Concepts / Building Search UI / Backend InstantSearch
Oct. 11, 2019

Backend InstantSearch

Introduction

Advanced InstantSearch users may have the need to query Algolia’s servers from their backend instead of the frontend, while still being able to reuse InstantSearch widgets. Possible motivations could be for security restrictions, for SEO purposes or to enrich the data sent by the custom server (i.e. fetch Algolia data and data from their own servers). If this sounds appealing to you, feel free to follow this guide. Keep in mind though that we, at Algolia, recommend doing frontend search for performance and high availability reasons.

By the end of this guide, you will have learned how to leverage InstantSearch with your own backend architecture to query Algolia.

How it’s possible

InstantSearch is the UI part on top a search client with a state managed by a JavaScript Helper. These three layers are composable and can be interchanged to leverage the InstantSearch widgets system with different search clients.

The search client that Algolia offers queries Algolia’s backends whenever the user refines the search. It is possible to implement your own search client that queries your backend, which then queries Algolia’s backends with the Algolia search client on your server.

To create your own client, you will need to implement a given interface that receives and returns formatted data that InstantSearch can understand.

On the backend: create the necessary routes

This guide assumes that you’ve got an existing server running on http://localhost:3000 with the route POST /search that takes the default Algolia query parameters as JSON. This backend could be using the JavasScript API client to query Algolia, on top of any other operations you want to perform.

The algoliasearch package will allow you to query Algolia from your backend. Here’s an example using Express:

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// Instantiate an Algolia client
const algoliasearch = require('algoliasearch');
const algoliaClient = algoliasearch('YourApplicationID', 'YourSearchOnlyAPIKey');

// Add the search endpoint
app.post('/search', async ({body}, res) => {
  const { requests } = body;
  const results = await algoliaClient.search(requests);
  res.status(200).send(results);
});

Once your new route is ready, we get back to the frontend and are going to create a search client able to communicate with this server.

On the frontend: call your new backend routes

Searching for results

A search client is an object which implements the method search(), called every time the user searches and refines results.

Since our server accepts the InstantSearch format as an input, we will only need to pass these requests to our backend in this method, and return the response.

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const customSearchClient = {
  search(requests) {
    return fetch('http://localhost:3000/search', {
      method: 'post',
      headers: {
        'Content-Type': 'application/json',
      },
      body: JSON.stringify({ requests }),
    }).then(res => res.json());
  }
};

We use the Fetch API in this example to query the server; make sure to take note of the browser compatibility before using it in production.

If you want to transform the data to be passed to your server, you can learn more about all the parameters that the search() method supports in the Algolia API reference.

Using the search client with Vue InstantSearch

Now, we need to tell InstantSearch to use the search client that we’ve created. This is possible with the searchClient option. This parameter will disable all Algolia requests coming from the frontend and will proxy them to your own backend implementation.

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<template>
  <ais-instant-search
    :search-client="searchClient"
  >
  </ais-instant-search>
</template>

<script>
export default {
  data() {
    return {
      searchClient: {
        search(requests) {
          return fetch('http://localhost:3000/search', {
            method: 'post',
            headers: {
              'Content-Type': 'application/json',
            },
            body: JSON.stringify({ requests }),
          }).then(res => res.json());
        }
      },
    };
  },
};
</script>

That’s it! InstantSearch is now requesting your own backend and will display the UI accordingly.

Going further: enriching data from the backend

Now that you’ve got InstantSearch querying your own backend before fetching results from Algolia, you could merge Algolia’s data to yours to offer your users more exhaustive results.

A recurring problem with e-commerce websites using Algolia is to manage the remaining stock for each product; it is sometimes hard to keep track of the exact number of items. An approach made possible with a custom backend is to only store the item’s availability on each Algolia record (none, low, medium, high) and to fetch the exact stock on your database.

You need to make a few changes to your backend:

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app.post('/search', async ({body}, res) => {
  const requests = body;
  const algoliaResults = await algoliaClient.search(requests);
  const results = {
    ...algoliaResults,
    results: algoliaResults.results.map(result => ({
      ...result,
      hits: result.hits.map(async hit => ({
        ...hit,
        // `getStock()` retrieves a product's exact stock from your own database
        stock: await getStock(hit.productID),
      })),
    })),
  };

  res.status(200).send(results);
});

You will now be able to access the property stock on each hit with InstantSearch on the frontend.

Conclusion

Throughout this guide, you’ve learned:

  • How to handle Algolia requests coming from InstantSearch on your own backend
  • How to create a custom search client calling this server
  • How to plug the search client to InstantSearch

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