Posts Tagged ‘side searches’

Super fast client side searches – the Flickr way

March 24th, 2009 No comments

Over at the Flickr development blog, Ross Harmes , one of those lesser sung JavaScript heroes explains in detail how Flickr creates really fast client side searches and one of the implementations of these findings is the newly released find people faster feature:


The main findings of the team were that eval() is not only evil but also very slow whereas dynamic script nodes are fast but insecure. The solution was to do a custom evaluation of string data rather than using JSON:

Having set the performance bar pretty high with the last approach, we dove into custom data formats. The challenge would be to create a format that we could parse ourselves, using JavaScript’s String and RegExp methods, that would also match the speed of JSON executed natively. This would allow us to use Ajax again, but keep the data restricted to our domain.

Since we had already discovered that some methods of string manipulation didn’t perform well on large strings, we restricted ourselves to a method that we knew to be fast: split(). We used control characters to delimit each contact, and a different control character to delimit the fields within each contact. This allowed us to parse the string into contact objects with one split, then loop through that array and split again on each string.



  1. that.contacts = o.responseText.split("\c");

  2. for (var n = 0, len = that.contacts.length, contactSplit; n <len; n++) {

  3.         contactSplit = that.contacts[n].split("\a");

  4.         that.contacts[n] = {};

  5.         that.contacts[n].n = contactSplit[0];

  6.         that.contacts[n].e = contactSplit[1];

  7.         that.contacts[n].u = contactSplit[2];

  8.         that.contacts[n].r = contactSplit[3];

  9.         that.contacts[n].s = contactSplit[4];

  10.         that.contacts[n].f = contactSplit[5];

  11.         that.contacts[n].a = contactSplit[6];

  12.         that.contacts[n].d = contactSplit[7];

  13.         that.contacts[n].y = contactSplit[8];

  14. }

Once this had been speeded up, all they needed to use was the YUI AutoComplete control and voilà – fast client side searches even with massive datasets.