UDFs and Plugins

Manticore can be extended with user-defined functions, or UDFs for short, like this:

SELECT id, attr1, myudf (attr2, attr3+attr4) ...

You can dynamically load and unload UDFs into searchd without having to restart the server, and use them in expressions when searching, ranking, etc. A quick summary of the UDF features is as follows:

  • UDFs can take integer (both 32-bit and 64-bit), float, string, MVA, or PACKEDFACTORS() arguments.
  • UDFs can return integer, float, or string values.
  • UDFs can check the argument number, types, and names during the query setup phase, and raise errors.

We do not yet support aggregation functions. In other words, your UDFs will be called for just a single document at a time and are expected to return some value for that document. Writing a function that can compute an aggregate value like AVG() over the entire group of documents that share the same GROUP BY key is not yet possible. However, you can use UDFs within the built-in aggregate functions: that is, even though MYCUSTOMAVG() is not supported yet, AVG(MYCUSTOMFUNC()) should work just fine!

UDFs offer a wide range of applications, such as:

  • incorporating custom mathematical or string functions;
  • accessing databases or files from within Manticore;
  • creating complex ranking functions.


Plugins offer additional opportunities to expand search functionality. They can currently be used to compute custom rankings and tokenize documents and queries.

Here's the complete list of plugin types:

  • UDF plugins (essentially UDFs, but since they're plugged in, they're also referred to as 'UDF plugins')
  • ranker plugins
  • indexing-time token filter plugins
  • query-time token filter plugins

This section covers the general process of writing and managing plugins; specifics related to creating different types of plugins are discussed in their respective subsections.

So, how do you write and use a plugin? Here's a quick four-step guide:

  • create a dynamic library (either .so or .dll), most likely using C or C++;
  • load the plugin into searchd with CREATE PLUGIN;
  • use the plugin with plugin-specific calls (usually through specific OPTIONS).
  • unload or reload a plugin with DROP PLUGIN and RELOAD PLUGINS, respectively.

Note that while UDFs are first-class plugins, they are installed using a separate CREATE FUNCTION statement. This allows for a neat specification of the return type, without sacrificing backward compatibility or changing the syntax.

Dynamic plugins are supported in threads and thread_pool workers. Multiple plugins (and/or UDFs) can be contained in a single library file. You may choose to either group all project-specific plugins in one large library or create a separate library for each UDF and plugin; it's up to you.

As with UDFs, you should include the src/sphinxudf.h header file. At the very least, you'll need the SPH_UDF_VERSION constant to implement an appropriate version function. Depending on the specific plugin type, you may or may not need to link your plugin with src/sphinxudf.c. However, all functions implemented in sphinxudf.c are related to unpacking the PACKEDFACTORS() blob, and no plugin types have access to that data. So currently, linking with just the header should suffice. (In fact, if you copy over the UDF version number, you won't even need the header file for some plugin types.)

Formally, plugins are simply sets of C functions that adhere to a specific naming pattern. You're typically required to define one key function for the primary task, but you can also define additional functions. For instance, to implement a ranker called "myrank", you must define a myrank_finalize() function that returns the rank value. However, you can also define myrank_init(), myrank_update(), and myrank_deinit() functions. Specific sets of well-known suffixes and call arguments differ based on the plugin type, but _init() and _deinit() are generic, and every plugin has them. Hint: for a quick reference on known suffixes and their argument types, refer to sphinxplugin.h, where the call prototypes are defined at the beginning of the file.

Even though the public interface is defined in pure C, our plugins essentially follow an object-oriented model. Indeed, every _init() function receives a void ** userdata out-parameter, and the pointer value stored at (*userdata) is then passed as the first argument to all other plugin functions. So you can think of a plugin as a class that gets instantiated every time an object of that class is needed to handle a request: the userdata pointer serves as the this pointer; the functions act as methods, and the _init() and _deinit() functions work as constructor and destructor, respectively.

