How to Efficiently Delete Documents from Elasticsearch

Elasticsearch is a powerful, open-source search and analytics engine that allows you to store, search, and analyze big volumes of data quickly and in near real-time. It's widely used for log or event data analysis, full-text searching, and other applications where fast data retrieval is crucial. However, managing data in Elasticsearch, especially deleting documents, can sometimes pose a challenge. This post will guide you through the process of efficiently deleting documents from Elasticsearch, ensuring your data remains relevant and your storage is optimized.

Understanding Deletion in Elasticsearch

Before diving into the deletion process, it's important to understand how Elasticsearch handles deletions. When you delete a document from an Elasticsearch index, the document is not immediately removed from the disk; instead, it's marked as deleted. Elasticsearch periodically cleans up these deleted documents in a process called merging. This means that, temporarily, the deleted documents might still consume disk space and potentially appear in search results until the merge process is completed.

Deleting Individual Documents

Deleting individual documents is straightforward. You can use the Delete API to remove a single document by specifying its index and document ID. Here's a simple example using Elasticsearch's REST API:

DELETE /your_index/_doc/your_document_id

This command tells Elasticsearch to delete the document with the specified ID from the given index. While this method works well for deleting a few documents, it's not efficient for removing large numbers of documents.

Deleting Multiple Documents with a Query

When you need to delete multiple documents based on certain criteria, the Delete By Query API comes in handy. This API allows you to specify a query to match the documents you want to delete. Here's an example:

POST /your_index/_delete_by_query
  "query": {
    "match": {
      "field_name": "value_to_match"

This request will delete all documents in your_index where field_name matches value_to_match. It's a powerful tool but use it with caution, especially on large indices, as it can be resource-intensive.

Best Practices for Deleting Documents

  1. Use Delete By Query Sparingly: Given its potential impact on performance, reserve the Delete By Query API for operations that cannot be efficiently accomplished through other means.
  2. Regularly Monitor Disk Usage: Keep an eye on your Elasticsearch cluster's disk space. If you notice space filling up due to deleted documents awaiting merge, consider manually triggering a merge operation or adjusting your index settings to make merges happen more frequently.
  3. Leverage Time-Based Indices for Logs: If you're storing log data or other time-based information, use time-based indices (e.g., one index per day or week). This way, you can simply delete entire indices when they're no longer needed, which is much more efficient than deleting individual documents.


Managing data in Elasticsearch, particularly deleting documents, is crucial for maintaining the performance and relevance of your search and analytics workloads. Whether you're dealing with a handful of documents or need to remove thousands, understanding how to efficiently delete documents can significantly impact your Elasticsearch operations. Remember to consider the implications of deletion on your system's performance and to follow best practices to ensure your data remains manageable and your system responsive.