The ESGF Search RESTful API

The ESGF search service exposes a RESTful URL that can be used by clients (browsers and desktop clients) to query the contents of the underlying search index, and return results matching the given constraints. Because of the distributed capabilities of the ESGF search, the URL at any Index Node can be used to query that Node only, or all Nodes in the ESGF system.


The general syntax of the ESGF search service URL is:

http:///search?[keyword parameters as (name, value) pairs][facet parameters as (name,value) pairs]

where “” is the base URL of the search service at a given Index Node.

All parameters (keyword and facet) are optional. Also, the value of all parameters must be URL-encoded, so that the complete search URL is well formed.


Keyword parameters are query parameters that have reserved names, and are interpreted by the search service to control the fundamental nature of a search request: where to issue the request to, how many results to return, etc.

The following keywords are currently used by the system - see later for usage examples:

  • facets= to return facet values and counts

  • offset= , limit= to paginate through the available results (default: offset=0, limit=10)

  • fields= to return only specific metadata fields for each matching result (default: fields=*)

  • format= to specify the response document output format

  • type= (searches record of the specified type: Dataset, File or Aggregation)

  • replica=false/true (searches for all records, or records that are NOT replicas)

  • latest=true/false (searches for just the latest version, or all versions)

  • distrib=true/false (searches across all nodes, or the target node only)

  • shards= (searches the specified shards only)

  • bbox=[west, south, east, north] (searches within a geo-spatial box)

  • start=, end= (select records based on their nominal data coverage, i.e. their datetime_start, datetime_stop values )

  • from=, to= (select records based on when the data was marked as last modified, i.e. their nominal “timestamp” value)

Default Query

If no parameters at all are specified, the search service will execute a query using all the default values, specifically:

  • query=* (query all records)

  • distrib=true (execute a distributed search)

  • type=Dataset (return results of type “Dataset”)


Free Text Queries

The keyword parameter query= can be specified to execute a query that matches the given text _ anywhere _ in the records metadata fields. The parameter value can be any expression following the Apache Lucene query syntax (because it is passed “as-is” to the back-end Solr query), and must be URL- encoded. When using the CoG user interface at any ESGF node and project, the “query=” parameter value must be entered in the text field at the top of the page.


Facet Queries

A request to the search service can be constrained to return only those records that match specific values for one or more facets. Specifically, a facet constraint is expressed through the general form: =, where is chosen from the controlled vocabulary of facet names configured at each site, and must match exactly one of the possible values for that particular facet.

When specifying more than one facet constraint in the request, multiple values for the same facet are combined with a logical OR, while multiple values for different facets are combined with a logical AND. Also, multiple possible values for teh same facets can be expressed as a comma-separated list. For example:

  • experiment=decadal2000&variable=hus : will return all records that match experiment=decadal2000 AND variable=hus

  • variable=hus&variable=ta : will return all records that match variable=hus OR variable=ta

  • variable=hus,ta : will also return all records that match variable=hus OR variable=ta

A facet constraint can be negated by using the != operator. For example, model!=CCSM searches for all items that do NOT match the CCSM model. Note that all negative facets are combined in logical AND, for example, model!=CCSM&model!=HadCAM searches for all items that do not match CCSM, and do not match HadCAM.

By default, no facet counts are returned in the output document. Facet counts must be explicitly requested by specifying the facet names individually (for example: facets=experiment,model) or via the special notation facets=*. The facets list must be comma-separated, and white spaces are ignored.

If facet counts is requested, facet values are sorted alphabetically (facet.sort=lex), and all facet values are returned (facet.limit=-1), provided they match one or more records (facet.mincount=1)

The “type” facet must be always specified as part of any request to the ESGF search services, so that the appropriate records can be searched and returned. If not specified explicitly, the default value is type=Dataset .


Facet Listings

The available facet names and values for searching data within a specific project can be listed with a query of the form …project=&facets=*&limit=0 (i.e. return no results). Only facet values that match one or more records will be returned.


The same query with no project constraint will return all facet names and values for ALL data across the federation:

To retrieve a listing of available values for only a few facets, simply specify a comma-separated list of facet names:

Temporal Coverage Queries

The keyword parameters start= and/or end= can be used to query for data with temporal coverage that overlaps the specified range. The parameter values can either be date-times in the format “YYYY-MM-DDTHH:MM:SSZ” (UTC ISO 8601 format), or special values supported by the Solr DateMath syntax.


Spatial Coverage Queries

The keyword parameter bbox=[west, south, east, north] can be used to query for data with spatial coverage that overlaps the given bounding box. As usual, the parameter value must be URL-encoded.


Please note though that NOT all ESGF records contain geo-spatial information, and therefore will not be returned by a geo-spatial search.

Distributed Queries

The keyword parameter distrib= can be used to control whether the query is executed versus the local Index Node only, or distributed to all other Nodes in the federation. If not specified, the default value distrib=true is assumed.


Shard Queries

By default, a distributed query (distrib=true) targets all ESGF Nodes in the current peer group, i.e. all nodes that are listed in the local configuration file /esg/config/esgf_shards.xml , which is continuously updated by the local node manager to reflect the latest state of the federation. It is possible to execute a distributed search that targets only one or more specific nodes, by specifying them in the “shards” parameter, as such: shards=hostname1:port1/solr,hostname2:port2/solr,…. . Note that the explicit shards value is ignored if distrib=false (but distrib=true by default if not otherwise specified).