This minor OOP-in-C complication arises because plugins run in a multi-threaded environment, and some need to maintain state. You can't store that state in a global variable in your plugin, so we pass around a userdata parameter, which naturally leads to the OOP model. If your plugin is simple and stateless, the interface allows you to omit _init(), _deinit(), and any other functions.

To summarize, here's the simplest complete ranker plugin in just three lines of C code:

// gcc -fPIC -shared -o myrank.so myrank.c
#include "sphinxudf.h"
int myrank_ver() { return SPH_UDF_VERSION; }
int myrank_finalize(void *u, int w) { return 123; }

Here's how to use the simple ranker plugin:

mysql> CREATE PLUGIN myrank TYPE 'ranker' SONAME 'myrank.dll';
Query OK, 0 rows affected (0.00 sec)

mysql> SELECT id, weight() FROM test1 WHERE MATCH('test') OPTION ranker=myrank('');
| id   | weight() |
|    1 |      123 |
|    2 |      123 |
2 rows in set (0.01 sec)

Listing plugins



Displays all the loaded plugins (except for Buddy plugins, see below) and UDFs. The "Type" column should be one of the udf, ranker, index_token_filter, or query_token_filter. The "Users" column is the number of thread that are currently using that plugin in a query. The "Extra" column is intended for various additional plugin-type specific information; currently, it shows the return type for the UDFs and is empty for all the other plugin types.

  • Example
| Type | Name     | Library        | Users | Extra |
| udf  | sequence | udfexample.dll | 0     | INT   |
1 row in set (0.00 sec)



This will display all available plugins, including core and local ones. To remove a plugin, make sure to use the name listed in the Package column.

  • Example
| Package                                         | Plugin           | Version  | Type     |
| manticoresoftware/buddy-plugin-empty-string     | empty-string     | dev-main | core     |
| manticoresoftware/buddy-plugin-backup           | backup           | dev-main | core     |
| manticoresoftware/buddy-plugin-emulate-elastic  | emulate-elastic  | dev-main | core     |
| manticoresoftware/buddy-plugin-insert           | insert           | dev-main | core     |
| manticoresoftware/buddy-plugin-lock-tables      | lock-tables      | dev-main | core     |
| manticoresoftware/buddy-plugin-unlock-tables    | unlock-tables    | dev-main | core     |
| manticoresoftware/buddy-plugin-select           | select           | dev-main | core     |
| manticoresoftware/buddy-plugin-show-full-tables | show-full-tables | dev-main | core     |
| manticoresoftware/buddy-plugin-show-fields      | show-fields      | dev-main | core     |
| manticoresoftware/buddy-plugin-show-queries     | show-queries     | dev-main | core     |
| manticoresoftware/buddy-plugin-cli-table        | cli-table        | dev-main | core     |
| manticoresoftware/buddy-plugin-plugin           | plugin           | dev-main | core     |
| manticoresoftware/buddy-plugin-test             | test             | dev-main | core     |
| manticoresoftware/buddy-plugin-show-hostname    | show-hostname    | dev-main | external |
14 rows in set (0.006 sec)


UDFs are stored in external dynamic libraries (.so files on UNIX and .dll on Windows systems). Library files must be placed in a trusted folder specified by the plugin_dir directive for security reasons: it's easier to secure a single folder than to allow anyone to install arbitrary code into searchd. You can dynamically load and unload UDFs into searchd using CREATE FUNCTION and DROP FUNCTION SQL statements, respectively. Additionally, you can seamlessly reload UDFs (and other plugins) with the RELOAD PLUGINS statement. Manticore keeps track of currently loaded functions; every time you create or drop a UDF, searchd updates its state in the sphinxql_state file as a plain SQL script.

UDFs are local. To use them on a cluster, you must place the same library on all nodes and run CREATE statements on each node as well. This process may change in future versions.

