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Populating a Search Engine with a C# Spider

By , 1 Jul 2004
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Searcharoo Too


Article I describes building a simple search engine that crawls the file system from a specified folder, and indexing all HTML (or other types) of documents. A basic design and object model was developed as well as a query/results page which you can see here.

This second article in the series discusses replacing the 'file system crawler' with a 'web spider' to search and catalog a website by following the links in the HTML. The challenges involved include:

  • Downloading HTML (and other document types) via HTTP
  • Parsing the HTML looking for links to other pages
  • Ensuring that we don't keep recursively searching the same pages, resulting in an infinite loop
  • Parsing the HTML to extract the words to populate the search catalog from Article I.


The design from Article I remains unchanged...

A Catalog contains a collection of Words, and each Word contains a reference to every File that it appears in.

... the object model is the same too...

Object Model

What has changed is the way the Catalog is populated. Instead of looping through folders in the file system to look for files to open, the code requires the URL of a start page which it will load, index, and then attempt to follow every link within that page, indexing those pages too. To prevent the code from indexing the entire Internet (in this version), it only attempts to download pages on the same server as the start page.

Code Structure

Some of the code from Article I will be referenced again, but we've added a new page - SearcharooSpider.aspx - that does the HTTP access and HTML link parsing [making the code that walks directories in the file system - SearcharooCrawler.aspx -obsolete]. We've also changed the name of the search page to SearcharooToo.aspx so you can use it side-by-side with the old one.


Implementation of the object model; compiled into both ASPX pages

Re-used from Article 1


Obsolete, replaces with Spider

<%@ Page Language="C#" Src="Searcharoo.cs" %>
<%@ import Namespace="Searcharoo.Net"%>

Retrieves the Catalog object from the Cache and allows searching via an HTML form.

Updated since Article 1 to improve usability, and renamed to SearcharooToo.aspx

<%@ Page Language="C#" Src="Searcharoo.cs" %>
<%@ import Namespace="Searcharoo.Net"%>

Starting from the start page, download and index every linked page.

New page for this article

There are three fundamental tasks for a search spider:

  1. Finding the pages to index
  2. Downloading each page successfully
  3. Parsing the page content and indexing it

The big search engines - Yahoo, Google, MSN - all 'spider' the Internet to build their search catalogs. Following links to find documents requires us to write an HTML parser that can find and interpret the links, and then follow them! This includes being able to follow HTTP-302 redirects, recognizing the type of document that has been returned, determining what character set/encoding was used (for Text and HTML documents), etc. - basically a mini-browser! We'll start small, and attempt to build a passable spider using C#...

Build the Spider [SearcharooSpider_alpha.aspx]

Getting Started - Downloading a Page

To get something working quickly, let's just try to download the 'start page' - say the root page of the local machine (i.e., Step 2 - downloading pages). Here is the simplest possible code to get the contents of an HTML page from a website (localhost in this case):

using System.Net; 
string url = "http://localhost/"; // just for testing 
WebClient browser = new WebClient(); 
UTF8Encoding enc = new UTF8Encoding(); 
string fileContents = enc.GetString(browser.DownloadData(url));

Listing 1 - Simplest way to download an HTML document

The first thing to notice is the inclusion of the System.Net namespace. It contains a number of useful classes including WebClient, which is a very simple 'browser-like' object that can download text or data from a given URL. The second thing is that we assume the page is encoded using UTF-8, using the UTF8Encoding class to convert the downloaded Byte[] array into a string. If the page returned was encoded differently (say, Shift_JIS or GB2312) then this conversion would produce garbage. We'll have to fix this later. The third thing, which might not be immediately obvious, is that I haven't actually specified a page in the url. We rely on the server to resolve the request and return the default document to us - however, the server might have issued a 302 Redirect to another page (or another directory, or even another site). WebClient will successfully follow those redirects but its interface has no simple way for the code to query what the page's actual URL is (after the redirects). We'll have to fix this later, too, otherwise it's impossible to resolve relative URLs within the page.

Despite those problems, we now have the full text of the 'start page' in a variable. That means, we can begin to work on the code for Step 1 - finding pages to index.

Parsing the page

There are two options (OK, probably more, but two main options) for parsing the links (and other data) out of HTML:

  1. Reading an entire page string, building a DOM, and walking through its elements looking for links, or
  2. Using Regular Expressions to find link patterns in the page string.

