Indexed Search & Crawler - The Missing Manual

Did you ever tried to configure system extension Indexed Search and its friend Crawler? Unless you simply chose to run them “out-of-the-box”, it probably turned out to be a nightmare to configure, isn’t it?

This article aims at providing a step-by-step tutorial on how installing and configuring those extensions to help efficiently index your TYPO3 content.

I won’t really detail how showing the search result as I find it quite easy to do. But properly indexing your content is, from my point of view, the real challenge when integrating a search engine onto your website. This is why I started this article.

Configuring your Server

You certainly want to index external documents referenced on your Web pages in addition to standard text elements, don’t you? If so, you will have to make sure you have properly installed a few third party binaries:

  • pdftotext and pdfinfo for PDF files
  • catdoc for Microsoft Word documents (unfortunately not recent docx files)
  • xlhtml for Microsoft Excel spreadsheets (unfortunately not recent xlsx files)
  • ppthtml for Microsoft Powerpoint presentations (unfortunately not recent pptx files)
  • unzip for OpenOffice documents
  • unrtf for RTF (who does use this format nowadays? Anyway, it does not cost much to configure)

If you are running Debian on your Linux server, this is easily done with:

# apt-get install xpdf-utils catdoc xlhtml ppthtml unzip unrtf

This will install all those binaries into /usr/bin/.

Before loosing your hairs fighting with Indexed Search to understand why external documents are not indexed at all, make sure you specified /usr/bin in the open_basedir directive of your Apache2 virtual host configuration (if you use it of course). This is really needed only if safe_mode is off, which should be the case anyway:

<Directory /path/to/web/root>
   AllowOverride All
   Options FollowSymLinks
   php_admin_value safe_mode 0
   php_admin_value safe_mode_gid 0
   php_admin_value open_basedir /path/to/web/root:/usr/bin:/tmp:/dev/urandom

This is needed because Indexed Search does this to see whether one of those third-party binaries is available (in typo3/sysext/indexed_search/class.external_parser.php):

$pdfPath = rtrim($indexerConfig['pdftools'], '/') . '/';
if (ini_get('safe_mode') || (@is_file($pdfPath . 'pdftotext' . $exe)
                && @is_file($pdfPath . 'pdfinfo' . $exe))) {

The @is_file() test will fail if you use open_basedir but do not have /usr/bin as allowed path. The funny part is that, for once, having safe_mode on would not have given you headache :-)

You think your configuration is valid? Friendly hint, test it again with following PHP snippet. You will definitively thank me for not having lost time with some hidden open_basedir setting (I did…):

error_reporting(E_ALL & ~E_NOTICE);
ini_set('display_errors', 1);
echo '<p>open_basedir: ' . ini_get('open_basedir') . '</p>';
if (is_file('/usr/bin/pdfinfo')) {;
        echo '<p>pdfinfo found</p>';
} else {
        echo '<p>pdfinfo not found</p>';

Configuring TYPO3, Indexed Search and Crawler

Go to Admin Tools > Ext Manager and click on Indexed Search.

Make sure Paths to PDF parsers, unzip, WORD parser, EXCEL parser, POWERPOINT parser and RTF parser all contain /usr/bin/. E.g.,

Then, make sure indexing of content is not performed automatically when showing a page in frontend and let use crawler to index external files:

New Backend User

Crawler requires a backend user _cli_crawler. Go to Admin Tools > User Admin and create this backend user with a random password. This user must not be an administrator and should not be part of any backend user group.


Oh yes! Before I forget to write it down, make sure you do not try to index a page with “no_cache=1”, you would lose your time and your energy trying to figure out why it does not work ;-)

TypoScript Setup

It’s time to ensure indexing of content and files is allowed. Open your TypoScript and add these two lines:

config.index_enable = 1
config.index_externals = 1

Separation of Concerns for Indexed Search and Crawler

Before really starting to index content, we should take a step back to understand the roles of Indexed Search and Crawler.

Indexed Search

This is the engine which actually indexes content and provides a frontend plugin to let you search for content and show the results.


This extension is in charge of two complementary jobs:

  1. Generate URLs of pages to be processed (with any GET parameter required, e.g., “L” for language or “tx_ttnews[tt_news]” to show the details of a tt_news record) and enqueue them for processing by the other job;
  2. Process the queue of URLs and take the appropriate action (in our case invoke Indexed Search to index the page or the document).

