Tutorial :How to find similar results and sort by similarity?


How do I query for records ordered by similarity?

Eg. searching for "Stock Overflow" would return

  1. Stack Overflow
  2. SharePoint Overflow
  3. Math Overflow
  4. Politic Overflow
  5. VFX Overflow

Eg. searching for "LO" would return:

  1. pabLO picasso
  2. michelangeLO
  3. jackson polLOck

What I need help with:

  1. Using a search engine to index & search a MySQL table, for better results

    • Using the Sphinx search engine, with PHP

    • Using the Lucene engine with PHP

  2. Using full-text indexing, to find similar/containing strings

What does not work well

  • Levenshtein distance is very erratic. (UDF, Query)
    Searching for "dog" gives me:
    1. dog
    2. bog
    3. ago
    4. big
    5. echo
  • LIKE returns better results, but returns nothing for long queries although similar strings do exist
    1. dog
    2. dogid
    3. dogaral
    4. dogma


I have found out that the Levenshtein distance may be good when you are searching a full string against another full string, but when you are looking for keywords within a string, this method does not return (sometimes) the wanted results. Moreover, the SOUNDEX function is not suitable for languages other than english, so it is quite limited. You could get away with LIKE, but it's really for basic searches. You may want to look into other search methods for what you want to achieve. For example:

You may use Lucene as search base for your projects. It's implemented in most major programming languages and it'd quite fast and versatile. This method is probably the best, as it not only search for substrings, but also letter transposition, prefixes and suffixes (all combined). However, you need to keep a separate index (using CRON to update it from a independent script once in a while works though).

Or, if you want a MySQL solution, the fulltext functionality is pretty good, and certainly faster than a stored procedure. If your tables are not MyISAM, you can create a temporary table, then perform your fulltext search :

CREATE TABLE IF NOT EXISTS `tests`.`data_table` (    `id` int(10) unsigned NOT NULL AUTO_INCREMENT,    `title` varchar(2000) CHARACTER SET latin1 NOT NULL,    `description` text CHARACTER SET latin1 NOT NULL,    PRIMARY KEY (`id`)  ) ENGINE=InnoDB  DEFAULT CHARSET=utf8 COLLATE=utf8_bin AUTO_INCREMENT=1 ;  

Use a data generator to generate some random data if you don't want to bother creating it yourself...

** NOTE ** : the column type should be latin1_bin to perform a case sensitive search instead of case insensitive with latin1. For unicode strings, I would recommend utf8_bin for case sensitive and utf8_general_ci for case insensitive searches.

DROP TABLE IF EXISTS `tests`.`data_table_temp`;  CREATE TEMPORARY TABLE `tests`.`data_table_temp`     SELECT * FROM `tests`.`data_table`;    ALTER TABLE `tests`.`data_table_temp`  ENGINE = MYISAM;    ALTER TABLE `tests`.`data_table_temp` ADD FULLTEXT `FTK_title_description` (    `title` ,    `description`  );    SELECT *,         MATCH (`title`,`description`)         AGAINST ('+so* +nullam lorem' IN BOOLEAN MODE) as `score`    FROM `tests`.`data_table_temp`   WHERE MATCH (`title`,`description`)         AGAINST ('+so* +nullam lorem' IN BOOLEAN MODE)   ORDER BY `score` DESC;    DROP TABLE `tests`.`data_table_temp`;  

Read more about it from the MySQL API reference page

The downside to this is that it will not look for letter transposition or "similar, sounds like" words.

** UPDATE **

Using Lucene for your search, you will simply need to create a cron job (all web hosts have this "feature") where this job will simply execute a PHP script (i.g. "cd /path/to/script; php searchindexer.php") that will update the indexes. The reason being that indexing thousands of "documents" (rows, data, etc.) may take several seconds, even minutes, but this is to ensure that all searches are performed as fast as possible. Therefore, you may want to create a delay job to be run by the server. It may be overnight, or in the next hour, this is up to you. The PHP script should look something like this:

$indexer = Zend_Search_Lucene::create('/path/to/lucene/data');    Zend_Search_Lucene_Analysis_Analyzer::setDefault(    // change this option for your need    new Zend_Search_Lucene_Analysis_Analyzer_Common_Utf8Num_CaseInsensitive()  );    $rowSet = getDataRowSet();  // perform your SQL query to fetch whatever you need to index  foreach ($rowSet as $row) {     $doc = new Zend_Search_Lucene_Document();     $doc->addField(Zend_Search_Lucene_Field::text('field1', $row->field1, 'utf-8'))         ->addField(Zend_Search_Lucene_Field::text('field2', $row->field2, 'utf-8'))         ->addField(Zend_Search_Lucene_Field::unIndexed('someValue', $someVariable))         ->addField(Zend_Search_Lucene_Field::unIndexed('someObj', serialize($obj), 'utf-8'))    ;    $indexer->addDocument($doc);  }    // ... you can get as many $rowSet as you want and create as many documents  // as you wish... each document doesn't necessarily need the same fields...  // Lucene is pretty flexible on this    $indexer->optimize();  // do this every time you add more data to you indexer...  $indexer->commit();    // finalize the process  

