Program for a simple search engine, Programming Languages


A search engine (like Google) has three main components: a crawler that finds and stores copies of files on the web, an indexer that creates a data structure that is efficient for searching, and a query engine that performs the searches requested by users. The query engine uses the indexes produced by the second component to identify documents that match the search term.

The goal of this assignment is to write a simple parallel query engine. We will assume that the indexes have already been created. For the purposes of this assignment, an index simply tracks word frequency in each document. (If you are interested in how more sophisticated indexes are created, you might consider taking CSC401.)

If Google used a program with a single process to query all of the indexes to find the best matches for a search term, it would take a very long time to get the results. For this assignment, you will write a parallel program using fork and pipes to identify documents that match a search term. (However, you won't likely see any performance difference between using one process and many because the indexes we are giving you are so small.)

Index files

You won't be writing any of the code that builds the indexes themselves. We have given you starter code that creates an index for a directory of files, and writes the index to two files: index and filenames. We have also created several indexes that you can use for testing, and put them in /u/csc209h/winter/pub/a3-2013 on CDF.

Your program will use read_listto load an index from the two files into memory, so it is useful to understand how the data structure works. Words and their frequencies are stored in an ordered linked list. The picture below shows what the linked list looks like.

linkedlist.jpg ¬

Each list node contains three elements: the word, an array that stores the number of times the word has been seen in each file, and a pointer to the next element of the list. Another data structure (an array of strings) stores the name of each file that is indexed. The index of a file name corresponds to the index of the freq array in a list node. Storing the file names separately means that we don't need to store the name of each file many times.

In the diagram above, four words have been extracted from two files. The two files are called Menu1 and Menu2. The linked list shows that the word spinach appears 2 times in the file Menu1 and 6 times in the file Menu2. Similarly the word potato appears 11 times in the file Menu1 and 3 times in Menu2. The words in the linked list are in alphabetical order.

Task 1: Find a word in an index

Your first task is to write a function called get_wordthat looks up a word in an index (i.e. a linked list). Since you may not change freq_list.c or freq_list.h, this function should go in worker.c.

get_word will return an array of FreqRecords for the word that the function finds. To indicate the end of the valid records, the last record will have a freq value of 0. If the word is not found in the index, get_word an array with one element where the freq value is 0. (Having a sentinel marker at the end of the array makes it a little easier to process later.)

     #define PATHLENGTH 128

     typedef struct {

          int freq;

          char filename[PATHLENGTH];

     } FreqRecord;

Here is a function that you might use to print an array of records for testing your function:

     void print_freq_records(FreqRecord *frp) {

          int i = 0;

          while(frp != NULL && frp[i].freq != 0) {

              printf("%d    %s\n", frp[i].freq, frp[i].filename);




After you write get_word, be sure to test it. Write a main program that calls it and runs it on several sample indexes before you move on. Commit your test file to your repository. We won't be marking it, but we may be checking it if some other part of your code does not work.

Task 2: Workers

void run_worker(char *dirname, int in, int out)

The run_worker function takes as an argument the name of the directory that contains the index files it will use. It also takes as arguments the file descriptors representing the read end (in) and the write end (out) of the pipe that connects it to the parent.

run_worker will first load the index into a data structure. It will then read one word at a time from the file descriptor in until the file descriptor is closed. When it reads a word from in, it will look for the word in the index, and write to the file descriptor out one FreqRecord for each file in which the word has a non-zero frequency. The reason for writing the full struct is to make each write a fixed size, so that each read can also be a fixed size.

We have given you the skeleton of a program in queryone.c that calls run_worker so that run_worker will read from stdin and write to stdout. This will allow you to test your run_worker function to be sure that it is working before integrating it with the parallel code in the next section.

Task 3: Now the fun part!

The final step is to parallelize the code so that one master process creates one worker process for each index. Write a program called query that takes one optional argument giving the name of a directory. If no argument is given, the current working directory is used. (Your main function will be in a file called query.c). You will probably find it useful to copy much of the code from queryone.c to help you get started.

For example, if we ran query /u/csc209h/winter/pub/a3-2013/simple, we would expect the directory simple to contain directories that each have an index. The number of subdirectories of the command line argument (or of the current directory, if a commandline argument is not provided) determines the number of processes created.

Each worker process is connected to the master process by two pipes, one for writing data to the master, and one for reading data from the master. The worker processes carry out the same operations as the run_worker you wrote (and tested) in the previous step. The master process reads one word at a time from standard input, sends the word to each of the worker processes, and reads the FreqRecords that the workers write to the master process. The master process collects all the FreqRecords from the workers by reading one record at a time from each worker process, and builds one array of FreqRecords, ordered by frequency. It prints this array to standard output, and then waits for the user to type another word on standard input. It continues until standard input is closed (using ^D on the command line). When standard input is closed, it closes the pipes to all the workers, and exits.


Here is a high-level overview of the algorithm query will implement:

  • Initialization (the same as queryone)
  • Create one process for each subdirectory (of either the current working directory or the directory passed as a command line argument to the program)
  • while(1)

                            read a word from stdin (it is okay to prompt the user)

                       using pipes, write the word to each worker process

                          while(workers still have data)

                            read one FreqRecord from each worker and add it to the master frequency array

                          print to standard output the frequency array in order from highest to lowest

  • The master process will not terminate until all of the worker processes have terminated.

The master frequency array

You will only store the MAXRECORDS most frequent records. This means that you need to keep the array sorted, and once you have collected MAXRECORDS records, the least frequent records will be removed (or overwritten). This also means that you can allocate a fixed size array for this data. Any helper functions you write to help you manage this array should go in worker.c.

Reading and writing the pipes:

  • The master process will be writing words to the child processes. How does the child process know when one word ends and the next word begins? The easiest way to solve this problem is to always write and read the same number of bytes. In other words, when the master process writes a word to a child, it should always write the same number of bytes. You can assume that a word is no bigger than 32 characters (see MAXWORD in freq_list.h). So the master process will write 32 bytes (including the null termination character), and the child process will always read 32 bytes.
  • The FreqRecords have a fixed size, so the master process knows how to read one record at a time from a worker. The worker process notifies the master that it has no more records to send by sending a FreqRecord with a value of 0 for the freq field, and an empty string for the filename field.
  • The master process will read one record at a time from each worker, so you need to keep track of the case when the master has read all of the records from a worker.


Error checking

Check all return values of system calls so that your program will not "crash". Your program should exit with a return code if it encounters and error that would not allow it to proceed.

What to hand in

Commit to your repository in the a3 directory all of the files that are needed to produce the programs queryone and query. When we run make in your a3 directory, it will build the two programs (in addition to the helper programs we gave you) without any warnings.

Remember to run svn add on any source code files that you created. The svn status command allows you to confirm that all files have been added and committed to the repository.

Coding style and comments are just as important in CSC209 as they were in previous courses. Use good variable names, appropriate functions, descriptive comments, and blank lines. Remember that someone needs to read your code.

Please remember that if you submit code that does not compile, it will receive a grade of 0. The best way to avoid this potential problem is to write your code incrementally. For example, the starter code compiles and solves one small piece of the problem. Get a small piece working, commit it, and then move on to the next piece. This is a much better approach than writing a whole bunch of code and then spending a lot of time debugging it step by step.

Posted Date: 3/14/2013 3:02:21 AM | Location : United States

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