When generating URLs, the crawler will automatically be able to browse (well, crawl…) your website and enqueue the different pages (with /index.php?uid=…). But if your site is multilingual, you will have to tell it to generate variations for each and every page (with /index.php?uid=…&L=0 and /index.php?uid=…&L=1 for instance).

When a link to a document is encountered while indexing the content of a page, Indexing Search will not index it right away but instead will add it to the queue of pages and documents to be indexed (because option “Use crawler extension to index external files” was ticked in Indexed Search configuration).

This process is depicted on the right.

Indexing Site Content and Files

In order to well understand the indexing process, I suggest to focus on indexing a single page and execute each and every step manually, without any scheduled task.

I suggest to empty indexing and crawler tables before each task, this prevents many side effects and helps better understanding inner working of the indexing.

Truncating MySQL Tables

TRUNCATE TABLE index_debug;
TRUNCATE TABLE index_fulltext;
TRUNCATE TABLE index_grlist;
TRUNCATE TABLE index_phash;
TRUNCATE TABLE index_section;
TRUNCATE TABLE index_stat_search;
TRUNCATE TABLE index_stat_word;
TRUNCATE TABLE index_words;
TRUNCATE TABLE tx_crawler_process;
TRUNCATE TABLE tx_crawler_queue;
UPDATE index_config SET timer_next_indexing = 0;

Crawler Configuration

As already explained, the crawler already knows how to loop on your page tree to enqueue each page. What it needs however, is to be instructed the operation to be invoked for the page. Typically for us, the operation is “to index the content”. Other instructions may be present; for instance extension cachemgm provides a new instruction that lets you prepare the TYPO3 cache of the underlying page.

Crawler works with both old-style and modern configuration:

  • Old-style refers to TypoScript-based configuration instructions stored as pageTS;
  • Modern configuration refers to Crawler configuration records created and managed as any database record, from Web > List.

In fact, using configuration records instead of old-style TypoScript may not always be the best option, particularly when you want to index protected content. But we will come to that again later.

With either method though, the meaning is the same; the configuration tells crawler:

  1. What to do with the underlying page or document (for us it will be “index it”);
  2. Possibly how to transform or generate new URLs for the corresponding page before processing it (used for instance to index multilingual content or to send a whole bunch of single news to the indexing process).

Hint: You may access the very latest version of crawler using a Subversion client:

Let’s start!

We will create a very basic crawler configuration allowing the whole page tree to be indexed.

  • Go to Web > List
  • Select your root page (typically the homepage)
  • Add a record from type “Crawler Configuration” (under section “Site Crawler”):

That’s it! We are now able to use this configuration to index our website.

Note: It is wise to always define the domain for your crawler configuration. Either type it in the corresponding field or choose a domain record. It will be needed, e.g., when indexing database records.

Do a test with a specific page:

  • Go to Web > Info
  • Select a page in your page tree
  • Select “Indexed Search” in the top dropdown menu
  • Your page is not yet indexed:
  • Switch to “Site Crawler” in the top dropdown menu
  • Choose action “Site Crawling”
  • Select your crawler configuration, update and crawl the sole URL that has been found:
  • Now switch to the crawler log to show the pending queue:
  • Then manually process the entry:
  • Run-time column will then show the current date and time
  • Status column should show “OK”
  • Switch back to “Indexed Search” in the top dropdown menu and enjoy seeing your page content being indexed:

Content with Documents

Now perform the above steps again with a page containing links to documents you have somewhere in fileadmin. Stick to document types known to Indexed Search of course; that is, .doc, .xls, .ppt, .pdf, …

After having processed your page, you should have your queue filled with as many entries as you have links to documents:

  • Process the queue with the small “refresh” button
  • Switch back to “Indexed Search” in the top dropdown menu and enjoy seeing your page content and documents being indexed:

You may now try to index your whole page tree using the same method. The only difference is that you will start from root (typically the homepage) and choose to crawl the page tree recursively (option “Depth” in Web > Info > Site Crawler > Start Crawling).

Indexing News Articles (or any “single view” plugin output)

Let’s say you use extension tt_news to manage news on your website. You have top N latest news on your homepage, with some teaser text and a dedicated page you redirect to when one wants to read the full article.

