Elasticsearch autocomplete with a Rails API backend and an Angular frontend

In this post, I’ll share some sample code to integrate a Rails backend API with Elasticsearch and an Angular frontend to implement autocomplete functionality.

To install Elasticsearch, I simply use brew:

brew install elasticsearch
brew services start elasticsearch

Part 1: the Rails backend

Initial project setup:

# create directory and RVM files:
mkdir elasticsearch_demo
echo ruby-2.2.3 > elasticsearch_demo/.ruby-version
echo elasticsearch_demo > elasticsearch_demo/.ruby-gemset
cd elasticsearch_demo

# install rails 5 gem and scaffold a new project
gem install rails
rails new . -d postgresql --skip-action-mailer --skip-action-cable --skip-sprockets --skip-spring --skip-javascript --skip-turbolinks --skip-test --api

# setup database
rake db:create && db:migrate

Add Ruby gems, edit file: Gemfile, add:

gem 'elasticsearch-model', git: 'git://github.com/elasticsearch/elasticsearch-rails.git'
gem 'elasticsearch-rails', git: 'git://github.com/elasticsearch/elasticsearch-rails.git'
gem 'rack-cors', :require => 'rack/cors'
gem 'sidekiq'

Execute bundle install to install the gems.

Edit file ‘config/application.rb’ to enable elasticsearch logging, add:

require 'elasticsearch/rails/instrumentation'

Create a migration to add the table for People, new file: ‘db/migrate/20160929000649_create_people.rb’

class CreatePeople < ActiveRecord::Migration[5.0]
  def change
    create_table :people do |t|
      t.string :first_name
      t.string :last_name


Execute the migration and create the table via: rake db:migrate.

Create the person model, new file: app/models/person.rb. Check out the elasticsearch completion suggester documentation for more information.

require 'elasticsearch/model'

class Person < ApplicationRecord
  # include elasticsearch
  include Elasticsearch::Model
  include Elasticsearch::Model::Callbacks

  # define elasticsearch index and type for model
  index_name  'es_demo_people'
  document_type 'person'

  # custom elasticsearch mapping per autocompletion
  mapping do
    indexes :name, type: 'string'
    indexes :suggest, {
      type: 'completion',
      analyzer: 'simple',
      search_analyzer: 'simple',
      payloads: true

  # simple model validation
  validates :first_name, presence: true
  validates :last_name, presence: true

  # instance method to determine how models are indexed in elasticsearch
  def as_indexed_json(_options = {})
      name: "#{first_name} #{last_name}",
      suggest: {
        input: [first_name, last_name],
        output: "#{first_name} #{last_name}",
        payload: { id: id, first_name: first_name, last_name: last_name }

  # class method to execute autocomplete search
  def self.auto_complete(q)
    return nil if q.blank?

    search_definition = {
      'name-suggest' => {
        text: q,
        completion: {
          field: 'suggest'

    __elasticsearch__.client.perform_request('GET', "#{index_name}/_suggest", {}, search_definition).body['name-suggest'].first['options']


At this point, you can force create the elasticsearch index mapping for the person model:

rails c
> Person.__elasticsearch__.create_index! force: true

The elasticsearch index mapping can be confirmed via: curl http://localhost:9200/es_demo_people/_mapping | python -m json.tool

Now we can create some data. To keep it simple I used Sidekiq. Here is a simple worker file: app/workers/person_creator_worker.rb

class PersonCreatorWorker
  include Sidekiq::Worker

  def perform(first_name, last_name)
    Person.create!(first_name: first_name, last_name: last_name)

And a rake task to create People from a *nix system dict file using sidekiq. new file: lib/tasks/import.rake

namespace :import do
  desc "Import people"
  task people: :environment do
    words_path = '/usr/share/dict/words'
    fail unless File.exists?(words_path)
    two_words = []
    # iterate over file, one word per line, collect 2 words, and use for person's first and last names
    File.readlines(words_path).each do |line|
      two_words << line.strip
      if two_words.size > 1
        two_words = []

Import the data via sidekiq and the new rake task. The import time can vary depending on how many workers and CPUs you use.

# terminal 1

# terminal 2
rake import:people

Now that we have data in elasticsearch, we can make it accessible to the front-end via a new controller. The controller has one GET route that uses the “q” query string param for user input. new file: app/controllers/api/people_controller.rb

class Api::PeopleController < ApplicationController
  def auto_complete
    render json: Person.auto_complete(person_params[:q])


  def person_params

Add the controller GET route, edit file: config/routes.rb

Rails.application.routes.draw do
  namespace :api do
    get 'people/auto_complete'

Add a basic CORS configuration, edit file: config/initializers/cors.rb

Rails.application.config.middleware.insert_before 0, Rack::Cors do
  allow do
    origins 'localhost:3001'
    resource '*',
      headers: :any,
      methods: [:get]

This concludes the Rails API backend, start the webserver via: rails s

I put the Elasticsearch Rails Autocomplete source code on GitHub.