Although I suspect "commercial" search engines might use option 1 (building a DOM), it's much simpler to use Regular Expressions. Because my initial test website had very-well-formed HTMl, I could get away with this code:

// Create ArrayLists to hold the links we find... 
ArrayList linkLocal    = new ArrayList(); 
ArrayList linkExternal = new ArrayList(); 
// Dodgy Regex will find *some* links 
foreach (Match match in Regex.Matches(htmlData 
    , @"(?<=<(a|area)\s+href="").*?(?=""\s*/?>)" 
    , RegexOptions.IgnoreCase|RegexOptions.ExplicitCapture)) { 

    // Regex matches from opening "quote
    link = match.Value;
    // find first space (ie no spaces in Url)
    int spacePos = link.IndexOf(' ');
    // or first closing quote (NO single quotes) 
    int quotePos = link.IndexOf('"');
    int chopPos = (quotePos<spacePos?quotePos:spacePos);
    if (chopPos > 0) {
    // chopPos if quote or space first the at URL end
        link = link.Substring(0,chopPos);
    if ( (link.Length > 8) && 
         (link.Substring(0, 7).ToLower() == "http://") ) {
        // Assumes all links beginning with http:// are _external_ 
        linkExternal.Add(link) ; 
    } else { 
        // otherwise they're "relative"/internal links
        // so we concatenate the base URL 
        link = startingUrl + link; 
} // end looping through Matches of the 'link' pattern in the HTML data

Listing 2 - Simplest way to find links in a page

As with the first cut of page-downloading, there are a number of problems with this code. Firstly, the Regular Expression used to find the links is *very* restrictive, i.e., it will find -

<a href="News.htm">News</a>
<area href="News.htm" shape="rect" coords="0,0,110,20">

- because the href appears as the first attribute after the a (or area), and the URL itself is double-quoted. However, that code will have trouble with a lot of valid links, including:

<a href='News.htm'>News</a>
<a href=News.htm>News</a>
<a class="cssLink" href="News.htm">News</a>
<area shape="rect" coords="0,0,110,20" href="News.htm">
<area href='News.htm' shape="rect" coords="0,0,110,20">

It will also attempt to use 'internal page links' (beginning with #), and it assumes that any link beginning with http:// is external, without first checking the server name against the target server. Despite the bugs, testing against tailored HTML pages, this code will successfully parse the links into the linkLocal ArrayList, ready for processing -- coupling that list of URLs with the code to download URLs, we can effectively 'spider' a website!

Downloading More Pages

The basic code is shown below - comments show where additional code is required, either from the listings above or in Article I.

protected void Page_Load (object sender, System.EventArgs e) { 
    /* The initial function call */ 
    startingPageUrl = "http://localhost/"; // Get from web.config 
    parseUrl (startingPageUrl, new UTF8Encoding(), new WebClient() ); 

/* This is called recursively for EVERY link we find */ 
public void parseUrl (string url, UTF8Encoding enc, WebClient browser) { 
    if (visited.Contains(url)) { 
        // Url already spidered, skip and go to next link 
        Response.Write ("<br><font size=-2>  
                 "+ url +" already spidered</font>"); 
    } else { 
        // Add this URL to the 'visited' list, so we'll
        // skip it if we come across it again 
        string fileContents =
           enc.GetString (browser.DownloadData(url)); // from Listing 1  
        // ### Pseudo-code ### 
        // 1. Find links in the downloaded page
        //      (add to linkLocal ArrayList - code in Listing 2) 
        // 2. Extract <TITLE> and <META> Description,
        //      Keywords (as Version 1 Listing 4) 
        // 3. Remove all HTML and whitespace (as Version 1) 
        // 4. Convert words to string array,
        //      and add to catalog  (as Version 1 Listing 7) 
        // 5. If any links were found, recursively call this page 
        if (null != pmd.LocalLinks) 
        foreach (object link in pmd.LocalLinks) { 
            parseUrl (Convert.ToString(link), enc, browser); 

Listing 3 - Combining the link parsing and page downloading code.

Review the three fundamental tasks for a search spider, and you can see we've developed enough code to build it:

  1. Finding the pages to index - we can start at a specific URL and find links using Listings 2 and 3.
  2. Downloading each page successfully - we can do this using the WebClient in Listings 1 and 2.
  3. Parsing the page content and indexing it - we already have this code from Article I.

