[[stopwords]] == Stopwords: Performance Versus Precision
Back in the early days of information retrieval,((("stopwords", "performance versus precision"))) disk space and memory were
limited to a tiny fraction of what we are accustomed to today. It was
essential to make your index as small as possible. Every kilobyte saved meant
a significant improvement in performance. Stemming (see <
Another way to reduce index size is simply to index fewer words. For search purposes, some words are more important than others. A significant reduction in index size can be achieved by indexing only the more important terms.
So which terms can be left out? ((("term frequency", "high and low"))) We can divide terms roughly into two groups:
Words that appear in relatively few documents in the collection. Because of their rarity,((("weight", "low frequency terms"))) they have a high value, or weight.
Common words that appear in many documents in the index, such as
is. These words have a low weight and contribute little to the relevance
Of course, frequency is really a scale rather than just two points labeled low and high. We just draw a line at some arbitrary point and say that any terms below that line are low frequency and above the line are high frequency.
Which terms are low or high frequency depend on the documents themselves. The
and may be a low-frequency term if all the documents are in Chinese.
In a collection of documents about databases, the word
database may be a
high-frequency term with little value as a search term for that particular
That said, for any language there are words that occur very commonly and that seldom add value to a search.((("English", "stopwords"))) The default English stopwords used in Elasticsearch are as follows:
a, an, and, are, as, at, be, but, by, for, if, in, into, is, it, no, not, of, on, or, such, that, the, their, then, there, these, they, this, to, was, will, with
These stopwords can usually be filtered out before indexing with little negative impact on retrieval. But is it a good idea to do so?
[[pros-cons-stopwords]] [float="true"] === Pros and Cons of Stopwords
We have more disk space, more RAM, and ((("stopwords", "pros and cons of")))better compression algorithms than
existed back in the day. Excluding the preceding 33 common words from the index
will save only about 4MB per million documents. Using stopwords for the sake
of reducing index size is no longer a valid reason. (However, there is one
caveat to this statement, which we discuss in <
On top of that, by removing words from the index, we are reducing our ability to perform certain types of searches. Filtering out the words listed previously prevents us from doing the following:
- Distinguishing happy from not happy.
- Searching for the band The The.
- Finding Shakespeare's quotation ``To be, or not to be''
- Using the country code for Norway:
The primary advantage of removing stopwords is performance. Imagine that we
search an index with one million documents for the word
appears in only 20 of them, which means that Elastisearch has to calculate the
_score for 20 documents in order to return the top 10. Now, we
change that to a search for
the OR fox. The word
the probably occurs in
almost all the documents, which means that Elasticsearch has to calculate
_score for all one million documents. This second query simply cannot
perform as well as the first.
Fortunately, there are techniques that we can use to keep common words searchable, while still maintaining good performance. First, we'll start with how to use stopwords.