What makes this “detail” page special is that it contains a tt_news plugin whose output mode is “SINGLE”. As such, this plugin expects a GET parameter in the URL:


Our test configuration:

  • Sysfolder [uid #19] is our tt_news storage folder
  • Page [uid #22] contains a tt_news plugin for SINGLE view

We want crawler to dynamically generate a list of URLs with the additional tx_ttnews[tt_news] parameter when it crawls page #22:

Here tt_news #3 is hidden, was deleted or is not yet visible for instance…

Crawler Configuration

We don’t need this crawler configuration to be available for the whole page tree, as such we create this configuration for the subtree of page #22:

  • Go to Web > List
  • Click on page #22 (with SINGLE tt_news plugin)
  • Add a record from type “Crawler Configuration” (under section “Site Crawler”):

Beware: This is not shown on screenshot above but at the very end of this form, be sure to tick option “Append cHash” otherwise you will end up having N times the first news being indexed due to TYPO3 caching mechanism.

The point is that we have set the Configuration property. You have to split it into two parts to understand it:

  1. &tx_ttnews[tt_news]=
  2. [_TABLE:tt_news;_PID:19]

Second part is a value expansion definition. _TABLE defines a lookup in a table (tt_news) and _PID lets us retrieve records from our tt_news sysfolder (#19) and not from current page (#22).

Beware: Be sure to use colons to separate key (_TABLE / _PID) from value (tt_news / 19) and semicolons to separate arguments (_TABLE key-value / _PID key-value).

Multilingual Content

Other typical expansion is when you want to generate alternative URLs for a multilingual website:


(value 0 is the same as empty value before the 1 once the list has been split up). Other syntax:


Starting Crawler

When crawling this page (once again from Web > Info > Site Crawler > Site Crawling), you will see crawler generate as many URLs as it could while expanding this tx_ttnews[tt_news] argument:

Manually start indexing a few of these enqueued URLs and then switch to Web > Info > Indexed search. Your news records have been indexed:

Note: Do not forget that this method works because all those SINGLE news articles are cached by TYPO3 (this is why we had to tick the Append cHash checkbox in Crawler configuration record). If the page were said to be non-cached, then you wouldn’t see any indexed content.

Indexing Database Records

What is the point of indexing database records you may ask? The idea is as follows:

  • Indexed Search only indexes cached content
  • Indexed Search only indexes what is shown on a given page

You may want to index raw database records as if content had been found on a page. This allows you to add virtual content to a given page (content from those database records) and index exactly the meaningful columns in the database and not, e.g., the integer value of a foreign key.

For the purpose of the demo, I duplicated the aforementioned details page of my tt_news plugin (#22) as a new page (uid #58) with no_cache property checkbox ticked (in older TYPO3 versions) or cache=disabled starting from TYPO3 4.5:

As the page is not cached anymore, it won’t be possible to index it. I will show you how we may have similar behavior (indexing all our tt_news records and show them in SINGLE mode). Let’s start:

  • Go to Web > List
  • Select page #58
  • Add a record from type “Indexing Configuration” (under section “System Records”):

Beware: Be sure to activate/unhide your newly created Indexing Configuration record.

The “GET parameter string” in the Indexing Configuration will generate links to the SINGLE view of our tt_news records when shown in a search result.

To enqueue those records, I had to manually invoke crawler from a command line:

$ /usr/bin/php /path/to/typo3/cli_dispatch.phpsh crawler 58 -conf=simple-indexing

You may need to run this command twice and then you should see that records have been enqueued:

Manually run crawler as usual and switch to Web > Info > Indexed search; your records have been properly indexed and are now “found” on a non-cached page!

Indexing Protected Content

If you already played a bit with Indexed Search, you certainly have heard about the “grlist” column (Web > Info > Indexed search > Technical Details).

In short, when someone browses your website, tslib_fe (the famous class $GLOBALS[’TSFE’]) stores a list of groups the person is part of; this is done in its method initUserGroups().

