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Full Text Search Parser for TSearch2 and PostgreSQL

Download the Current Version: 2.0 Release

Download the Old Version: 1.0 Release (not recommended)

Try out the parser

Latest News:

March 31, 2008 Version 2.0 Release

Version 2.0 released after a full rewrite to correct some bugs found in version 1, in addition to making it possible to add new features. I only wrote version 2 for PHP5, so if you are still running PHP4 (you should really consider upgrading) then you will have to make the appropriate modifications yourself. Really the only thing non-PHP4 is the use of PHP5's class constants instead of global defines.

July 14, 2006 Initial Release

The Full Text Search Parser for TSearch2 and PostgreSQL is officially released with little fanfare.


This is a full text search parser written in PHP for use with the TSearch2 extension to PostgreSQL. TSearch2 adds a full-featured, integrated, and fast full text search for any Postgres database, but the search syntax uses & for AND, | for OR, and ! for NOT, which are more suited to programmers than the users who will generally be using the search. Most people just want to type words, in which case there is generally an assumed "AND" operation between the words. Last, when the search is complete, users generally like to see the search words highlighted in the result set. I wrote this parser to solve all of the above problems and it is currently deployed in a real-world application. I also wanted to get into writing languages and parsers, so this was a good way to introduce myself to the topic without getting overly complex.

What does it cost?

I'm releasing the PHP source under the BSD Open Source License, so basically it's free. However, if you use this code in a commercial project, a donation would be greatly appreciated.


System requirements are as follows:

  1. A PostgreSQL database installation with the TSearch2 extension.

  2. PHP 5.x


These are the primary features of the parser:

Installation and Configuration


Extract the .tgz and you will have three files:

Put the parse_model.php file in your project directory and include it where ever you need the parser. Here is a very simple example:

require_once 'parse_model.php';

// Get input into $text via form post or command line...
$text = '("black and white" or "cut \'n dry") and not (gray | grey)';

$o_parse = new parse_model();
$o_parse->debug = true;
$o_parse->use_prepared_sql = true;

$o_db = new PDO('pgsql:host=localhost;dbname=mydb', 'user', 'pass');

if ( $text != '' )
	if ( $o_parse->parse($text, 'fulltext') == false )
		echo "Message to user: [$o_parse->error_msg]\n\n";
		$query = "SELECT * FROM some_table WHERE ";

		// The tsearch clause does NOT come back escaped.
		if ( $o_parse->tsearch != '' )
			$query .= "fulltext @@ to_tsquery(" . $o_db->quote($o_parse->tsearch) . ") ";

		// When $o_parse->use_prepared_sql is true, the values for the ILIKE are NOT
		// escaped, otherwise the clause that comes back will have single quotes
		// escaped with the character passed to the parse() function (which uses a
		// single quote as the default).  Because of how the ILIKE statement has to
		// be built, the escaping must be performed at parse time.
		if ( $o_parse->ilike != '' )
			$query .= ($o_parse->tsearch != '' ? "AND " : '') . "($o_parse->ilike)";

		echo "\nSample Query: $query\n\n";

		$o_q = $o_db->prepare($query);

		// Bind the ILIKE clause variables because $o_parse->use_prepared_sql was
		// set to true.  PDO will ensure the values are escaped properly (one of
		// the many reasons for using PDO).
		foreach ( $o_parse->db_ilike_data as $varname => $value )
			$o_q->bindValue($varname, $value);



Make sure the array of stop-words in the stop_words() function matches the same list defined for your installation of TSearch2, usually found at: /usr/local/pgsql/share/contrib/english.stop

Using the Parser

Include the parse_model.php file and create a parse object:

require_once 'parse_model.php';
$o_parse = new parse_model();

Class parse_model API:

Input Variable Members:

Function Members:

Output Variable Members:


TSearch2 looks hard on the surface, but is really very easy to install, set up, and even add to an existing database! I suggest reading through the introduction page to get started with TSearch2 if you have not already.

One of the main reasons for writing a full blown parser for this, instead of trying a bunch of fancy regex, has to do with dealing with searching on phrases (text in double or single quotes). TSearch2 is a word indexer, and therefore cannot perform true phrase searches. For example, if you searched on 'computer & programmer', TSearch2 would return all matches that contained both words, but they would not necessarily be next to each other, which may not matter. However, if you searched for '"computer programmer"', indicating you wanted that phrases, i.e. those two words have to appear in the text and they must be consecutive, TSearch2 cannot guarantee such a match.

The way to include phrase searches with TSearch2 is to include a LIKE or ILIKE (case insensitive LIKE) in the WHERE clause of the SQL statement. The problem gets a little complex though, when trying to extract any phrases from the user supplied search string since full nested parenthesis are supported. The ILIKE clause also has to retain the logic (AND, OR, and NOT) between possible multiple phrases in a single search. For example, is someone searched on: 'computer ("c++" or "visual basic")' then the ILIKE would be: 'AND (text ILIKE '%c++%' OR text ILIKE '%visual basic%')' The attachment of the ILIKE expression to the WHERE clause is with AND, but the two phrases are an OR condition which must be retained.

In light of the complexity, I decided early on that this would be much easier to do with a real parser instead of trying to use regex. However, it could also be that my regex knowledge is not up to the task since I know regex does support recursive back-references, but I never dug into regex that deeply. I wanted to write a parser anyway... :-)

I have a few more notes about highlighting the keywords and phrases in the result set, but it's late and I need to sleep. Those notes will be forth coming, but briefly it has to do with the fact that TSearch2 "stemms" the words it indexes and searches with.