than a guest User to the site.

In the background, there are two rounds of permissions checks. The first permissions check, pre-filtering, happens in the search engine’s index. It’s faster than checking database permissions information, but occasionally the search index can have stale permissions information. To ensure the search engine’s index has correct, up-to-date permissions information, a second, last-second permissions check, post-filtering, is performed on the results prior to their display.

Initial Permissions Checking

The first round of search results permissions filtering adds filter clauses to the search query. This ensures that results return from the search engine pre-filtered, containing results the current User can view.

This initial permission checking is configurable at Control PanelConfigurationSystem SettingsSearchPermission Checker. It includes two system level settings to configure how search processes User permissions.

Include Inherited Permissions
Ignore this setting. It’s deprecated, no longer used anywhere, and will be removed in a future release.
Permissions Term Limit
Limits the number of permission search clauses added to the search query before this level of permission checking is aborted. Permission checking then relies solely on the final permission filtering described below.

The only reason to limit permissions terms is performance. Users with administrative access to lots of sites and organizations generate many permissions terms added to the query. Too many terms in a query can make the search engine time out.

Final Permissions Checking

A final round of permission checking happens prior to presenting results in the UI. For example, the User searches for liferay, and the search engine returns all relevant forum posts. As the Search Results iterates through the list of relevant forum posts, it performs one last permission check of the post to ensure the User can view the post and its categories. If a matching forum post exists in a category the User doesn’t have permission to view, it isn’t displayed in the list of search results.

This final round of permission checking is configurable at Control PanelConfigurationSystem SettingsSearchDefault Search Result Permission Filter. It includes two settings:

  1. The first setting, Permission Filtered Search Result Accurate Count Threshold, specifies the maximum number of search results to permissions-filter before results are counted. A higher threshold increases count accuracy, but decreases performance. Since results in the currently displayed page are always checked, any value below the search results pagination delta effectively disables this behavior.

  2. The second setting, Search Query Result Window Limit, sets the maximum batch size for each permission checking request. . This is again impacted by pagination. For example, if there are 100 results per page, and a User wants to jump all the way to page 200 of the search results, all results between page one and 200 must be checked to ensure the User has permission. That’s 20,000 results to permissions check. Doing this in one trip to and form the search engine can result in performance issues. Set the maximum batch size for each permission checking request.

Search and Staging

With staging, content is placed first in a preview and testing environment before being published for consumption by end Users (on the live site). Content added to the search index is marked so that the search API can decipher whether an item is live or not. In the live version of the site, only content that’s marked for the live site is searchable.

In the staged version of the site, all content—live or staged—is searchable.

Result Summaries

A result summary includes the information from a document that the asset’s developer felt is most useful to end Users searching for the asset. Each asset can have different fields included in the summary. For assets with text content, a common summary format includes the title and some of the content, with title displayed first. The asset type always appears on the second line, and a snippet of the content that matches the search term is on the last line. Assets without content fields, like Documents and Media documents, display the description instead.

Users are different. Only the User’s full name and the asset type (User) appear in User result summaries.

Figure 1: User summaries contain only the Users full name.

Figure 1: User summaries contain only the User's full name.

For assets that contain other assets (Web Content, Documents & Media, and Bookmarks folders) or whose content is not amenable to display (Dynamic Data List Records and Calendar Events), it makes more sense to display the title, asset type, and description in results summaries. There’d never be anything in a content field for these assets.

Figure 2: Documents and Media, Web Content, and Bookmarks folders include
titles and descriptions in their summaries.

Figure 2: Documents and Media, Web Content, and Bookmarks folders include titles and descriptions in their summaries.

Bookmarks entries show the title and the URL.

Figure 3: Bookmarks Entries summaries show the title and the URL.

Figure 3: Bookmarks Entries summaries show the title and the URL.

The asset developer determines which fields are summary-enabled, but there’s logic invoked at search time that determines precisely the part of the summary fields to display. For example, a content field can have a lot of text, but the summary doesn’t show it all. Instead, it shows a relevant snippet of the field’s text. If the keyword searched for is present in the summary field, that portion of the field is used in the summary. In addition, the matching keyword is highlighted in the summary.

Highlighting

By now you’ve probably noticed that search terms appearing in the summary are highlighted by default. If this is undesirable, disable it in the widget configuration screen.

Figure 4: Some document summaries have lots of highlights if the search term matches text that appears in the summary.

Figure 4: Some document summaries have lots of highlights if the search term matches text that appears in the summary.

Highlighting is a helpful visual cue that hints at why the result is returned, but beware. A hit can score well and thus be returned near the top of the results, without having any highlights in the summary. That’s because not all indexed fields appear in the summary. Consider a User named Arthur C. Clarke. He has an email address of acc@authors.org, which is searchable. Because results summaries for Users only contain the full name of the User, searching for Mr. Clarke by his email address returns the User, but no term is highlighted.

Figure 5: Results that match the search term wont always have highlights.

Figure 5: Results that match the search term won't always have highlights.

There are additional cases where search results don’t have highlighting.

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