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Searching for ;;; enumerates the entire questions database in Stack Overflow. I assume that this happens in other stack exchange sites. Other searches like ... or %%% do not have such a problem.

This query is also presumably expensive since it takes 5.09 s to respond.

Matt shows in the comments that searching for ****** is even more problematic. (Please do not test this on SO itself, it takes a long time to complete and likely loads the server a lot, you can test on a smaller site).

enter image description here

A possible fix would be to check the length of the query after stripping characters such as ; and verifying that it is non zero.


That's what I get for talking about LISP :(

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Try quoting the search term like this ";;;" –  user000001 Jul 2 '13 at 7:58
@user000001 yup –  Shadow Wizard Jul 2 '13 at 7:59
I guess there is no problem if we all at the same time just try now this expensive request ? :) –  dystroy Jul 2 '13 at 8:00
You can try the same search on meta - only 142k results, so probably safer. :) –  jcsanyi Jul 2 '13 at 8:03
The request is fun, by default it shows the most upvoted answers first. I now know which answers are the most upvoted ever on SO. –  Florian Margaine Jul 2 '13 at 8:04
@user000001 Thanks, that was helpful. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Jul 2 '13 at 8:10
@FlorianMargaine This is absolutely your fault for making me learn common lisp by the way :) –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Jul 2 '13 at 8:11
@jcsanyi To be sure that Benjamin wasn't lying I tested it on the main site, with a different number of semicolons to ensure it wasn't cached. Not that I recommend it of course (yeah, I tested it, no need for you to do it). –  dystroy Jul 2 '13 at 8:15
A lot of punctuation-only queries return the full list. –  user98085 Jul 2 '13 at 8:18
@FlorianMargaine Nothing that you can't get by going to the questions tab. –  Daniel Daranas Jul 2 '13 at 8:21
... in fact, some seem even more intensive than just ;;;. ****** takes ~30 seconds, for example. –  Matt Jul 2 '13 at 8:21
@Matt WOW, that takes so long :/ I wonder why it takes so much time –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Jul 2 '13 at 8:31
Why arent there time limits on queries? –  AsheeshR Jul 2 '13 at 8:37
ITT: Stack Exchange search sucks. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Jul 2 '13 at 9:13
@FlorianMargaine - Searching is:answer and sorting by votes would be better. –  Martin Smith Jul 2 '13 at 10:03

1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

This is no longer the case. We take a look at these symbol searches and try to help you out here.

For example, try searching for ;;; on stackoverflow and you'll see it gets redirected to ";;;" (we don't actually redirect the URL). We perform the raw search...notice elastic (Lucene really) stripped all the characters and effectively did a match_all, then we quote the phrase to get much more appropriate results, if there are any for the quoted version.

It's basically the addition of the second search that changed here, it shouldn't break any previous cases because if they return results then this new path never gets invoked.

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Sorry @NickCraver, unaccepting. I just noticed this still happens when searching for stars stackoverflow.com/search?q=*** (Should I open a new bug?) –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Sep 22 '13 at 20:28
@BenjaminGruenbaum I should probably special case that exact search, * is a wildcard operator so it makes no sense by itself. I'll take a look in the morning when time allows. –  Nick Craver Sep 23 '13 at 2:11
can you remove the status-completed tag? –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Oct 25 '13 at 1:05
@BenjaminGruenbaum why? What's not behaving as intended? * is a wildcard, the behavior there is correct. –  Nick Craver Oct 25 '13 at 2:36
So stackoverflow.com/search?q=*** is correct behavior? Should I open a new question? –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Oct 25 '13 at 2:44

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