Exploring ANN Algorithms in Vector Databases



Vector databases have been the fastest-growing database class for just a few years, with their relevance rising extra within the period of Generative AI. What differentiates them from relational databases is the implementation of ANN algorithms. What are they, you ask? Effectively, this text will clarify what ANN algorithms in vector databases are and the way they work. Furthermore, it is going to focus on their distinctive strategies for environment friendly knowledge looking and sensible purposes throughout numerous industries. So, let’s start.

Be taught Extra: Vector Databases in Generative AI Options

Studying Goals

  • Find out how knowledge illustration and search strategies differ between relational and vector databases, highlighting the restrictions of binary search in multi-dimensional areas.
  • Achieve insights into tree-based ANN algorithms comparable to KD-trees and the Annoy library’s methodology of dividing knowledge factors utilizing random hyperplanes.
  • Perceive graph-based ANN algorithms, particularly the HNSW algorithm, and the way they effectively assemble and navigate graphs to search out nearest neighbors.
  • Discover hybrid algorithms like NGT, which improve search velocity and accuracy by integrating tree and graph buildings.
  • Uncover the sensible purposes of vector databases in music suggestions, product suggestions, customized promoting, and extra.

What are ANN Algorithms?

In relational databases, every document is represented in a row and its attributes are represented in columns. As an example, think about a desk with N creator names and their respective analysis paper knowledge. A naive strategy would examine the question creator’s identify to all N values within the Creator column to search out the books written by a selected creator. This methodology requires N comparisons.

A extra environment friendly methodology is sorting the Creator column alphabetically. Then by utilizing binary search, we will discover utilizing solely log(N) comparisons. Nonetheless, the situation modifications with regards to discovering related analysis papers based mostly on a given question. The naive strategy is to search out the similarity between the question embedding vector and all of the doc embedding vectors, requiring N comparisons.

Sorting the analysis paper textual content or embeddings and utilizing binary search doesn’t work as a result of we aren’t in search of the precise match to the question embedding. We solely need to discover essentially the most related embeddings. Furthermore, embeddings characterize the information in multi-dimensional house. Sorting by any single dimension doesn’t make sense.

So, we want completely different algorithms that may seek for vectors extra effectively. These algorithms are referred to as Approximate Nearest neighbor (ANN) algorithms. Whereas these algorithms might not at all times discover essentially the most exact nearest neighbors in comparison with the naive strategy, they considerably enhance search velocity and effectivity in giant, multi-dimensional datasets. The implementation of ANN algorithms is what differentiates vector databases from conventional relational databases.

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How ANN Algorithms Work

Now that you just perceive what ANN algorithms are, let’s learn the way completely different ANN algorithms work.

Tree-based Algorithms

Tree-based algorithms manage knowledge factors the place factors which are nearer in house are additionally nearer within the tree. A couple of examples of such bushes are the Ok-dimensional tree (KD-tree), Vantage Level tree (VP-tree), Ball tree, and Rectangular tree (R-tree).

One fashionable library that implements a tree-based algorithm is Annoy (Approximate Nearest Neighbors Oh Yeah). It was developed by Erik Bernhardsson whereas working at Spotify. Annoy builds the tree by dividing knowledge factors utilizing random hyperplanes.

Let’s look into the small print of how this works.

ANN Algorithms in Vector Databases | Annoy

How Annoy Works

  1. Think about all of the factors situated within the house as proven within the picture.
  2. Randomly select two factors from the dataset.
  3. Calculate a hyperplane that’s perpendicular to the road section connecting the 2 factors and passes by means of the midpoint of the road section. We will use this hyperplane to divide all of the factors to the left or proper aspect of the tree node.
  4. Take the conventional vector of the hyperplane and calculate the dot product with every knowledge level. If the dot product is optimistic, the purpose is in the identical route as the conventional vector. If the dot product is destructive, the purpose is in the wrong way as the conventional vector. Based mostly on the dot product, break up the factors into left or proper youngster nodes.
  5. Recursively break up nodes by hyperplanes till only some factors stay within the leaf nodes. This divides the overall house into grids, the place leaf nodes retailer the factors and all different nodes retailer the hyperplanes used for division.
  6. To search out the closest neighbors for a question level, calculate its dot product with the conventional vector of the foundation node hyperplane. Based mostly on the end result, traverse both to the left or proper of the node. Proceed traversing till reaching the leaf node. Then, calculate the similarity between the question and the factors within the leaf node.
  7. Because the tree is a binary tree, discovering nearest neighbors requires roughly log(N) comparisons.
  8. If the question level is close to the sting of any grid, contemplating just one leaf node might miss related factors in adjoining leaf nodes. To handle this, we will construct a number of bushes, every with completely different random beginning factors, thus completely different hyperplanes. Traverse every tree with the question and calculate similarity with factors within the leaf nodes of all bushes, guaranteeing to not miss any nearest neighbor.
  9. We will additionally retailer the nodes with calculated similarities in a precedence queue to return the top-ok nearest neighbors.