Once you successfully load a UDF, you can use it in your SELECT or other statements just like any built-in function:

SELECT id, MYCUSTOMFUNC (groupid, authorname), ... FROM myindex

Multiple UDFs (and other plugins) can reside in a single library. The library will only be loaded once and is automatically unloaded once all the UDFs and plugins within it are dropped.

In theory, you can write a UDF in any language, as long as its compiler can import standard C headers and emit standard dynamic libraries with properly exported functions. However, writing in C++ or plain C is the path of least resistance. We provide an example UDF library written in plain C that implements several functions (demonstrating various techniques) alongside our source code, found at src/udfexample.c. This example includes the src/sphinxudf.h header file, which contains definitions of several UDF-related structures and types. For most UDFs and plugins, simply using #include "sphinxudf.h" as shown in the example should be sufficient. However, if you're writing a ranking function and need to access ranking signals (factors) data from within the UDF, you'll also need to compile and link with src/sphinxudf.c (available in our source code), as the implementations of functions that let you access signal data from within the UDF reside in that file.

Both the sphinxudf.h header and sphinxudf.c are standalone, so you can copy those files individually; they don't depend on any other parts of Manticore's source code.

Within your UDF, you must implement and export only a couple of functions. First, for UDF interface version control, you must define a function int LIBRARYNAME_ver(), where LIBRARYNAME is the name of your library file, and you must return SPH_UDF_VERSION (a value defined in sphinxudf.h) from it. Here's an example.

#include <sphinxudf.h>

// our library will be called udfexample.so, thus, so it must define
// a version function named udfexample_ver()
int udfexample_ver()
    return SPH_UDF_VERSION;

This precaution protects you from accidentally loading a library with a mismatching UDF interface version into a newer or older searchd. Secondly, you must implement the actual function as well.

sphinx_int64_t testfunc ( SPH_UDF_INIT * init, SPH_UDF_ARGS * args, char * error_flag )
    return 123;

UDF function names in SQL are case-insensitive. However, the respective C function names are not; they need to be all lower-case, or the UDF will not load. More importantly, it is crucial that:

  1. the calling convention is C (aka __cdecl),
  2. the arguments list matches the plugin system expectations exactly, and
  3. the return type matches the one you specify in CREATE FUNCTION.

Unfortunately, there is no (easy) way for us to check for these mistakes when loading the function, and they could crash the server and/or result in unexpected results. Last but not least, all the C functions you implement need to be thread-safe.

The first argument, a pointer to SPH_UDF_INIT structure, is essentially a pointer to our function state. It is optional. In the example just above, the function is stateless, as it simply returns 123 every time it gets called. So, we do not have to define an initialization function, and we can simply ignore that argument. This argument serves one more purpose. Since a single query can be executed on multiple threads (see pseudo-sharding), the daemon tries to determine whether a UDF is stateful or stateless by checking this argument. If the argument is initialized, parallel execution will be disabled. So, if your UDF is stateful but you don't use this argument, it will be called from multiple threads, and your code needs to be aware of that.

The second argument, a pointer to SPH_UDF_ARGS, is the most important one. All the actual call arguments are passed to your UDF via this structure; it contains the call argument count, names, types, etc. So, whether your function gets called like SELECT id, testfunc(1) or like SELECT id, testfunc('abc', 1000*id+gid, WEIGHT()) or any other way, it will receive the very same SPH_UDF_ARGS structure in all of these cases. However, the data passed in the args structure will be different. In the first example, args->arg_count will be set to 1, in the second example it will be set to 3, and the args->arg_types array will contain different type data, and so on.

Finally, the third argument is an error flag. A UDF can raise it to indicate that some kind of internal error occurred, the UDF cannot continue, and the query should terminate early. You should not use this for argument type checks or for any other error reporting that is likely to happen during normal use. This flag is designed to report sudden critical runtime errors, such as running out of memory.

