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Last updated: 24 Jan 2024

whitehall: Search Indexing

Whitehall interacts directly with the Search API, unlike other publishing apps which leave Publishing API to manage indexing.

The Whitehall app relies on Search Api for document indexing, and the GOV.UK frontend application to serve results. The Whitehall search index is called 'government'.

Search indexing paths

There are currently two paths through which Whitehall searchable classes are indexed. For a list of searchable classes, please refer to SearchApiPresenters.searchable_classes (in app/presenters/search_api_presenters.rb). Each of these searchable models includes the Searchable module, which provides the base search indexing behaviour. Bear in mind that some classes may override its methods.

Indexing Editions

Indexing for searchable classes that inherit from Edition is triggered via the ServiceListeners::SearchIndexer listening to the force_publish and publish events. Since Edition sets the index_after key in its searchable options hash to [], classes inheriting from it don't trigger indexing when saved. The listeners are configured in config/initializers/edition_services.rb.

Not all editions can be indexed (e.g. they may not be available in English - at present Gov.UK search does not support non-English content). In cases where the edition was previously searchable but isn't any longer, the indexer will remove the record from the search index. It also handles edge cases such as a changing publication type or re-indexing the contents of a document collection.

To trigger indexing for an instance of these classes in unit/integration tests, create an instance in a valid publishing state ('submitted', 'rejected') and call!.

Indexing Other Content

Indexing for additional searchable classes is triggered by save. This behaviour is defined in Searchable.searchable_options, where the index_after is set to :save as a default.

To trigger indexing for an instance of these classes in unit/integration tests, create an instance in a valid publishing state ('submitted', 'rejected') and call save! on it.

Search indexing options

The Searchable module provides a searchable class method which consuming classes can use to configure search behaviour. The searchable method accepts a hash of the fields that each class intends to send to the index, interleaved with configuration options. These are the current options:

  • index_after: the Active Record callback that triggers adding an item to the search index
  • unindex_after: the Active Record callback that triggers removal from the search index
  • only: an Active Record query that is used by the Searchable module to prevent indexing of records that are not part of the query result set. This query is executed in the Searchable.can_index_in_search? method.

Setup search locally

The easiest way to get a search index is to replicate it from the Integration environment. This will not contain local changes to your content, but will be enough for many tests. To fetch the replica, use the script from govuk-docker (as documented in its README). If you need to have local changes in your dev environment copied into the search index, you will actually need to rebuild the search index.

Rebuilding of the 'government' search index can now be done with a bulk data dump. This also supports construction of a new detached index and seamless switchover from the existing to the new index. There are two parts to this process, a search_api_export.rb script in Whitehall which dumps the data to STDOUT, and a bulk_load script in search_api which accepts that data on STDIN and loads it into search_api.

The bulk_load script also takes care of constructing the new offline index, locking the index for writes (so that index write workers queue up waiting for the new index to come online during indexing, avoiding data loss during reindex), and seamlessly switching to the new index on completion.


  1. Make sure you have created the search indices by running the following task from the search-api repo:

    SEARCH_INDEX=government bundle exec rake search:migrate_schema
  2. Run the bulk export and load:

    bundle exec ./script/search_api_export.rb > government.dump
    bundle exec ./script/search_api_export.rb --detailed > detailed.dump


    (cd ../search-api && bundle exec ./bin/bulk_load government) < government.dump
    (cd ../search-api && bundle exec ./bin/bulk_load detailed) < detailed.dump