This detailed description explains how tree-based ANN algorithms work, notably in dividing knowledge factors and discovering nearest neighbors effectively. By contemplating edge instances and using a number of bushes, the algorithm can enhance accuracy and efficiency find the closest neighbors.

Graph-based Algorithms

In these algorithms, knowledge factors are represented as vertices of the graph, and edges are used to traverse the graph to search out nearest neighbors. Let’s perceive it intimately utilizing the most well-liked algorithm presently, Hierarchical Navigable Small World (HNSW).

ANN Algorithms in Vector Databases | HNSW

How HNSW Works

  1. As proven within the above picture, every vertex within the graph represents a knowledge level.
  2. Join every vertex with a configurable variety of nearest vertices in a grasping method.
  3. To search out the closest neighbors for a question, begin from any random vertex, say A.
  4. Discover the vertices linked to A, which may be C, G, and D.
  5. Calculate the gap between the question and every of those vertices (A, C, G, D).
  6. Evaluate the distances and transfer to the vertex closest to the question, which is D on this case.
  7. Repeat this course of with vertex D and its linked vertices, shifting subsequent to E.
  8. After we repeat this course of by beginning at E, we discover that E is the closest vertex to the Question once more. So, we discovered the closest neighbor to our question.

In case you are questioning how we now have constructed the graph within the first place, identical to we now have discovered the closest neighbors for a question, we will discover the closest neighbors for a brand new vertex as we’re inserting it. Then we will join the brand new vertex to pre-defined nearest vertices by means of edges.

Within the graph, every vertex connects to only some close by vertices, thereby making a small-world community. As we navigate it, that is referred to as a navigable small world.

When coping with tens of millions of knowledge factors, traversing the graph to search out the closest neighbor ranging from a random level will be time-consuming, as every vertex is linked to only some vertices. Rising the variety of edges for every vertex additionally takes plenty of time as extra distances must be calculated.

To beat this downside, a number of graphs with completely different numbers of vertices are constructed. Every graph will be thought-about a layer.

How This Works

  1. Within the first layer, use a fraction of the information factors to construct the graph, for instance, N/4.
  2. Within the subsequent layer, use N/2 knowledge factors to construct the graph.
  3. Within the final layer, use all the information factors.
  4. To search out the closest neighbors to the question, begin from layer 1.
  5. For the reason that variety of vertices is fewer, the perimeters are longer, permitting fast traversal to a nearer vertex in that layer (for instance, H).
  6. Begin from vertex H within the subsequent layer and traverse the graph till the closest neighbor in that layer is discovered (vertex B).
  7. Proceed this course of till the closest neighbor is discovered within the final layer.

Thus, the variety of traversals and distance calculations are fewer as in comparison with the NSW algorithm.

HNSW Method and Implementation

How can we determine the variety of layers and what number of knowledge factors needs to be in every? The HNSW paper offers the next components for allocating knowledge factors to completely different layers.


Right here,

  • unif(0,1) represents a random quantity drawn from a uniform distribution between 0 and 1.
  • −ln(unif(0,1)) pure logarithm of a uniform random quantity is used to remodel the uniform distribution into an exponential distribution. This transformation together with -ve signal makes it the right-skewed distribution.
  • mL is a multiplier that scales the logarithmic worth. It’s normally set to 1/ln⁡(M), the place M is the utmost variety of neighbors every node can have.
  • The flooring perform rounds down the ensuing worth to the closest integer. This determines the discrete stage at which the node will probably be positioned.

HNSW is the default algorithm for a lot of the vector databases. Spotify additionally launched a brand new library Voyager based mostly on HNSW.

