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C++ Programming

What can computer scientists do in a situation like this? We can build tools to help biologists, virologists, and other scientists search the incredible amount of data found in already-published research articles. 


A Simple C++ Search Engine


The world is in a fight against the Corona Virus!  What can computer scientists do in a situation like this? We can build tools to help biologists, virologists, and other scientists search the incredible amount of data found in already-published research articles.  A dataset consisting of thousands of scientific scholarly publications was created by the Allen Institute for AI in partnership with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Microsoft Research, and the National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health, in coordination with The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.[1]


You’re going to build a search engine for a subset of these articles that could help a scientist to efficiently find the information they are looking for. 

Search Engine Architecture

Search engines are designed to allow users to quickly locate the data they want.  Input to a search engine is a set of documents known as the corpus.  Typically, the user will enter a search query, and any documents (the scholarly articles, in this case) that satisfy that query are returned to the user ordered by relevance.


There is also the role of Search Engine Maintainer who directs the system in what documents to index, how to store the index and other maintenance tasks.


The four major components[2] of a typical search engine are the following:

  1. Document parser/processor,

  2. Query processor,

  3. Search processor, and

  4. Ranking processor.

Figure 1 provides a general overview of a search engine system architecture.

                Figure 1 – Sample Search Engine System Architecture


The fundamental “document” for this project is one scholarly research article with it’s associated metadata such as authors and publication date.  The data set can be downloaded in its entirety from https://www.kaggle.com/allen-institute-for-ai/CORD-19-research-challenge.  The full dataset is 1.1GB zipped and about 6.6GB when fully unzipped.  It contains papers from multiple sources.  We will operate on the biorxiv_medrxiv, comm_use_subset, and noncomm_use_subset folders in the unzipped archive.


The files are in JSON format.  JSON is a “light weight data interchange format” (https://www.json.org/json-en.html).  There are a number of open source JSON parsing libraries that are available for you to use in the project to allow you to quickly and efficiently extract the information from the files.


Below is an overview of the major tasks/responsibilities of each of the components of the search engine.


The index handler, the workhorse of the search engine, is responsible for the following:

  • Reading from and writing to the main index. You'll be creating an inverted file index which stores references from each element to be indexed to the corresponding document(s) in which those elements exist. 

  • Searching the inverted file index based on a request from the query processor.

  • Storing other data with each word.


The document parser/processor is responsible for the following tasks:

  • Processing each research article in the corpus. The dataset contains one file per article.  Each document is in JSON format.  Processing of an article involves the following steps:

    • Removing stopwords from the articles. Stopwords are common words that appear in text but that provide little discriminatory power with respect to the value of a document relative to a query because of the commonality of the words. Example stop words include “a”, “the”, and “if”.  One possible list of stop words to use for this project can be found at http://www.webconfs.com/stop-words.php.  You may use other stop word lists you find online. 

    • Stemming words. Stemming[3] refers to removing certain grammatical modifications to For instance, the stemmed version of “running” may be “run”.  For this project, you may make use of any previously implemented stemming algorithm that you can find online.  One such algorithm is the Porter Stemming algorithm.  More information as well as implementations can be found at http://tartarus.org/~martin/PorterStemmer/.   Another option is http://www.oleandersolutions.com/stemming/stemming.html.  C ++ implementation of Porter 2: https://bitbucket.org/smassung/porter2_stemmer/src.

  • Computing/maintaining information for relevancy ranking. You’ll have to design and implement some algorithm to determine how to rank the results that will be returned from the execution of a query. You can make use of metadata provided, important words in the articles (look up term-frequency/inverse document frequency metric), and/or a combination of several metrics.

  • Important Note: Ignore any article that does not contain full text. You can find this information in metadata.readme file in the root folder of the archive.



The query processor is responsible for:

  • Parsing of queries entered by the user of the search engine. For this project, you'll implement functionality to handle simple prefix Boolean queries entered by the user.  The Boolean expression will be prefixed with a Boolean operator of either AND or OR if there is more than one word is of interest.  No query will contain both AND and OR.  Single word queries do not need a boolean operator.  Trailing search terms may be preceded with the NOT operator, which indicates articles containing that term should be removed from the resultset.  A final optional operator of AUTHOR will allow the user to search for articles by a particular author’s last name only.

  • Here are some examples:

    • virus

      • This query should return all articles that contain the word virus.