Although the example above is picky about what links it will find, it will work to 'spider' and then search a website! FYI, the 'alpha version' of the code is available in the ZIP file along with the completed code for this article. The remainder of this article discusses the changes required to fix all the "problems" in the alpha version.

Fix the Spider [SearcharooSpider.aspx]

Problem 1 - Correctly parsing relative links

The alpha code fails to follow 'relative' and 'absolute' links (e.g., "../../News/Page.htm" and "/News/Page2.htm" respectively) partly because it does not 'remember' what folder/subdirectory it is parsing. My first instinct was to build a new 'Url' class which would take a page URL and a link, and encapsulate the code required to build the complete link by resolving directory traversal (e.g., "../") and absolute references (e.g., starting with "/"). The code would need to do something like this:

Page URL Link in page Result should be
http://localhost/News/ Page2.htm http://localhost/News/Page2.htm
http://localhost/News/ ../Contact.htm http://localhost/Contact.htm
http://localhost/News/ /Downloads/ http://localhost/Downloads/
Solution: Uri class

The first lesson to learn when you have a class library at your disposal is look before you code. It was almost by accident that I stumbled across the Uri class, which has a constructor -

new  Uri (baseUri, relativeUri)

that does exactly what I need. No re-inventing the wheel!

Problem 2 - Following redirects

Following relative links is made even more difficult because the WebClient class, while it enabled us to quickly get the spider up-and-running, is pretty dumb. It does not expose all the properties and methods required to properly emulate a web browser's behavior... It is capable of following redirects issued by a server, but it has no simple interface to communicate to the calling code exactly what URL it ended up requesting.

Solution: HttpWebRequest & HttpWebResponse classes

The HttpWebRequest and HttpWebResponse classes provide a much more powerful interface for HTTP communication. HttpWebRequest has a number of useful properties, including:

  • AllowAutoRedirect - configurable!
  • MaximumAutomaticRedirections - redirection can be limited to prevent 'infinite loops' in naughty pages.
  • UserAgent - set to "Mozilla/6.0 (MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; Searcharoo.NET Robot)" (see Problem 5 below).
  • KeepAlive - efficient use of connections.
  • Timeout - configurable based on the expected performance of the target website.

which are set in the code to help us get the pages we want. HttpWebResponse has one key property - ResponseUri - that returns the final URI that was read; for example, if we tried to access http://localhost/ and the server issued a 302-redirect to /en/index.html then the HttpWebResponseInstance.ResponseUri would be http://localhost/en/index.html and not just http://localhost/. This is important because unless we know the URL of the current page, we cannot process relative links correctly (see Problem 1).

Problem 3 - Using the correct character-set when downloading files

Assuming all web pages use ASCII will result in many pages being 'indexed' as garbage, because the bytes will be converted into 'random'-looking characters rather than the text they actually represent.

Solution: HttpWebResponse and the Encoding namespace

The HttpWebResponse has another advantage over WebClient: it's easier to access HTTP server headers such as the ContentType and ContentEncoding. This enables the following code to be written:

if (webresponse.ContentEncoding != String.Empty) { 
    // Use the HttpHeader Content-Type
    // in preference to the one set in META 
    htmldoc.Encoding = webresponse.ContentEncoding; 
} else if (htmldoc.Encoding == String.Empty) { 
    // TODO: if still no encoding determined,
    // try to readline the stream until we 
    // find either * META Content-Type
    // or * </head> (ie. stop looking for META) 
    htmldoc.Encoding = "utf-8"; // default 
System.IO.StreamReader stream = new System.IO.StreamReader 
          Encoding.GetEncoding(htmldoc.Encoding) ); 

// we *may* have been redirected... and we want the *final* URL 
htmldoc.Uri = webresponse.ResponseUri; 
htmldoc.Length = webresponse.ContentLength; 
htmldoc.All = stream.ReadToEnd (); 

Listing 4 - Check the HTTP Content Encoding and use the correct Encoding class to process the Byte[] Array returned from the server

Elsewhere in the code, we use the ContentType to parse out the MIME-type of the data, so that we can ignore images and stylesheets (and, for this version, Word, PDF, ZIP and other file types).

Problem 4 - Does not recognize many valid link formats

When building the alpha code, I implemented the simplest Regular Expression I could find to locate links in a string - (?<=<(a|area)\s+href=").*?(?="\s*/?>). The problem is that it is far too dumb to find the majority of links.