Now, let’s strive the HNSW algorithm

import numpy as np
import faiss

# We will select some random numbers for the database and queries.
d = 256                           # dimension
nb = 100000                      # database dimension
nq = 10000                       # variety of queries
np.random.seed(1234)             # make reproducible
xb = np.random.random((nb, d)).astype('float32')
xb[:, 0] += np.arange(nb) / 1000.
xq = np.random.random((nq, d)).astype('float32')
xq[:, 0] += np.arange(nq) / 1000.

First, let’s strive the naive strategy by constructing the FlatIndex.

flat_index = faiss.IndexFlatL2(d)   # construct the index
>>> True

flat_index.add(xb)                  # add vectors to the index
>>> 100000

Now, we will search

%%time            # this command will give time taken to run in jupyter pocket book
ok = 5                             # we will get 5 nearest neighbors
D, I = flat_index.search(xq, ok)     # precise search
print(I[:5])                   # neighbors of the 5 first queries
print(D[:5])                   # distances of the 5 first queries

>>>[[  69  525  628  595 1413]
 [ 603   25   14 1616  698]
 [ 732  744  739  589 1185]
 [ 447  841  347  373  631]
 [1053  924  163  101  302]]
[[33.871002 33.979095 34.67044  34.738922 35.204865]
 [34.497314 34.682297 35.488464 35.671005 35.864685]
 [32.993195 34.401352 34.411896 34.514572 34.659515]
 [33.948517 34.039062 34.364456 34.466248 35.244644]
 [33.487595 34.77111  34.81253  34.893692 35.152557]]

Lt’s strive the HNSW algorithm now

M = 32              # every vertex will probably be linked to M different nearest vertices
hnsw_index = faiss.IndexHNSWFlat(d, M)   # construct the index

>>> True

We will add the information to the index.

# To hook up with M different vertices, it is going to greedily search upto 'efConstruction' vertices.
# the default worth is 40, we will change it earlier than including dataset
hnsw_index.hnsw.efConstruction = 48


# after including our knowledge we are going to discover that the extent has been set routinely
>>> 3

# and ranges (or layers) are actually populated
ranges = faiss.vector_to_array(hnsw_index.hnsw.ranges)
>>> array([    0, 96812,  3093,    92,     3])

We will search now

# what number of entry factors will probably be explored between layers throughout the search.
# for instance, we will choose 30 nearest vertices in a single layer, 
# then begin traversing the graph from these vertices within the subsequent layer
hnsw_index.hnsw.efSearch = 30

hnsw_index.search(xq[:5], ok=4)

>>> (array([[33.870995, 33.979073, 34.67042 , 34.738907],
        [34.497334, 34.682304, 35.488453, 35.67101 ],
        [32.993187, 34.401337, 34.411903, 34.514584],
        [33.948494, 34.039097, 34.36444 , 34.46623 ],
        [33.487595, 34.771133, 34.81257 , 34.893723]], dtype=float32),
 array([[  69,  525,  628,  595],
        [ 603,   25,   14, 1616],
        [ 732,  744,  739,  589],
        [ 447,  841,  347,  373],
        [1053,  924,  163,  101]]))

Hybrid Algorithms

In these algorithms, we use each bushes and graphs to search out the closest neighbors. An instance is Neighborhood Graph and Tree (NGT) which is the best-performing ANN algorithm presently. NGT makes use of a dynamic vantage level tree and a graph. Let’s see the way it works.

ANN Algorithms in Vector Databases | NGT

How NGT Works

  1. The dvp-tree begins with a single leaf node representing all the knowledge house as proven within the above picture.
  2. As we add new factors, the tree traverses to search out the suitable leaf node for insertion.
  3. When the variety of factors in a leaf node exceeds a predefined most, the leaf node is break up into smaller subspaces. This splitting is just like the vantage level tree (vp-tree) methodology, the place a vantage level is chosen, and the house is split utilizing hyperspheres centered at this vantage level.
  4. For every level within the node, we calculate the gap to the vantage level.
  5. Select a radius ‘r’ such that it balances the factors between inside and out of doors the hypersphere.
  6. Factors with a distance d≤r from the vantage level are contained in the hypersphere, and factors with d>r are exterior. The circles and arcs within the above picture characterize these hyperspheres.
  7. This division course of is repeated recursively, making a hierarchical construction of nodes and subnodes.
  8. The dvp-tree helps dynamic updates, which means we will incrementally add factors with out reconstructing all the tree.
  9. The method continues till every leaf node comprises a manageable variety of factors.
  10. Then, we will traverse solely the leaf nodes in a graph utilizing the NSW algorithm as defined above.