    • virus AUTHOR Donneley

      • This query should return all articles that contain the word virus and in which one of the authors is Donneley

    • AND biochemical virus

      • This query should return all articles that contain the words biochemical and virus

    • OR membrane barrier

      • This query should return all articles that contain either membrane OR barrier

    • AND membrane barrier NOT mitochondria

      • This query should return all articles that contain membrane and barrier, but not mitochondria.

    • membrane NOT mitochondria

      • This query should return all articles that contain membrane, but not mitochondria.


  • Ranking the Results. Relevancy ranking refers to organizing the results of a query so that “more relevant” documents are higher in the result set than less relevant documents.  The difficulty here is determining what the concept of “more relevant” means.  One way of calculating relevancy is by using a basic term frequency – inverse document frequency (tf/idf) statistic[4].  tf/idf is used to determine how important a particular word is to a document from the corpus.  If a word appears frequently in document dt but infrequently in other documents, then document dt would be ranked higher than another document ds in which a query term appears frequently, but it also appears frequently in other documents as well. There is quite a bit of other information that you can use to do relevancy ranking as well such as date of publication of the article, etc.


The user interface is responsible for:

  • Receiving queries from the user

  • Communicating with the Search Engine

  • Formatting and displaying results in an organized, logical fashion

More info on the UI later.

The Index

The inverted file index[5] is a data structure that relates each unique word from the corpus to the document(s) in which it appears.  It allows for efficient execution of a query to quickly determine in which documents a particular query term appears.  For instance, let's assume we have the following documents with ascribed contents:

  • d1 = Computer network security

  • d2 = network cryptography

  • d3 = database security

The inverted file index for these documents would contain, at a very minimum, the following:

  • computer = d1

  • network = d1, d2

  • security = d1, d3

  • cryptography = d2

  • database = d3

The query “AND computer security” would find the intersection of the documents that contained computer and the documents that contained security.

  • set of documents containing computer = d1

  • set of documents containing security = d1, d3

  • the intersection of the set of documents containing computer AND security = d1

Inverted File Index Implementation Details

The heart of this project is the inverted file index.  You will implement this index with an AVL tree.  Each node of the tree would represent a word being indexed and would provide information about all the articles that contain said word.


You will also keep an index of authors to process queries containing the AUTHOR operator.  This index will also be an inverted index, but by authors’ names rather than words in the articles.

Index Persistence

The index must also be persistent once it is created.  This means that the contents of the index should be written to disk when requested by the user.  The user should have the option of clearing the index and starting over. 

User Interface

 The user interface of the application should provide the following options:

  • allows the user to clear the index completely

  • allows the user to parse the corpus and populate index OR open a persistence file.

  • allow the user to enter a properly formatted Boolean query (as described above).

    • The results should display the article’s identifying/important information such as title, authors (at least the first), publication, date published. The result set shown to the user need not contain any more than the top 15 ranked articles.  If you’d like to show more, you may wish to paginate.

    • The user should be allowed to choose one of the articles from the result set above and have the first ~300 words of the article printed.

    • Helpful Hint: that the query terms should have stop words removed and stemmed before querying the index. 

  • Print basic statistics of the search engine including:

    • Total number of individual articles indexed

    • Average number of words indexed per article (after removal of stop words)

    • Total number of unique words indexed (after stop word removal). Essentially, the number of nodes in the AVL Tree.

    • Total number of unique Authors.

    • Top 50 most frequent words (after removal of stop words)

    • Any other options you deem appropriate and useful.

Document Data Set

The dataset can be found at https://www.kaggle.com/allen-institute-for-ai/CORD-19-research-challenge

Mechanics of Implementation

Some things to note:

  • This project must be implemented using an object-oriented design methodology.

  • You are free to use as much of the C++ standard library as you would like. In fact, I encourage you to make generous use of it.  You may use other libraries as well except for the caveat below. 

    • You must implement your own version of an AVL tree and Hash Table (the storage data structures for the index).

    • For the Hash Table, you can use a publically available hash function.

  • You are free to use any library you can find to parse JSON.

  • All of your code must be properly documented and formatted

  • Each class should be separated into interface and implementation (.h and .cpp) files unless templated.

  • Each file should have appropriate header comments to include owner of the class and a history of updates/modifications to the class.



 HYPERLINK "http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/may01/liddy.htm" http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/may01/liddy.htm

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stemming for more information.

[4]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tf-idf or http://nlp.stanford.edu/IR-book/html/htmledition/tf-idf-weighting-1.html for more information HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tf-idf"

[5]See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inverted_index for more information.

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