Be careful while querying inner objects in elasticsearch

In elasticsearch we can store closely related entities within a single document. For example, we can store a blog post and all of its comments together, by passing an array of comments.

So we have an elasticsearch document describing a post and an inner object comments containing all the comments on a post. But inner objects in elasticsearch do not work as we expect. How ? We will see it soon.


Now suppose we want to find all blog posts on which user {name: john, age: 34} has commented. So lets again look at our sample document above and find the users who had commented.


From the list we can clearly see that there is no user John of 34 years age. For simplicity consider we have only 1 document in elasticsearch index. Lets verify the same by querying the index:

Our sample document is returned in response. Surprised ?. Now that is why I said:

inner objects in elasticsearch do not work as expected

The problem here is that the library used by elasticsearch(lucene) has no concept of inner objects, so as a result inner objects are flattened into a simple list of field name and values. Our document is internally stored as:

As you can clearly see above that the relationship between comments.name and comments.age has been lost. So that is why our document matches a query for john and 34.


To solve this problem we just need to make a small change in mapping of elasticsearch. If you have a look at the mapping of index you will find that the type of comments field is object. We need to update it to type nested.

We can simply update the mapping of our index by running the below query:

After changing the mapping to type nested, there is a slight change in the way we can query the index. We need to use nested query. Given below is the nested query example:

The above query will return no document in response as there is no match of user {name: john, age: 34}.

Surprised again ? Just a small change solved a problem in no time. It may be a smaller change from our side, but a lot has changed in the way elasticsearch stores our document. Internally, nested objects index each object in the array as a separate hidden document, meaning that each nested object can be queried independently of the others.

Given below is the internal representation of sample document after changing mapping:

As you can see each inner object is stored as a separate hidden document internally. This maintains the relationship between their fields.


So if you are using inner objects in index and querying them too, verify that the type of inner object is nested. Else the query may return invalid result documents.

Thanks for reading. Please like and share so that it can reach out to other valuable readers too.

Author: anujverma

2 thoughts on “Be careful while querying inner objects in elasticsearch”

    1. Hi Gowtham,
      I am extremely sorry. There was some issue with the code snippets on our website, which is fixed now. I hope you are able to see the Update query now. Please let me know if you are facing any more problems.

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