Is there some technical, philosophical, political reason that search on StackOverflow does not provide a basic "match all terms" feature (aka AND search)?

I'm well aware that we can use Google but that's beside the point. Why is this so hard to add to StackOverflow search? The simplest approach would be to allow a + prefix in front of each term that must exist in the target question.

This addition would almost single handedly improve the effectiveness of the search by simply reducing the number of matched results returned.

With this option you can trim down the results to a more manageable size and then relax the criteria if you don't find what you want in the results.

In my experience this is the only sane way to search when dealing with a very large possible result set.

So, once again what's so hard about adding the + prefix to StackOverflow search? It's a great resource, just such a shame it has a time-wasting and ineffective search.


4 Answers 4


If they added the + prefix option it would help decrease not only what we see, but also what has to be pulled in from the database. Seems like a win-win situation.

  • @Lance, absolutely. By asking this question I'm just adding my voice to the growing list of criticisms of the search.
    – user135186
    Sep 25, 2009 at 1:36

I, too, would love to see this feature. However, having not seen the code powering these sites, I don't know that I would label it as trivial effort -- in other words, while I agree with the request, I disagree completely with:

what's so hard about adding the + prefix to StackOverflow search?

Having written tools to perform searches before, I can tell you that there's a lot hard about writing custom search engines. (So much so that I won't do it. I will always lean on another tool for it -- Lucene.NET or, if critically necessary, Microsoft's Indexing Service.)

S[OFU]'s advanced search tools provide some pretty good functionality, including some spiffy S[OFU]-specific features (tag searching, user searching, special metadata, etc). They do provide for phrase searching as well. But boolean options, especially when factoring in the other useful tools, are not a trivial effort.

I'd love to see the team put forth that effort, but at the same time, there's another way to search any of the sites, with all of the features you're looking for. Google is considered the StackOverflow home page, and with good reason. If it's on SO, it's on Google. (I'm sure this is also the case for the other three sites.)

In any Google search, start with the first term being site:stackoverflow.com, then use your Google-fu (including booleans, phrases, etc), and you will be performing the exact same search you're describing. You will lose the ability to do tag/metadata-specific searches, but you will gain what it seems you are looking for.

Or, as the S[OFU] search pages themselves say (at the bottom):

Search is hard. Let's go shopping!

  • @John, I've written a text indexing/search engine myself and found that the "match all terms" behaviour was one of the simplest to implement. You simply iterate through each search term, get matching documents, intersect with the previous matching documents, repeat. Phrase searching, fuzzy searching etc are much more work. However, I have a feeling that SO search is limited to SQL Server Text indexing capabilities. Maybe, amazingly, this is just not possible in SQQL Server Text Indexing?
    – user135186
    Sep 25, 2009 at 1:34
  • It is possible. And yes, "match all terms" by itself is easy. Mixing that with tag-based, user-based and the other SO parameters is not so much, especially if you factor in fuzziness (which I don't know if the SO engine supports). To be honest, when I want a complex search, I Google it.
    – John Rudy
    Sep 25, 2009 at 4:41

I'd also very much like to see this feature. Google isn't always a substitute because (and please correct me if I'm wrong) Google doesn't really let you do a tag search; that is, Google doesn't let you limit specific search terms to question tags.


We do now -- see


If you want to ensure that the words appear in the results, start them with a plus:

+apples +oranges

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