Replica Queries

Replicas (Datasets and Files) are distinguished from the original record (a.k.a. the “master”) in the Solr index by the value of two special keywords:

  • replica: a flag that is set to false for master records, true for replica records.

  • master_id: a string that is identical for the master and all replicas of a given logical record (Dataset or File).

By default, a query returns all records (masters and replicas) matching the search criteria, i.e. no replica=… constraint is used. To return only master records, use replica=false, to return only replicas, use replica=true. To search for all identical Datasets or Files (i.e. for the master AND replicas of a Dataset or File), use master_id=….


Latest and Version Queries

By default, a query to the ESGF search services will return all versions of the matching records (Datasets or Files). To only return the very last, up-to-date version include latest=true . To return a specific version, use version=… . Using latest=false will return only datasets that were superseded by newer versions.


Retracted Queries

NOTE: this feature is NOT yet released

Retracted datasets are marked by “retracted=true”, and also have the flag “latest=false” set. Consequently, retracted datasets are automatically NOT included in any search for the latest version data (“latest=true”), while they are automatically included in searches the span all versions (no “latest” constraint). To search specifically for only retracted datasets, use the constraint “retracted=true”.


Minimum and Maximum Version Queries

NOTE: this feature is NOT yet released

The special keywords “min_version” and “max_version” can be used to query for all records that have a version greater or equal, or less or equal, of a given numerical value. Because often in ESGF versions are expressed as dates of the format YYYYMMDD, it is possible to query for all records that have a version greater/less or equal of a certain date. The two constraints can be combined with each other to specify a version (aka date) range, and can also be combined with other constraints.


Results Pagination

By default, a query to the search service will return the first 10 records matching the given constraints. The offset into the returned results, and the total number of returned results, can be changed through the keyword parameters limit= and offset= . The system imposes a maximum value of limit <= 10,000.


Output Format

The keyword parameter output= can be used to request results in a specific output format. Currently the only available options are Solr/XML (the default) and Solr/JSON.


Returned Metadata Fields

By default, all available metadata fields are returned for each result. The keyword parameter fields= can be used to limit the number of fields returned in the response document, for each matching result. The list must be comma-separated, and white spaces are ignored. Use fields=* to return all fields (same as not specifiying it, since it is the default). Note that the pseudo field “score” is always appended to any fields list.



Each search record in the system is assigned the following identifiers (all of type string):

  • id : universally unique for each record across the federation, i.e. specific to each Dataset or File, version and replica (and the data node storing the data). It is intended to be “opaque”, i.e. it should not be parsed by clients to extract any information.

    • Dataset example: id=obs4MIPs.NASA-JPL.TES.tro3.mon.v20110608|

    • File example:|

  • master_id : same for all replicas and versions across the federation. When parsing THREDDS catalogs, it is extracted from the properties “dataset_id” or “file_id”.

    • Dataset example: obs4MIPs.NASA-JPL.TES.tro3.mon (for a Dataset)

    • File example:

  • instance_id : same for all replicas across federation, but specific to each version. When parsing THREDDS catalogs, it is extracted from the ID attribute of the corresponding THREDDS catalog element (for both Datasets and Files).

    • Dataset example: obs4MIPs.NASA-JPL.TES.tro3.mon.v20110608

    • File example:

Note also that the record version is the same for all replicas of that record, but different across versions. Examples:

  • Dataset example: version=20110608

  • File example: version=1

Access URLs

In the Solr output document returned by a search, URLs that are access points for Datasets and Files are encoded as 3-tuple of the form “url|mime type|service name”, where the fields are separated by the “pipe (”|“) character, and the”mime type” and “service name” are chosen from the ESGF controlled vocabulary.

Example of Dataset access URLs:

Example of File access URLs:

Wget scripting

The same RESTful API that is used to query the ESGF search services can also be used, with minor modifications, to generate a Wget script to download all files matching the given constraints. Specifically, each ESGF Index Node exposes the following URL for generating Wget scripts:

http:///wget?[keyword parameters as (name, value) pairs][facet parameters as (name,value) pairs]

where again“” is the base URL of the search service at a given Index Node. As for searching, all parameters (keyword and facet) are optional, and the value of all parameters must be URL-encoded, so that the complete search URL is well formed.

The only syntax differences with respect to the search URL are:

  • The keyword parameter type= is not allowed, as the wget URL always assumes type=File .

  • The keyword parameter format= is not allowed, as the wget URL always returns a shell script as response document.

  • The keyword parameter limit= is assigned a default value of limit=1000 (and must still be limit < 10,000).

  • The keyword parameter download_structure= is used for defining a relative directory structure for the download by using the facets value (i.e. of Files and not Datasets).

  • The keyword parameter download_emptypath= is used to define what to do when download_structure is set and the facet returned has no value (for example, when mixing files from CMIP5 and obs4MIP and selecting instrument as a facet value will result in all CMIP5 files returning an empty value)

A typical workflow pattern consists in first identifying all datasets or files matching some scientific criteria, then changing the request URL from “/search?” to “/wget?” to generate the corresponding shell scripts for bulk download of files.


For more information, see also the Wget FAQ