Solution: Smarter Regular Expressions

Regular Expressions can be very powerful, and clearly a more complex expression was required. Not being an expert in this area, I turned to Google and eventually Matt Bourne who posted a couple of very useful Regex patterns, which resulted in the following code:

// Original Regex, just found <a href=""> links; and was "broken"
// by spaces, out-of-order, etc 
// @"(?<=<a\s+href="").*?(?=""\s*/?>)" 
foreach (Match match in Regex.Matches(htmlData, 
  @"(?<anchor><\s*(a|area)\s*(?:(?:\b\" + 
  @"w+\b\s*(?:=\s*(?:""[^""]*""|'[^']*'|[^""'<> ]+)\s*)?)*)?\s*>)" 
, RegexOptions.IgnoreCase|RegexOptions.ExplicitCapture)) { 
    // Parse ALL attributes from within tags...
    // IMPORTANT when they're out of order!! 
    // in addition to the 'href' attribute, there might
    // also be 'alt', 'class', 'style', 'area', etc... 
    // there might also be 'spaces' between the attributes
    // and they may be ", ', or unquoted 

    foreach (Match submatch in Regex.Matches(match.Value.ToString(), 
      @"(?<name>\b\w+\b)\s*=\s*(""(?<value" + 
      @">[^""]*)""|'(?<value>[^']*)'|(?<value>" + 
      @"[^""'<> \s]+)\s*)+", 
      RegexOptions.IgnoreCase|RegexOptions.ExplicitCapture)) { 
        // we're only interested in the href attribute 
        // (although in future maybe index the 'alt'/'title'?) 
        if ("href" == submatch.Groups[1].ToString().ToLower() ) { 
            link = submatch.Groups[2].ToString(); 
    /* check for internal/external link 
       and supported scheme, then add to ArrayList */ 
} // foreach

Listing 5 - More powerful Regex matching

  1. Match entire link tags (from < to >) including the tag name and all attributes. The Match.Value for each match could be and of the link samples shown earlier.
    <a href='News.htm'> 
    <a href=News.htm>
    <a class="cssLink" href="News.htm"> 
    <area shape="rect" coords="0,0,110,20" href="News.htm">
    <area href='News.htm' shape="rect" coords="0,0,110,20">
  2. The second expression matches the key-value pairs of each attribute, so it will return:
    class="cssLink" href="News.htm" 
    shape="rect" coords="0,0,110,20" href="News.htm" 
    href='News.htm' shape="rect" coords="0,0,110,20"
  3. We access the groups within the match and only get the value for the href attribute, which becomes a link for us to process.

The combination of these two Regular Expressions makes the link parsing a lot more robust.

Problem 5 - Poor META-tag handling

The alpha has very rudimentary META tag handling - so primitive that it accidentally assumed <META NAME="" CONTENT=""> instead of the correct <META HTTP-EQUIV="" CONTENT=""> format. There are two ways to process the META tags correctly:

  1. to get the Description and Keywords for this document, and
  2. read the ROBOTS tag so that our spider behaves nicely when presented with content that should not be indexed.
Solution: Smarter Regular Expressions and support for more tags

Using a variation of the Regular Expressions from Problem 4, the code parses out the META tags as required, adds Keywords and Description to the indexed content, and stores the Description for display on the Search Results page.

string metaKey = String.Empty, metaValue = String.Empty; 
foreach (Match metamatch in Regex.Matches (htmlData, 
  @"<meta\s*(?:(?:\b(\w|-)+\b\s*(?:=\s*(?:""[^""]*""|'" + 
  @"[^']*'|[^""'<> ]+)\s*)?)*)/?\s*>", 
  RegexOptions.IgnoreCase|RegexOptions.ExplicitCapture)) { 
    metaKey = String.Empty; 
    metaValue = String.Empty; 
    // Loop through the attribute/value pairs inside the tag 
    foreach (Match submetamatch in Regex.Matches(metamatch.Value.ToString(), 
      @"(?<name>\b(\w|-)+\b)\s*=\s*(""(?<value>" + 
      @"[^""]*)""|'(?<value>[^']*)'|(?<value>[^""'<> ]+)\s*)+", 
      RegexOptions.IgnoreCase|RegexOptions.ExplicitCapture)) { 