So, relatively than traversing all of the nodes utilizing a graph utilizing HNSW, we’re localizing the search house utilizing a dynamic vantage level tree on this algorithm. This mix of utilizing each tree and graph makes it one of many quickest and most correct algorithms. As of June 2024, Vald vector database helps this algorithm.

Purposes of ANN Algorithms in Vector Databases

Let’s now discover a number of the commonest purposes of ANN algorithms.

1. Similarity-Based mostly Suggestions

These purposes concentrate on discovering approximate matches to consumer preferences or content material options.

  • Music Suggestions: Platforms like Spotify use vector databases to advocate music based mostly on consumer listening habits and music options. That’s why Spotify developed these ANN libraries.
  • Product Suggestions: E-commerce websites use vector databases to counsel merchandise just like these a consumer has considered or bought.
  • Personalised Promoting: Vector databases match advertisements to customers based mostly on their conduct and preferences, bettering engagement and conversion charges. It’s Yahoo Japan which developed the NGT algorithm.

These purposes make the most of embeddings to seek for related gadgets throughout numerous media varieties, enhancing search accuracy and relevance.

  • Textual content Search: In pure language processing, vector databases retailer textual content embeddings for semantic search, doc retrieval, and question-answering methods
  • Picture and Video Search: Permit for the retrieval of visually related photographs, utilized in reverse picture search, content-based picture or video retrieval, and digital asset administration.
  • Molecule Search: In bioinformatics and drug discovery, molecule embeddings assist discover structurally related molecules, supporting the identification of potential drug candidates.

3. Miscellaneous

  • Different purposes embody anomaly detection, geospatial evaluation, and many others.

Be taught Extra: 10+ Vector Database Purposes within the Actual World


Vector databases, by means of environment friendly ANN algorithms like tree-based, graph-based, and hybrid strategies, considerably improve search capabilities in multi-dimensional areas. Their sensible purposes span numerous industries, providing highly effective options for similarity-based suggestions, embedding-based search, and customized promoting.

Hope this text has given you an in depth thought of ANN algorithms in vector databases. Do try our different articles on vector databases to study extra. Completely satisfied studying!

Key Takeaways

  • Vector databases excel in dealing with multi-dimensional knowledge searches, surpassing conventional relational databases in effectivity and velocity.
  • Tree-based ANN algorithms like KD-trees and Annoy enhance search efficiency by organizing knowledge factors utilizing random hyperplanes.
  • Graph-based algorithms, comparable to HNSW, successfully navigate complicated knowledge areas by connecting knowledge factors by means of vertices and edges
  • Hybrid algorithms like NGT mix the strengths of bushes and graphs to realize sooner and extra correct nearest neighbor searches.
  • Vector databases are essential in purposes like suggestions, customized promoting, and embedding-based search throughout numerous media varieties.

Regularly Requested Questions

Q1. What’s a vector database?

A. A vector database is a specialised kind of database that handles multi-dimensional knowledge, enabling environment friendly similarity searches utilizing vector embeddings relatively than conventional row-column buildings.

Q2. What are the algorithms utilized in vector databases?

A. Vector databases make the most of numerous Approximate Nearest Neighbor (ANN) algorithms, together with tree-based strategies like KD-trees and Annoy, graph-based strategies like HNSW, and hybrid strategies like NGT.

Q3. How do tree-based ANN algorithms work in vector databases?

A. Tree-based ANN algorithms manage knowledge factors utilizing buildings like KD-trees and Annoy, which divide the information house with hyperplanes, permitting environment friendly nearest neighbor searches by traversing the tree.

This autumn. What’s the function of graph-based algorithms in vector databases?

A. Graph-based algorithms, comparable to HNSW, characterize knowledge factors as vertices in a graph, utilizing edges to attach nearest neighbors and navigate the graph effectively to search out related knowledge factors.

Q5. What are some sensible purposes of vector databases?

A. Sensible purposes of vector databases embody similarity-based suggestions for music and merchandise, customized promoting, and embedding-based searches for textual content, photographs, and molecules.