Part 2: the Angular frontend

For the Angular frontend, I chose to scaffold my project using the Yeoman Angular Gulp generator. By default, the generator adds sample content, modules, services, controllers, etc. I used the file structure as a guide and then deleted all the NPM packages and code that I didn’t want.

npm install -g yo gulp bower generator-gulp-angular
mkdir elasticsearchAutocomplete && cd $_
yo gulp-angular
# next choose your desired technologies. I chose Angular UI Bootstrap, Sass (Node), standard Javascript/HTML, etc
npm install && bower install

The first file I created was a new autocomplete service to call the Rails API backend. new file: src/app/components/autocomplete/autocomplete.service.js

(function() {
  'use strict';

    .factory('PersonAutocomplete', PersonAutocomplete);

  function PersonAutocomplete($http, $log) {
    var apiHost = 'http://localhost:3000';

    var service = {
      apiHost: apiHost,
      search: search

    return service;

    function search(q) {
      q = q || ''
      return $http.get(apiHost + '/api/people/auto_complete?q=' + q)

      function searchSuccess(response) {
        if (!response.data) return [];
        return response.data;

      function searchFailure(error) {
        $log.error('XHR Failed.\n' + angular.toJson(error.data, true));

Next I added the autocomplete directive. It injects the autocomplete service as a dependency, specifies which html template to use, and implements the controller functionality. new file: src/app/components/autocomplete/autocomplete.directive.js

(function() {
  'use strict';

    .directive('autocomplete', autocomplete);

  function autocomplete() {
    var directive = {
      bindToController: true,
      controller: AutocompleteController,
      controllerAs: 'vm',
      link: autocompleteLink,
      restrict: 'E',
      templateUrl: 'app/components/autocomplete/autocomplete.html'

    return directive;

    // inject PersonAutocomplete service and $timeout
    function AutocompleteController($timeout, PersonAutocomplete) {
      var vm = this;
      vm.timeout = $timeout;

      // method to initialize and reset vm (scope) variables
      var reset = function() {
        vm.autocompleteResults = [];
        vm.clickedResult = undefined;
        vm.hasAutocompleteResults = false;
        vm.q = undefined;


      // method to handle user click event on search results
      vm.autocompleteResultClick = function(result) {
        vm.clickedResult = JSON.stringify(result, null, 2);

      // method to clear search results
      vm.clearSearch = function() {

      // method to execute search and call the service
      vm.search = function() {
          vm.clickedResult = undefined;
          vm.autocompleteResults = response;
          vm.hasAutocompleteResults = vm.autocompleteResults.length > 0;

    // to manipulate the DOM, implement Angular's link callback:
    // @see: https://docs.angularjs.org/guide/directive
    function autocompleteLink(scope, element, attrs, vm) {
      var autocompleteTimer = undefined;

      // use a timeout on key press to delay requests to the service
      var keyPressed = function(event) {
        if (autocompleteTimer) {

        autocompleteTimer = vm.timeout(function() {
        }, 500);

      var inputField = element.find('input#search-q');
      inputField.on('keyup', keyPressed);


Here is the basic autocomplete HTML template I used for the markup. new file: src/app/components/autocomplete/autocomplete.html

<form class="form-inline">
  <div class="form-group">
    <label class="sr-only" for="search-q">Search text</label>
    <input type="text" class="form-control" id="search-q" placeholder="Search text" ng-model="vm.q" autocomplete="off">
  <button type="submit" class="btn btn-primary" ng-click="vm.search()">Search</button>
  <button type="submit" class="btn btn-default" ng-click="vm.clearSearch()">Clear</button>
<ul class="list-group" ng-if="vm.hasAutocompleteResults">
  <li class="list-group-item" ng-repeat="result in vm.autocompleteResults" ng-click="vm.autocompleteResultClick(result)">
<pre ng-if="vm.clickedResult"></pre>

I then revised the main HTML file to include the new directive, edit file: src/app/main/main.html

<div class="container">

  <div class="row">
    <div class='col-md-12'>

Start the Angular frontend server via: gulp serve.

Here is a GIF showing all the components working together:

Elasticsearch Angular autocomplete

I put the Elasticsearch Angular Autocomplete source code on GitHub.