Wildcard Search with ArangoSearch

Search for strings with placeholders that stand for one or many arbitrary characters

You can use the LIKE() function for this search technique to find strings that start with, contain or end with a certain substring, but it can do more than that. You can place the special characters _ and % as wildcards for single or zero-or-more characters in the search string to match multiple partial strings.

The ArangoSearch LIKE() function is backed by View indexes. In contrast, the String LIKE() function cannot utilize any sort of index. Another difference is that the ArangoSearch variant does not accept a third argument to make matching case-insensitive. You can control this via Analyzers instead, also see Case-insensitive Search with ArangoSearch. Which of the two equally named functions is used is determined by the context. It is the ArangoSearch variant in SEARCH operations and the String variant everywhere else.

Wildcard Syntax

  • _: A single arbitrary character
  • %: Zero, one or many arbitrary characters
  • \\_: A literal underscore
  • \\%: A literal percent sign

Literal backlashes require different amounts of escaping depending on the context:

  • \ in bind variables (Table view mode) in the web interface (automatically escaped to \\ unless the value is wrapped in double quotes and already escaped properly)
  • \\ in bind variables (JSON view mode) and queries in the web interface
  • \\ in bind variables in arangosh
  • \\\\ in queries in arangosh
  • Double the amount compared to arangosh in shells that use backslashes for escaping (\\\\ in bind variables and \\\\\\\\ in queries)

Wildcard Search Examples


IMDB movie dataset

View definition

db.imdb_vertices.ensureIndex({ name: "inv-exact", type: "inverted", fields: [ "title" ] });
db._createView("imdb", "search-alias", { indexes: [ { collection: "imdb_vertices", index: "inv-exact" } ] });
  "links": {
    "imdb_vertices": {
      "fields": {
        "title": {
          "analyzers": [

AQL queries

Match all titles that starts with The Matr using LIKE(), where _ stands for a single wildcard character and % for an arbitrary amount:

FOR doc IN imdb
  SEARCH LIKE(doc.title, "The Matr%")
  RETURN doc.title
The Matrix Revisited
The Matrix
The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix Revolutions
The Matrix Trilogy

You can achieve the same with the STARTS_WITH() function:

FOR doc IN imdb
  SEARCH STARTS_WITH(doc.title, "The Matr")
  RETURN doc.title

Match all titles that contain Mat using LIKE():

FOR doc IN imdb
  SEARCH LIKE(doc.title, "%Mat%")
  RETURN doc.title
The Matrix Revisited
Gray Matters
Show: A Night In The Life of Matchbox Twenty
The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human
Dark Matter
Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: Live at Radio City
Once Upon A Mattress
Tarzan and His Mate
Donald in Mathmagic Land
Das Geheimnis der Materie

Match all titles that end with rix using LIKE():

FOR doc IN imdb
  SEARCH LIKE(doc.title, "%rix")
  RETURN doc.title
Ben 10: Secret of the Omnitrix
Pinchcliffe Grand Prix
The Matrix
The Animatrix
Les Douze travaux d’Astérix

Match all titles that have an H as first letter, followed by two arbitrary characters, followed by ry and any amount of characters after that. It will match titles starting with Harry and Henry:

FOR doc IN imdb
  SEARCH LIKE(doc.title, "H__ry%")
  RETURN doc.title
Henry & June
Henry Rollins: Live in the Conversation Pit
Henry Rollins: Uncut from NYC
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets

Use a bind parameter as input, but escape the characters with special meaning and perform a contains-style search by prepending and appending a percent sign:

FOR doc IN imdb
  SEARCH LIKE(doc.title, CONCAT("%", SUBSTITUTE(@term, ["_", "%"], ["\\_", "\\%"]), "%"))
  RETURN doc.title

Bind parameters:

{ "term": "y_" }

The query constructs the wildcard string %y\\_% and will match Cry_Wolf.