        if ("http-equiv" == submetamatch.Groups[1].ToString().ToLower() ) { 
            metaKey = submetamatch.Groups[2].ToString(); 
        if ( ("name" == submetamatch.Groups[1].ToString().ToLower() ) 
            && (metaKey == String.Empty) ) {
            // if already set, HTTP-EQUIV overrides NAME
            metaKey = submetamatch.Groups[2].ToString(); 
        if ("content" == submetamatch.Groups[1].ToString().ToLower() ) { 
            metaValue = submetamatch.Groups[2].ToString(); 
    switch (metaKey.ToLower()) { 
        case "description": 
            htmldoc.Description = metaValue; 
        case "keywords": 
        case "keyword": 
            htmldoc.Keywords = metaValue; 
        case "robots": 
        case "robot": 
            htmldoc.SetRobotDirective (metaValue); 

Listing 6 - Parsing META tags is a two step process, because we have to check the 'name/http-equiv' so that we know what the content relates to!

It also obeys the ROBOTS NOINDEX and NOFOLLOW directives if they appear in the META tags (you can read more about the Robot Exclusion Protocol as it relates to META tags; note that we have not implemented support for the robots.txt file which sits in the root of a website - perhaps in version 3!). We also set our User-Agent (Solution 2) to indicate that we are a Robot so that the web log of any site we spider will clearly differentiate our requests from regular browsers; it also enables us to prevent Searcharoo from indexing itself.

Spidering the web!

When you load the SearcharooSpider.aspx page, it immediately begins spidering, starting with either:

  1. the root document in the folder where the file is located,


  2. the location specified in web.config (if it exists).

Screenshot 1 - testing the file crawler

Screenshot 1 - The title of each page is displayed as it is spidered. We're using the CIA World FactBook as test data.

Once the catalog is built, you are ready to search.

Performing the Search

All the hard work was done in Article 1 - this code is repeated for your information...

/// <summary>Returns all the Files which
/// contain the searchWord</summary> 
/// <returns>Hashtable </returns> 
public Hashtable Search (string searchWord) { 
    // apply the same 'trim' as when we're building the catalog 
    searchWord = 
      searchWord.Trim('?','\"', ',', '\'', ';', ':', '.', '(', ')').ToLower(); 
    Hashtable retval = null; 
    if (index.ContainsKey (searchWord) ) { // does all the work !!! 
        Word thematch = (Word)index[searchWord]; 
        retval = thematch.InFiles(); // return the collection of File objects 
    return retval; 

Article 1 Listing 8 - the Search method of the Catalog object

We have not modified any of the Search objects in the diagram at the start of this article, in an effort to show how data encapsulation allows you to change both the way you collect data (i.e., from file system crawling to website spidering) and the way you present data (i.e., updating the search results page), without affecting your data tier. In article 3, we'll examine if it's possible to convert the Search objects to use a database back-end without affecting the collection and presentation classes...

Improving the Results [SearcharooToo.aspx]

These are the changes we will make to the results page:

  • Enable searching for more than one word and requiring all terms to appear in the resulting document matches (boolean AND search)
  • Improved formatting, including:
    • Pre-filled search box on the results page
    • Document count for each term in the query, and link to view those results
    • Time taken to perform query

The first change to support searching on multiple terms is to 'parse' the query typed by the user. This means: trimming whitespace from around the query, and compressing whitespace between the query terms. We then Split the query into an Array[] of words and Trim any punctuation from around each term.

searchterm = Request.QueryString["searchfor"].ToString().Trim(' '); 
Regex r = new Regex(@"\s+");              //remove all whitespace 
searchterm = r.Replace(searchterm, " ");  // to a single space 
searchTermA = searchterm.Split(' ');      // then split 
for (int i = 0; i < searchTermA.Length; i++) {  // array of search terms  
    searchTermA[i] = searchTermA[i].Trim 
            (' ', '?','\"', ',', '\'', ';', ':', '.', '(', ')').ToLower();

Listing 7 - the Search method of the Catalog object

Now that we have an Array of the individual search terms, we will find all the documents matching each individual term. This is done using the same m_catalog.Search() method from Article I. After each search, we check if any results were returned, and store them in the searchResultsArrayArray to process further.