Then, this is basically how you search (basic search) :

$index = Zend_Search_Lucene::open('/path/to/lucene/data');    // same search options  Zend_Search_Lucene_Analysis_Analyzer::setDefault(     new Zend_Search_Lucene_Analysis_Analyzer_Common_Utf8Num_CaseInsensitive()  );    Zend_Search_Lucene_Search_QueryParser::setDefaultEncoding('utf-8');    $query = 'php +field1:foo';  // search for the word 'php' in any field,                                   // +search for 'foo' in field 'field1'    $hits = $index->find($query);    $numHits = count($hits);  foreach ($hits as $hit) {     $score = $hit->score;  // the hit weight     $field1 = $hit->field1;     // etc.  }  

Here are great sites about Lucene in Java, PHP, and .Net.

In conclusion each search methods have their own pros and cons :

  • You mentioned Sphinx search and it looks very good, as long as you can make the deamon run on your web host.
  • Zend Lucene requires a cron job to re-index the database. While it is quite transparent to the user, this means that any new data (or deleted data!) is not always in sync with the data in your database and therefore won't show up right away on user search.
  • MySQL FULLTEXT search is good and fast, but will not give you all the power and flexibility of the first two.

Please feel free to comment if I have forgotten/missed anything.


1. Similarity

For Levenshtein in MySQL I found this, from www.codejanitor.com/wp/2007/02/10/levenshtein-distance-as-a-mysql-stored-function

SELECT       column,       LEVENSHTEIN(column, 'search_string') AS distance   FROM table   WHERE       LEVENSHTEIN(column, 'search_string') < distance_limit  ORDER BY distance DESC  

2. Containing, case insensitive

Use the LIKE statement of MySQL, which is case insensitive by default. The % is a wildcard, so there may be any string before and after search_string.

SELECT       *  FROM       table  WHERE       column_name LIKE "%search_string%"  

3. Containing, case sensitive

The MySQL Manual helps:

The default character set and collation are latin1 and latin1_swedish_ci, so nonbinary string comparisons are case insensitive by default. This means that if you search with col_name LIKE 'a%', you get all column values that start with A or a. To make this search case sensitive, make sure that one of the operands has a case sensitive or binary collation. For example, if you are comparing a column and a string that both have the latin1 character set, you can use the COLLATE operator to cause either operand to have the latin1_general_cs or latin1_bin collation...

My MySQL setup does not support latin1_general_cs or latin1_bin, but it worked fine for me to use the collation utf8_bin as binary utf8 is case sensitive:

SELECT       *  FROM       table  WHERE       column_name LIKE "%search_string%" COLLATE utf8_bin  

2. / 3. sorted by Levenshtein Distance

SELECT       column,       LEVENSHTEIN(column, 'search_string') AS distance // for sorting  FROM table   WHERE       column_name LIKE "%search_string%"      COLLATE utf8_bin // for case sensitivity, just leave out for CI  ORDER BY      distance      DESC  


It seems that your definition of similarity is semantic similarity. So in order to build such a similarity function, you should use semantic similarity measures. Note that the scope of work on the issue might vary from few hours to years so it is recommended to decide on the scope before getting into work. I didn’t figure out which data do you have in order to build the similarity relation. I assume the you have access the a dataset of documents and a dataset of queries. You can start with co-occurrence of the words (e.g., conditional probability). You will discover quickly that you get the list of stop words as related the most of the words simply because they are very popular. Using the lift of conditional probability will take care of the stop words but will make the relation prone to error in small number (most of your cases). You might try Jacard but since it is symmetric there will be many relations it won't find. Then you might consider relations that appear only in short distance from the base word. You can (and should) consider relations base on general corpus's (e.g., Wikipedia) and user specific (e.g., his emails).

Very shortly you will have plenty of similarity measures, when all the measures are good and have some advantage over the others.

In order to combine such measures, I like to reduce the problem into a classification problem.

You should build a data set of paris of words and label them as "is related". In order to build a large labeled dataset you can:

  • Use sources of known related words (e.g., good old Wikipedia categories) for positives
  • Most of the word not known as related are not related.

Then use all the measures you have as features of the pairs. Now you are in the domain of supervised classification problem. Build a classifier on the data set, evaluated according to your needs and get a similarity measure that fits your needs.

Note:If u also have question or solution just comment us below or mail us on toontricks1994@gmail.com
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