Details on Traject Indexing: from custom logic to Macros

We will explain the architecture of indexing rules, to help you use them more effectively, and create 'macros' which are re-usable index mapping rules.

How to_field works

A to_field invocation might look like this:

to_field "title", extract_marc("245abc"), first_only

In fact, both extract_marc("245abc") and first_only are invocation of methods that return ruby Proc or lambda objects. We call a method that is included in an indexer, and returns a Proc object suitable as an arg to to_field -- we call this a macro in traject.

The to_field method for establishing an indexing rule, is defined to simply take a first argument that is a field name, and then one or more arguments that are procs. During indexing, the procs registered with the indexing rule are executed in order to provide and transform output values. There can be an additional proc provided as a block argument to the to_field method.

By providing macro methods in the indexer that return procs, we can use this simple ruby method signature to create something that looks like a "domain specific language," where you might not even realize it's all based on procs. extract_marc is a method defined in the MarcIndexer (via including the Traject::Macros::Marc21 mixin), while first_only is a method included in all Indexers (via the base Indexer class including the Traject::Macros::Transformation mixin).

These proc arguments themselves take three arguments, of which the third is optional.

  1. the source record
  2. an "accumulator" array of output values, to which the procs add or transform values
  3. a traject "context"

Here's the simplest possible direct Traject mapping logic, duplicating the effects of the literal macro:

to_field("title") do |record, accumulator, context|
  accumulator << "FIXED LITERAL"

That do is just ruby block syntax, whereby we can pass a block of ruby code as an argument to to a ruby method. We pass a block taking three arguments, labeled record, accumulator, and context, to the to_field method. The third 'context' object is optional, you can define it in your block or not, depending on if you want to use it.

The block is then stored by the Traject::Indexer, and called for each record indexed, with three arguments provided.

record argument

The record that gets passed to your block is the source record for the current indexing: A MARC::Record when using the MarcIndexer, a Nokogiri::XML::Document using the NokogiriIndexer, or whatever source record type is used by a given indexer.

Logic for an "extraction" proc, like that returned by extract_marc, usually the first one given to to_field, will usually examine the record to calculate the desired output.

Logic for a "transformation" proc, such as that returned by first_only, usually ignores the record argument.

"Extraction" vs "transformation" are just names for procs that either examine the source_record to add something to the accumulator ("extraction") or transform values already in the accumulator ("transformation") -- a proc can actually do these things in any combination, but it usually makes sense to design some procs for extraction and others for transformation.

accumulator argument

The accumulator argument is an Array. At the end of your custom code, the accumulator Array should hold the output you want send off to the field specified in to_field.

The accumulator is a reference to a ruby Array, and you need to modify that Array, manipulating it in place with Array methods that mutate the array, like concat, <<, map! or even replace.

You can't simply assign the accumulator variable to a different Array; you need to modify the Array in place.

# Won't work, assigning variable
to_field('foo') do |rec, acc|
  acc = ["some constant"] } # WRONG!

# Won't work, assigning variable
to_field('foo') do |rec, acc|
  acc << 'bill'
  acc << 'dueber'
  acc ={|str| str.upcase}

# Instead, do, modify array in place
to_field('foo') {|rec, acc| acc << "some constant" }
to_field('foo') do |rec, acc|
  acc << 'bill'
  acc << 'dueber'!{|str| str.upcase} # NOTE: "map!" not "map"

If you have multiple calls to to_field for the same field, each invocation begins with an empty accumulator, to help keep them independent.

context argument

The third optional argument is a Traject::Indexer::Context (rdoc) object. Most of the time you don't need it, but you can use it for some sophisticated functionality. These are some useful methods available:

  • context.clipboard A hash into which you can stuff values that you want to pass from one indexing step to another. For example, if you go through a bunch of work to query a database and get a result you'll need more than once, stick the results somewhere in the clipboard. This clipboard is record-specific, and won't persist between records.
  • context.position The position of the record in the input file (e.g., was it the first record, second, etc.). Useful for error reporting.
  • context.output_hash A hash mapping the field names (generally defined in to_field calls) to an array of values to be sent to the writer associated with that field. This allows you to modify what goes to the writer without going through a to_field call -- you can just set context.output_hash['myfield'] = ['my', 'values'] and you're set. See below for more examples.
  • context.skip!(msg) An assertion that this record should be ignored. No more indexing steps will be called, no results will be sent to the writer, and a debug-level log message will be written stating that the record was skipped.

Gotcha: Use closures to make your code more efficient

A closure is a computer-science term that means "a piece of code that remembers all the variables that were in scope when it was created." In ruby, lambdas and blocks are closures. Method definitions are not, which most of us have run across much to our chagrin.

Within the context of traject, this means you can define a variable outside of a to_field or each_record block and it will be available inside those blocks. And you only have to define it once.

That's useful to do for any object that is even a bit expensive to create -- we can maximize the performance of our traject indexing by creating those objects once outside the block, instead of inside the block where it will be created once per-record (every time the block is executed):


# Create the transformer for every single record
to_field 'normalized_title' do |rec, acc|
  transformer = # Oh no! I'm doing this for each of my 10M records!
  acc << transformer.transform(rec['245'].value)

# Create the transformer exactly once
transformer = # Ahhh. Do it once.
to_field 'normalized_title' do |rec, acc|
  acc << transformer.transform(rec['245'].value)

Traject macros similarly will capture some values in local variables outside the actual proc return value, which the proc returned can then use.