// Array of arrays of results that match ONE of the search criteria 
Hashtable[] searchResultsArrayArray = new Hashtable[searchTermA.Length]; 
// finalResultsArray is populated with pages
// that *match* ALL the search criteria 
HybridDictionary finalResultsArray = new HybridDictionary(); 
// Html output string 
string matches=""; 
bool botherToFindMatches = true; 
int indexOfShortestResultSet = -1, lengthOfShortestResultSet = -1; 

for (int i = 0; i < searchTermA.Length; i++) {
// ##### THE SEARCH ##### 
    searchResultsArrayArray[i] = m_catalog.Search (searchTermA[i].ToString()); 
    if (null == searchResultsArrayArray[i]) { 
    matches += searchTermA[i] 
            + " <font color=gray " + 
            "style='font-size:xx-small'>(not found)</font> "; 
    // if *any one* of the terms isn't found,
    // there won't be a 'set' of matches 
    botherToFindMatches = false; 
    } else { 
        int resultsInThisSet = searchResultsArrayArray[i].Count; 
        matches += "<a href=\"?searchfor="+searchTermA[i]+"\">" 
            + searchTermA[i] 
            + "</a> <font color=gray style='font-size:xx-small'>(" 
            + resultsInThisSet + ")</font> "; 
        if ( (lengthOfShortestResultSet == -1) || 
             (lengthOfShortestResultSet > resultsInThisSet) ) { 
        indexOfShortestResultSet = i; 
        lengthOfShortestResultSet = resultsInThisSet; 

Listing 8 - Find the results for each of the terms individually

Describing how we find the documents that match all words in the query is easiest with an example, so imagine we're searching for the query "snow cold weather" in the CIA World FactBook. Listing 8 found the array of documents matching each word, and placed them inside another array. "snow" has 10 matching documents, "cold" has 43 matching documents, and "weather" has 22 matching documents.

Obviously, the maximum possible number of overall matches is 10 (the smallest result set), and the minimum is zero -- maybe there are no documents that appear in all three collections. Both of these possibilities catered for - indexOfShortestResultSet remembers which word had fewest results and botherToFindMatches is set to false if any word fails to get a single match.

Conceptual diagram - intersection of result sets

Diagram 1 - Finding the intersection of the result sets for each word involves traversing the 'array of arrays'

Listing 9 shows how we approached this problem. It may not be the most efficient way to do it, but it works! Basically, we choose the smallest resultset and loop through its matching files, looping through the SearchResultsArrayArray (counter 'cx') looking for that same file in all the other resultsets.

Imagine, referring to the diagram above, that we begin with [0][0] file D (we start with index [0] "snow" because it's the smallest set, not just because it's item 0). The loop below will now start checking all the other files to see if it finds D again... but it won't start in set [0] because we already know that D is unique in this set. "if (cx==c)" checks that condition and prevents looping through resultset [0].

Counter 'cx' will be incremented to 1, and the loop will begin examining items [1][0], [1][1], [1][2], [1][3], [1][4] (files G, E, S, H, K, D) but "if (fo.Key = fox.Key)" won't match because we are still searching for matches to file [0][0] D. However, on the next iteration, file [1][5] is found to be file D, so we know that file D is a match for both "snow" and "cold"!

The next problem is, how will we remember that this file exists in both sets? I chose a very simple solution - count the number of sets we're comparing totalcount - and keep adding to the matchcount when we find the file in a set. We can then safely break out of that loop (knowing that the file is unique within a resultset, and we wouldn't care if it was duplicated in there anyway) and start checking the next resultset.

After the looping has completed, "if (matchcount == totalcount)" then we know this file exists in all the sets, and can be added to the FinalResultsArray, which is what we'll use to show the results page to the user.

The looping will continue with 'cx' incremented to 2, and the "weather" matches will be checked for file D. It is found at position [2][2] and the matchcount will be adjusted accordingly. The whole looping process will then begin again in the "snow" matches [0][1] file G, and all the other files will again be checked against this one to see if it exists in all sets.

After a lot of looping, the code will discover that only files D and G exist in all three sets, and the finalResultsArray will have just two elements which it passes to the same display-code from Listings 10-13 in Article I.

