Learning Elasticsearch with Laravel

By February 26, 2016 14 Comments

In this post we’ll explore Elasticsearch; the basics of search and how to set it up with Laravel, Homestead and even Forge. Even though there are resources out there,  I couldn’t find the one article that summarised everything I needed to get up and running in as short a time as possible.

What is Elasticsearch and why should I use it?

Elasticsearch is a full text search server. You install it on your box and communicate with it via an HTTP Rest Api. Once up and running, you push data to it that you want to search through later.

It allows you to search through vast amounts of data in a very fast way with a feature rich query mechanism.

Even though you can perform fulltext searches on SQL databases, it isn’t as powerful or scalable as Elasticsearch. One benefit of using Elasticsearch is its schemaless approach that allows you to store data in a flat way, allowing you to transform complex joined entities into a single object. Remember that you can still create relations and nested objects if you need to.

Some key features that interest me are the abilities to perform “fuzzy” searches that allow for misspellings and a powerful relevance scoring mechanism, as well as the ability to retrieve the “next best” results when an exact query comes up with no matches.

Installing Elasticsearch

I’ve created a bash script to install the latest version of java and Elasticsearch here

You can install Elasticsearch on homestead by SSHing into your homestead environment, and pasting that script into your terminal. When it’s done you should have java and Elasticsearch installed and running! You can also save the script as a recipe on Forge to allow you to easily deploy Elasticsearch to your servers.

Run curl 'localhost:9200’ on homestead to ensure that Elasticsearch is working.

Talking to Elasticsearch with PHP

Now that our environment is set up, we can start using Elasticsearch! The official PHP client is on github and can be installed via composer:

composer require elasticsearch/elasticsearch

While you can use Elasticsearch’s Client and ClientBuilder classes directly, let’s wrap them in our own class. This way we can build an Api that is fluent for us and if the Elasticsearch package updates with breaking changes, we only have to fix our wrapper.

A basic wrapper might look like the below, and I’ve created a slightly beefed up version here.

To get this to work, we need to bind our dependencies in a Service Provider. I’ve also set up some basic logging to be able to more easily debug problems in the code snippet below.
At this stage we’re able to new up instances of our Elastic class through Laravel’s Service Container and interact with Elasticsearch!


Elasticsearch organises data into indexes and types which can be likened to SQL’s databases and tables. Before we can utilize Elasticsearch’s powerful search features, we’ve got to populate it with some data.

We can hook into our Eloquent Model’s saved and deleted events to keep Elasticsearch in sync with our database.

While a one time import might look like this:


Now that we’ve indexed some data, we can finally search through it! Let’s assume that we’ve got a single text field search box and we want to return some relevant data.

Elasticsearch has a vast query language. For this example I’d like to accomplish 2 things from our search:

  • Search multiple fields from our posts with relevance
  • Allow for misspellings in the search term and even our post content

The search parameters will look like this:

Let’s populate our $query variable. Out of the box, Elasticsearch returns results sorted by relevance. We can search through multiple fields using a multi_match search, which allows fields to be given a weight that gives them more importance than other fields.

Allowing for misspellings means utilizing Elasticsearch’s “fuzzy” search features. Without going into any detail, we can enable this by adding a single line:

And that’s it! Our Elasticsearch instance will respond with our search results ordered by relevance, and allow for misspellings in the search query.

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to Elasticsearch, and the sample code provided needs to be improved for use in production – but with this knowledge you should be able to quickly get yourself into a position to explore Elasticsearch.


Here are a number of resources that I used when learning about Elasticsearch.

Elasticsearch documentation
The documentation is exhaustive, so will surely have solutions to most of your problems.

Ben Corlett’s Laracon Talk
This talk covers the basics of setting up and using Elasticsearch with Laravel.

Spatie’s Search Index Package
A package that exposes Elasticsearch and Algolia. I used this to see how other developers dealt with search indexes.

Integrating Elasticsearch – Madewithlove
A great summary of using Elasticsearch with a Laravel 4.2 application

Maps Laravel Models to Elasticsearch types

Michael Stivala

Michael Stivala

An inspired creative professional.