Rustdoc search

Rustdoc Search is two programs: and search.js. The first generates a nasty JSON file with a full list of items and function signatures in the crates in the doc bundle, and the second reads it, turns it into some in-memory structures, and scans them linearly to search.

Search index format

search.js calls this Raw, because it turns it into a more normal object tree after loading it. Naturally, it's also written without newlines or spaces.

    [ "crate_name", {
        "doc": "Documentation",
        "n": ["function_name", "Data"],
        "t": "HF",
        "d": ["This function gets the name of an integer with Data", "The data struct"],
        "q": [[0, "crate_name"]],
        "i": [2, 0],
        "p": [[1, "i32"], [1, "str"], [5, "crate_name::Data"]],
        "f": "{{gb}{d}}`",
        "b": [],
        "c": [],
        "a": [["get_name", 0]],

src/librustdoc/html/static/js/externs.js defines an actual schema in a Closure @typedef.

The above index defines a crate called crate_name with a free function called function_name and a struct called Data, with the type signature Data, i32 -> str, and an alias, get_name, that equivalently refers to function_name.

The search index needs to fit the needs of the rustdoc compiler, the search.js frontend, and also be compact and fast to decode. It makes a lot of compromises:

  • The rustdoc compiler runs on one crate at a time, so each crate has an essentially separate search index. It merges them by having each crate on one line and looking at the first quoted string.
  • Names in the search index are given in their original case and with underscores. When the search index is loaded, search.js stores the original names for display, but also folds them to lowercase and strips underscores for search. You'll see them called normalized.
  • The f array stores types as offsets into the p array. These types might actually be from another crate, so search.js has to turn the numbers into names and then back into numbers to deduplicate them if multiple crates in the same index mention the same types.
  • It's a JSON file, but not designed to be human-readable. Browsers already include an optimized JSON decoder, so this saves on search.js code and performs better for small crates, but instead of using objects like normal JSON formats do, it tries to put data of the same type next to each other so that the sliding window used by DEFLATE can find redundancies. Where search.js does its own compression, it's designed to save memory when the file is finally loaded, not just size on disk or network transfer.

Parallel arrays and indexed maps

Most data in the index (other than doc, which is a single string for the whole crate, p, which is a separate structure and a, which is also a separate structure) is a set of parallel arrays defining each searchable item.

For example, the above search index can be turned into this table:

function_nameHThis function gets the name of an integer with Datacrate_name2{{gb}{d}}NULLNULL
DataFThe data structcrate_name0`NULLNULL

The above code doesn't use c, which holds deprecated indices, or b, which maps indices to strings. If crate_name::function_name used both, it would look like this.

        "b": [[0, "impl-Foo-for-Bar"]],
        "c": [0],

This attaches a disambiguator to index 0 and marks it deprecated.

The advantage of this layout is that these APIs often have implicit structure that DEFLATE can take advantage of, but that rustdoc can't assume. Like how names are usually CamelCase or snake_case, but descriptions aren't.

q is a Map from the first applicable ID to a parent module path. This is a weird trick, but it makes more sense in pseudo-code:

fn main() {
let mut parent_module = "";
for (i, entry) in search_index.iter().enumerate() {
    if q.contains(i) {
        parent_module = q.get(i);
    // ... do other stuff with `entry` ...

This is valid because everything has a parent module (even if it's just the crate itself), and is easy to assemble because the rustdoc generator sorts by path before serializing. Doing this allows rustdoc to not only make the search index smaller, but reuse the same string representing the parent path across multiple in-memory items.

i, f, and p

i and f both index into p, the array of parent items.

i is just a one-indexed number (not zero-indexed because 0 is used for items that have no parent item). It's different from q because q represents the parent module or crate, which everything has, while i/q are used for type and trait-associated items like methods.

f, the function signatures, use their own encoding.

f = { FItem | FBackref }
FItem = FNumber | ( '{', {FItem}, '}' )
FNumber = { '@' | 'A' | 'B' | 'C' | 'D' | 'E' | 'F' | 'G' | 'H' | 'I' | 'J' | 'K' | 'L' | 'M' | 'N' | 'O' }, ( '`' | 'a' | 'b' | 'c' | 'd' | 'e' | 'f' | 'g' | 'h' | 'i' | 'j' | 'k ' | 'l' | 'm' | 'n' | 'o' )
FBackref = ( '0' | '1' | '2' | '3' | '4' | '5' | '6' | '7' | '8' | '9' | ':' | ';' | '<' | '=' | '>' | '?' )

An FNumber is a variable-length, self-terminating base16 number (terminated because the last hexit is lowercase while all others are uppercase). These are one-indexed references into p, because zero is used for nulls, and negative numbers represent generics. The sign bit is represented using zig-zag encoding (the internal object representation also uses negative numbers, even after decoding, to represent generics). This alphabet is chosen because the characters can be turned into hexits by masking off the last four bits of the ASCII encoding.

For example, {{gb}{d}} is equivalent to the json [[3, 1], [2]]. Because of zigzag encoding, ` is +0, a is -0 (which is not used), b is +1, and c is -1.

Searching by name

Searching by name works by looping through the search index and running these functions on each:

  • editDistance is always used to determine a match (unless quotes are specified, which would use simple equality instead). It computes the number of swaps, inserts, and removes needed to turn the query name into the entry name. For example, foo has zero distance from itself, but a distance of 1 from ofo (one swap) and foob (one insert). It is checked against an heuristic threshold, and then, if it is within that threshold, the distance is stored for ranking.
  • String.prototype.indexOf is always used to determine a match. If it returns anything other than -1, the result is added, even if editDistance exceeds its threshold, and the index is stored for ranking.
  • checkPath is used if, and only if, a parent path is specified in the query. For example, vec has no parent path, but vec::vec does. Within checkPath, editDistance and indexOf are used, and the path query has its own heuristic threshold, too. If it's not within the threshold, the entry is rejected, even if the first two pass. If it's within the threshold, the path distance is stored for ranking.
  • checkType is used only if there's a type filter, like the struct in struct:vec. If it fails, the entry is rejected.

If all four criteria pass (plus the crate filter, which isn't technically part of the query), the results are sorted by sortResults.

Searching by type

Searching by type can be divided into two phases, and the second phase has two sub-phases.

  • Turn names in the query into numbers.
  • Loop over each entry in the search index:
    • Quick rejection using a bloom filter.
    • Slow rejection using a recursive type unification algorithm.

In the names->numbers phase, if the query has only one name in it, the editDistance function is used to find a near match if the exact match fails, but if there's multiple items in the query, non-matching items are treated as generics instead. This means hahsmap will match hashmap on its own, but hahsmap, u32 is going to match the same things T, u32 matches (though rustdoc will detect this particular problem and warn about it).

Then, when actually looping over each item, the bloom filter will probably reject entries that don't have every type mentioned in the query. For example, the bloom query allows a query of i32 -> u32 to match a function with the type i32, u32 -> bool, but unification will reject it later.

The unification filter ensures that:

  • Bag semantics are respected. If you query says i32, i32, then the function has to mention two i32s, not just one.
  • Nesting semantics are respected. If your query says vec<option>, then vec<option<i32>> is fine, but option<vec<i32>> is not a match.
  • The division between return type and parameter is respected. i32 -> u32 and u32 -> i32 are completely different.

The bloom filter checks none of these things, and, on top of that, can have false positives. But it's fast and uses very little memory, so the bloom filter helps.