If we wanted to, say, allocate temporary storage for our function to use, or check upfront whether the arguments are of the supported types, then we would need to add two more functions, for UDF initialization and deinitialization, respectively.

int testfunc_init ( SPH_UDF_INIT * init, SPH_UDF_ARGS * args,
    char * error_message )
    // allocate and initialize a little bit of temporary storage
    init->func_data = malloc ( sizeof(int) );
    *(int*)init->func_data = 123;

    // return a success code
    return 0;

void testfunc_deinit ( SPH_UDF_INIT * init )
    // free up our temporary storage
    free ( init->func_data );

Note how testfunc_init() also receives the call arguments structure. By the time it is called, it does not receive any actual values, so the args->arg_values will be NULL. But the argument names and types are known and will be passed. You can check them in the initialization function and return an error if they are of an unsupported type.


UDFs can receive arguments of pretty much any valid internal Manticore type. Refer to the sphinx_udf_argtype enumeration in sphinxudf.h for a full list. Most of the types map straightforwardly to the respective C types.

The most notable type is the SPH_UDF_TYPE_FACTORS argument type. You get that type by calling your UDF with a [PACKEDFACTOR()](../../searching-and-ranking-functions#PACKEDFACTORS()) argument. Its data is a binary blob in a certain internal format, and to extract individual ranking signals from that blob, you need to use either of the two sphinx_factors_XXX() or sphinx_get_YYY_factor() families of functions.

sphinx_factors_XXX() functions

This family consists of 3 functions.

  • sphinx_factors_init() initializes the unpacked SPH_UDF_FACTORS structure
  • sphinx_factors_unpack() unpacks a binary blob into SPH_UDF_FACTORS structure
  • sphinx_factors_deinit() cleans up and deallocates the SPH_UDF_FACTORS.

First, you need to call init() and unpack(), then you can use the SPH_UDF_FACTORS fields, and finally, you need to clean up with deinit().

This approach is simple but may result in a bunch of memory allocations for each processed document, which could be slow.

sphinx_get_YYY_factor() functions

The other interface, consisting of a bunch of sphinx_get_YYY_factor() functions, is a bit more verbose to use but accesses the blob data directly and guarantees no allocations. For top-notch ranking UDF performance, you'll want to use this approach.

Return types of UDF

As for the return types, UDFs can currently return a single INTEGER, BIGINT, FLOAT, or STRING value. The C function return type should be sphinx_int64_t, sphinx_int64_t, double, or char* respectively. In the last case, you must use the args->fn_malloc function to allocate space for returned string values. Internally in your UDF, you can use whatever you want, so the testfunc_init() example above is correct code even though it uses malloc() directly: you manage that pointer yourself, it gets freed up using a matching free() call, and all is well. However, the returned strings values are managed by Manticore, and we have our own allocator, so for the return values specifically, you need to use it too.

Depending on how your UDFs are used in the query, the main function call (testfunc() in our example) might be called in a rather different volume and order. Specifically,

  • UDFs referenced in WHERE, ORDER BY, or GROUP BY clauses must and will be evaluated for every matched document. They will be called in the natural matching order.
  • without subselects, UDFs that can be evaluated at the very last stage over the final result set will be evaluated that way, but before applying the LIMIT clause. They will be called in the result set order.
  • with subselects, such UDFs will also be evaluated after applying the inner LIMIT clause.

The calling sequence of the other functions is fixed, though. Namely,

  • testfunc_init() is called once when initializing the query. It can return a non-zero code to indicate a failure; in that case, the query will be terminated, and the error message from the error_message buffer will be returned.
  • testfunc() is called for every eligible row (see above), whenever Manticore needs to compute the UDF value. It can also indicate an (internal) failure error by writing a non-zero byte value to error_flag. In that case, it is guaranteed that it will not be called for subsequent rows, and a default return value of 0 will be substituted. Manticore might or might not choose to terminate such queries early; neither behavior is currently guaranteed.
  • testfunc_deinit() is called once when the query processing (in a given table shard) ends.