// Find the common files from the array of arrays of documents 
// matching ONE of the criteria 
if (botherToFindMatches) {
// all words have *some* matches
    // loop through the *shortest* resultset
    int c = indexOfShortestResultSet;
    Hashtable searchResultsArray = searchResultsArrayArray[c]; 

    if (null != searchResultsArray) 
    foreach (object foundInFile in searchResultsArray) {
    // for each file in the *shortest* result set 
        DictionaryEntry fo = (DictionaryEntry)foundInFile;
        // find matching files in the other resultsets 

        int matchcount=0, totalcount=0, weight=0; 

        for (int cx = 0; cx < searchResultsArrayArray.Length; cx++) { 
            // keep track, so we can compare at the end (if term is in ALL)
            if (cx == c) {
            // current resultset
                // implicitly matches in the current resultset
                matchcount += (cx+1);
                // sum the weighting
                weight += (int)fo.Value;
            } else { 
                Hashtable searchResultsArrayx = searchResultsArrayArray[cx]; 
                if (null != searchResultsArrayx) 
                foreach (object foundInFilex in searchResultsArrayx) {
                // for each file in the result set 
                    DictionaryEntry fox = (DictionaryEntry)foundInFilex; 
                    if (fo.Key == fox.Key) {
                    // see if it matches
                        // and if it matches, track the matchcount
                        matchcount += (cx+1);
                        // and weighting; then break out of loop, since
                        weight += (int)fox.Value;
                        // no need to keep looking through this resultset 
                } // foreach 
            } // if 
        } // for 
        if ( (matchcount>0) && (matchcount == totalcount) ) {
        // was matched in each Array
            // set the final 'weight'
            // to the sum of individual document matches
            fo.Value = weight;
            if ( !finalResultsArray.Contains (fo.Key) ) 
                  finalResultsArray.Add ( fo.Key, fo); 
        } // if 
    } // foreach 
} // if

Listing 9 - Finding the sub-set of documents that contain every word in the query. There're three nested loops in there - I never said this was efficient!

The algorithm described above is performing a boolean AND query on all the words in the query, i.e., the example is searching for "snow AND cold AND weather". If we wished to build an OR query, we could simply loop through all the files and filter out duplicates. OR queries aren't that useful unless you can combine them with AND clauses, such as "snow AND (cold OR weather)" - but this is NOT supported in Version 2!

By the way, the variables in that code which I've called "Array" for simplicity, are actually either HashTables or HybridDictionaries. Don't be confused when you look at the code - there were good reasons why each Collection class was chosen (mainly that I didn't know in advance the final number of items, so using Array was too hard).

The Finished Result

Screenshot 2 - Minor changes

Screenshot 2 - The Search input page has minor changes, including the filename to SearcharooToo.aspx!

Screenshot 3 - Lots of changes to the search results

Screenshot 3 - You can refine your search, see the number of matches for each search term, view the time taken to perform the search and, most importantly, see the documents containing all the words in your query!

Using the sample code

The goal of this article was to build a simple search engine that you can install just by placing some files on your website; so you can copy Searcharoo.cs, SearcharooSpider.aspx and SearcharooToo.aspx to your web root and away you go! However, that means you accept all the default settings, such as crawling from the website root, and a five second timeout when downloading pages.

To change those defaults, you need to add some settings to web.config:

   <!--website to spider-->
   <add key="Searcharoo_VirtualRoot" value="http://localhost/" />
   <!--5 second timeout when downloading-->  
   <add key="Searcharoo_RequestTimeout" value="5" />  
   <!--Max pages to index--> 
   <add key="Searcharoo_RecursionLimit" value="200" />

Listing 14 - web.config

Then, simply navigate to http://localhost/SearcharooToo.aspx (or wherever you put the Searcharoo files) and it will build the catalog for the first time.

If your application re-starts for any reason (i.e., you compile code into the /bin/ folder, or change web.config settings), the catalog will need to be rebuilt - the next user who performs a search will trigger the catalog build. This is accomplished by checking if the Cache contains a valid Catalog, and if not, using Server.Transfer to start the spider and return to the search page when complete.


SearcharooSpider.aspx greatly increases the utility of Searcharoo, because you can now index your static and dynamic (e.g., database generated) pages to allow visitors to search your site. That means you could use it with products like Microsoft Content Management Server (CMS) which does not expose its content-database directly.

The two remaining (major) problems with Searcharoo are:

  1. it cannot persist the catalog to disk or a database - meaning that a very large site will cause a lot of memory to be used to store the catalog, and
  2. most websites contain more than just HTML pages; they also link to Microsoft Word or other Office files, Adobe Acrobat (PDF Files), and other forms of content which Searcharoo currently cannot 'understand' (i.e., parse and catalog).

The next articles in this series will (hopefully) examine these two problems in more detail on CodeProject and at ConceptDevelopment.NET...