Certain built-in traject calls have been optimized to be high performance so it's safe to do them inside 'inner loop' blocks. That includes and Traject::MarcExtractor.cached("xxx") (NOTE: #cached rather than #new there)

Back to macros

A Traject macro is a way to automatically create indexing rules via re-usable "templates".

Traject macros are simply methods that return ruby lambda/proc objects, possibly creating them based on parameters passed in.

For example, here is the implementation of the literal logic, as a macro method returning a proc, instead of as an inline proc.

# This method is included in an Indexer, possibly as a module mix-in.
def literal(value)
  return proc do |record, accumulator, context|
     # because a lambda is a closure, we can define it in terms
     # of the 'value' from the scope it's defined in!
     accumulator << value

# then it would be called on the indexer, typically in a traject configuration file,
# when setting up an indexing rule:
to_field("fieldname"), literal("my_fav_literal")

So a Traject macro is a method that may have parameters and, based on those parameters, returns a proc; the proc is then passed to the to_field indexing method, or similar methods.

How do you make these methods available to the traject indexer?

Define it in a module:

# in a file literal_macro.rb
module LiteralMacro
  def literal(value)
    return proc do |record, accumulator, context|
       # because a lambda is a closure, we can define it in terms
       # of the 'value' from the scope it's defined in!
       accumulator << value

And then use ordinary ruby require and extend to add it to the current Indexer file, by simply including this in one of your config files:

require `literal_macro.rb`
extend LiteralMacro

to_field("fieldname"), literal("my_fav_literal")

That's it. You can use the traject command line -I option to set the ruby load path, so your file will be findable via require. Or you can distribute it in a gem, and use straight rubygems and the gem command in your configuration file, or Bundler with traject command-line -g option. See the Extending with your own code guide for various methods for including custom code in a traject command-line invocation.

Combining multiple macros, lambdas and blocks

Traject macros (such as extract_marc) create and return a proc. If you include a proc and a block (or multiple procs) on a to_field call, subsequent procs or code blocks get the accumulator as it was filled in by former procs or code blocks, and can transform values in the accumulator.

Here is an example of passing to_field procs returned by macros, procs held in variables, and blocks.

titlecase = proc do |rec, acc|! { |value| value.titlecase }

to_field 'lc_title', extract_marc('245'), titlecase, unique do |rec, acc, context|
  acc.delete_if { |v| v == "value_to_eliminate" }

extract_marc and unique are "macro" methods reutrning a proc.

titlecase is just a local variable, defined in the indexing file itself, holding a proc.

Then finally there is a block arg, taking the same arguments as the procs would.

All of these can be combined, and will be executed in order to transform output values.

Manipulating context.output_hash directly

If you ask for the context argument, a Traject::Indexer::Context (rdoc), you have access to context.output_hash, which is the hash of already transformed output that will be sent to Solr (or any other Writer).

You can examine context.output_hash to see any already transformed output and use it as the source for new output.

You can write to context.output_hash directly, which can be useful for computations that affect more than one output field at once.

Note: Make sure you always assign an Array to each context.output_hash value, e.g., context.output_hash['foo'], not a single value!

# Wrong - do NOT assign a value of anything other than an Array
context.output_hash['fieldname'] = 'fuzzy_wuzzies'

# Correct
context.output_hash['fieldname'] = ['fuzzy_wuzzies']


each_record is similar to to_field in that it defines logic executed for each record. It differs from to_field because the output of each_record is not associated with a specific output field.

Thus, each_record blocks have no accumulator argument: instead they either take a single record argument; or both a record and a context.

each_record is useful for logging or notifying, computing intermediate results, or writing to more than one field at once.

each_record do |record, context|
  if is_it_bad?(record)
    context.skip!("Skipping bad record")
    context.clipboard[:expensive_result] = calculate_expensive_thing(record)

each_record do |record, context|
  if eligible_for_things?(record)
    (val1, val2) = calculate_two_things_from(record)

    context.add_output("first_field", val1)
    context.add_output("second_field", val2)

traject doesn't come with any macros written for use with each_record, but they could be created: such macros would be methods that return a lambda given the appropriate args from each_record.

More tips and gotchas about indexing steps

  • All your to_field and each_record steps are run in the order in which they were initially evaluated. That means that the order you call your config files can potentially make a difference if you're screwing around stuffing stuff into the context clipboard or whatnot.

  • to_field can be called multiple times on the same field name. If you call the same field name multiple times, all the values will be sent to the writer.

  • Once you call context.skip!(msg) no more index steps will be run for that record. So if you have any cleanup code, you'll need to make sure to call it yourself.

  • By default, traject indexing runs multi-threaded. In the current implementation, the indexing steps for one record are not split across threads, but different records can be processed simultaneously by more than one thread. That means you need to make sure your code is thread-safe (or always set processing_thread_pool to 0).