If you are NOT logged in, $GLOBALS[’TSFE’]->gr_list contains 0,-1 (-1 is a pseudo-group that is typically used to hide content at any login). This is what you commonly see in your grlist column:

The point is that if someone happens to be logged in, $GLOBALS[’TSFE’]->gr_list will start with 0,-2 instead (-2 is a pseudo-group that is typically used to show content at any login). And then its list of groups is sorted and appened, meaning if one is member of groups 1 and 3, $GLOBALS[’TSFE’]->gr_list will be equal to 0,-2,1,3.

Note: Groups are expanded before being stored into $GLOBALS[’TSFE’]->gr_list. This means that if you have group 1 as subgroup of group 7, the list will contain 0,-2,1,3,7 even if your user is not directly part of group 7.

Now, when searching content and returning results, TYPO3 will only return indexed content that exactly match the list of groups I described (0,-1 or 0,-2,…). If you are logged in but did not index your content while being logged in, you won’t see any result. It’s a bit weird at first but I hope my explanation of the inner working makes it really clear why it behaves as such.

Thus the last thing you have to know to be able to properly index protected content is that you have to provide a Crawler Configuration for each and every subset of user groups you have. You may do that either with Crawler Configuration records or by taking advantage of pageTS inheritance property:

# Set up a crawl for users that aren't logged in
tx_crawler.crawlerCfg.paramSets.test {
	cHash = 1
	procInstrFilter = tx_indexedsearch_reindex, tx_indexedsearch_crawler
	baseUrl = http://www.domain.tld/
# Set up a crawl for users who are members of groups id 1, 3 and 7
tx_crawler.crawlerCfg.paramSets.grp1 < tx_crawler.crawlerCfg.paramSets.test
tx_crawler.crawlerCfg.paramSets.grp1 {
	userGroups = 0,-2,1,3,7
# Set up a crawl for users who are members of groups id 3, 7 and 8
tx_crawler.crawlerCfg.paramSets.grp2 < tx_crawler.crawlerCfg.paramSets.test
tx_crawler.crawlerCfg.paramSets.grp2 {
	userGroups = 0,-2,3,7,8

Indexing Complex Database Records (such as with Extbase)

I will now describe how we may properly index a  3rd normal form database schema with Indexed Search.

Let’s start discussing the database schema for our demo. For your information, the underlying model is real but is simplified for the sake of the understanding.

We have companies that are identified by a name. A company may have 1 or more departments and each department is identified by some 5-digit number. Each department in turn offers 1 or more services.

We basically have this structure:

We have a page on our website which, given a company ID, shows us all its details (list of departments and related services).

Our goal is being able to search for a department or a service in relation to the corresponding company and be redirected to this view from the search result page.

There is for sure more than one solution but I’ll show one of them.

First of all, we want all our company information grouped in a single row:


This is done with a query that we will store as a MySQL view:

CREATE VIEW tx_myext_company_flat AS
	c.uid,, c.tstamp, c.hidden, AS company,
	CAST(GROUP_CONCAT(DISTINCT dpt.number) AS CHAR) AS departments,
	tx_myext_domain_model_company c
	tx_myext_domain_model_department dpt
		ON = c.uid
	tx_myext_domain_model_department_service_mm mm
		ON mm.uid_local = dpt.uid
	tx_myext_domain_model_service s
		ON s.uid = mm.uid_foreign

If you wish, you may download this database schema with test data:  demo_extended.sql (4 KB).

Last step is to make this view “known” to TYPO3 as we will have to create an Indexing Configuration record configured to index database records and as such, we will have to select the corresponding table from a dropdown list.

This is as easy as editing file typo3conf/extTables.php and adding:

$GLOBALS['TCA']['tx_myext_company_flat'] = array(
        'ctrl' => array(
                'title' => 'Company (Flat)',
                'tstamp' => 'tstamp',
                'crdate' => 'crdate',
                'cruser_id' => 'cruser_id',
                'enablecolumns' => array(
                        'disabled' => 'hidden',

And voilà! You may now prepare your Indexing Configuration record just as with standard TYPO3 tables:

What to do next?

You should now configure your scheduler to run the different tasks automatically for you. As this is really trivial, I won’t describe it here.

What about indexing recent version of Word, Excel, … documents? Those ending with .docx, .xlsx, .pptx. This would be interesting to find out a proper way of adding support of virtually any kind of document using third-party binaries.



Causal Sàrl - Development, TYPO3, Consulting