Term Meaning
HTML Hyper Text Markup Language
HTTP Hyper Text Transmission Protocol
URL Universal Resource Locator
URI Universal Resource Identifier
DOM Document Object Model
302 Redirect The HTTP Status code that tells a browser to redirect to a different URL/page.
UTF-8 Unicode Transformation Format - 8 bit
MIME Type Multipart Internet Mail Extension
Spider Program that goes from webpage to webpage by finding and following links in the HTML: visualize a spider crawling on a web Smile | :)
Crawler Although the terms 'spider' and 'crawler' are often used interchangeably, we'll use 'crawler' to refer to a program that locates target pages on a file system or external 'list'; whereas a 'spider' will find other pages via embedded links.
Shift_JIS, GB2312 Character sets...
Search Engine Glossary

Postscript : What about code-behind and Visual Studio .NET? (from Article I)

You'll notice the two ASPX pages use the src="Searcharoo.cs" @Page attribute to share the common object model without compiling to an assembly, with the page-specific 'inline' using <script runat="server"> tags (similar to ASP 3.0).

The advantage of this approach is that you can place these three files in any ASP.NET website and they'll 'just work'. There are no other dependencies (although they work better if you set some web.config settings) and no DLLs to worry about.

However, this also means these pages can't be edited in Visual Studio .NET, because it does not support the @Page src="" attribute, instead preferring the codebehind="" attribute coupled with CS files compiled to the /bin/ directory. To get these pages working in Visual Studio .NET, you'll have to setup a Project and add the CS file and the two ASPX files (you can move the <script> code into the code-behind if you like), then compile.



  • 2004-06-30: Version 1 on CodeProject.
  • 2004-07-03: Version 2 on CodeProject.


This article has no explicit license attached to it but may contain usage terms in the article text or the download files themselves. If in doubt please contact the author via the discussion board below.

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Comments and Discussions

BugExcellent work but found bug to report... PinmemberMr. Javaman11-Oct-12 7:15 
GeneralMy vote of 5 Pinmembermanoj kumar choubey9-Feb-12 23:02 
Generalstrip HTML problem Pinmemberenjoycrack12-Apr-10 23:30 
GeneralRe: strip HTML problem Pinmembercraigd27-Apr-10 21:46 
QuestionFile Types Searcharooooo ??? PinmemberGuyWonderer6-Feb-07 10:35 
AnswerNot this version, sorry Pinmembercraigd22-Feb-07 10:54 
AnswerRe: File Types Searcharooooo ??? Pinmemberj105 Rob23-Feb-07 1:12 
GeneralRe: File Types Searcharooooo ??? PinmemberGuyWonderer27-Feb-07 13:57 
OK I so I'm playing with the Index Service and I can search through my files with the greatest of ease, BUT, I can't get them to open niether in the brwoser or with the respective application. Any ideas, articles?

GeneralRe: File Types Searcharooooo ??? Pinmemberj105 Rob28-Feb-07 2:12 
AnswerVersion 4 code released Pinmembercraigd17-Mar-07 0:25 
GeneralBug city...nice framework Pinmembermrhassell23-Jan-07 14:30 
GeneralRe: Bug city...nice framework Pinmemberj105 Rob26-Jan-07 1:32 
GeneralThanks for that! Pinmembercraigd22-Feb-07 11:15 
GeneralRe: Bug city...nice framework Pinmembermrbluejello4-Feb-07 18:37 
GeneralThanks... I think :) Pinmembercraigd22-Feb-07 10:43 
GeneralRe: Bug city...nice framework PinmemberYo!4-Jul-07 4:22 
GeneralIObject in the tone of J# Pinmembermrhassell10-Jul-07 2:29 
GeneralRe: IObject in the tone of J# PinmemberYo!11-Jul-07 2:55 
GeneralJust Amazing.. waiting for Next Article in the Line.. Pinmembers_ruchit30-Dec-06 21:56 
Answerversion 3 is here Pinmembercraigd22-Feb-07 10:48 
GeneralFirewall / Proxy script authentication PinmemberSNathani1-Nov-06 16:03 
GeneralRe: Firewall / Proxy script authentication Pinmembers_ruchit24-Dec-06 20:32 
GeneralExpand the catalog Pinmembertoto12265-Sep-06 6:15 
GeneralYou can't do that with Searcharoo Pinmembercraigd11-Sep-06 12:33 
GeneralRe: You can't do that with Searcharoo PinmemberAbraam25-Nov-09 5:56 

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