Batch updating Drupal 7 field data

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On a number of my recently-built Drupal sites, I've become a fan of using the Computed Field module to provide a "search data" field, as a Views exposed filter. This technique has been documented by other folks here and there (I didn't invent it), so I won't cover its details here. Basically, it's a handy way to create a search form that searches exactly the fields you're interested in, thus providing you with more fine-grained control than the core Drupal search module, and with much less installation / configuration overhead than Apache Solr.

On one such site, which has about 4,000+ nodes that are searchable via this technique, I needed to add another field to the index, and re-generate the Computed Field data for every node. This data normally only gets re-generated when each individual node is saved. In my case, that would not be sufficient - I needed the entire search index refreshed immediately.

The obvious solution, would be to whip up a quick script that loops through all the nodes in question, and that calls node_save() on each pass through the loop. However, this solution has two problems. Firstly, node_save() is really slow (particularly when the node has a lot of other fields, such as was my case). So slow, in fact, that in my case I was fighting a losing battle against PHP "maximum execution time exceeded" errors. Secondly, node_save() is slow unnecessarily, as it re-saves all the data for all a node's fields (plus it invokes a bazingaful of hooks), whereas we only actually need to re-save the data for one field (and we don't need any hooks invoked, thanks).

In the interests of both speed and cutting-out-the-cruft, therefore, I present here an alternative solution: getting rid of the middle man (node_save()), and instead invoking the field_storage_write callback directly. Added bonus: I've implemented it using the Batch API functionality available via Drupal 7's hook_update_N().

Show me the code

The below code uses a (pre-defined) Computed field called field_search_data, and processes nodes of type event, news or page. It also sets the limit per batch run to 50 nodes. Naturally, all of this should be modified per your site's setup, when borrowing the code.

 * Batch update computed field values for 'field_search_data'.
function mymodule_update_7000(&$sandbox) {
  $entity_type = 'node';
  $field_name = 'field_search_data';
  $langcode = 'und';
  $storage_module = 'field_sql_storage';

  $field_id = db_query('SELECT id FROM {field_config} WHERE ' .
  'field_name = :field_name', array(
    ':field_name' => $field_name

  $field = field_info_field($field_name);
  $types = array(

  // Go through all published nodes in all of the above node types,
  // and generate a new 'search_data' computed value.
  $instance = field_info_instance($entity_type,

  if (!isset($sandbox['progress'])) {
    $sandbox['progress'] = 0;
    $sandbox['last_nid_processed'] = -1;
    $sandbox['max'] = db_query('SELECT COUNT(*) FROM {node} WHERE ' .
      'type IN (:types) AND status = 1 ORDER BY nid', array(
        ':types' => $types

    // I chose to delete existing data for this field, so I can
    // clearly monitor in phpMyAdmin the field data being re-generated.
    // Not necessary to do this.
    // NOTE: do not do this if you have actual important data in
    // this field! In my case it's just a search index, so it's OK.
    // May not be so cool in your case.
    db_query('TRUNCATE TABLE {field_data_' . $field_name . '}');
    db_query('TRUNCATE TABLE {field_revision_' . $field_name . '}');

  $limit = 50;
  $result = db_query_range('SELECT nid FROM {node} WHERE ' .
    'type IN (:types) AND status = 1 AND nid > :lastnid ORDER BY nid',
    0, $limit, array(
      ':types' => $types,
      ':lastnid' => $sandbox['last_nid_processed']

  while ($nid = $result->fetchField()) {
    $entity = node_load($nid);

    if (!empty($entity->nid)) {
      $items = isset($entity->{$field_name}[$langcode]) ?
                 $entity->{$field_name}[$langcode] :

      _computed_field_compute_value($entity_type, $entity, $field,
                                    $instance, $langcode, $items);

      if ($items !== array() ||
          isset($entity->{$field_name}[$langcode])) {
        $entity->{$field_name}[$langcode] = $items;

        // This only writes the data for the single field we're
        // interested in to the database. Much less expensive than
        // the easier alternative, which would be to node_save()
        // every node.
        module_invoke($storage_module, 'field_storage_write',
                      $entity_type, $entity, FIELD_STORAGE_UPDATE,

    $sandbox['last_nid_processed'] = $nid;

  if (empty($sandbox['max'])) {
    $sandbox['#finished'] = 1.0;
  else {
    $sandbox['#finished'] = $sandbox['progress'] / $sandbox['max'];

  if ($sandbox['#finished'] == 1.0) {
    return t('Updated \'search data\' computed field values.');

The feature of note in this code, is that we're updating Field API data without calling node_save(). We're doing this by manually generating the new Computed Field data, via _computed_field_compute_value(); and by then invoking the field_storage_write callback with the help of module_invoke().

Unfortunately, doing it this way is a bit complicated - these functions expect a whole lot of Field API and Entity API parameters to be passed to them, and preparing all these parameters is no walk in the park. Calling node_save() takes care of all this legwork behind the scenes.

This approach still isn't lightning-fast, but it performs significantly better than its alternative. Plus, by avoiding the usual node hook invocations, we also avoid any unwanted side-effects of simulating a node save operation (e.g. creating a new revision, affecting workflow state).

To execute the procedure as it's implemented here, all you need to do is visit update.php in your browser (or run drush updb from your terminal), and it will run as a standard Drupal database update. In my case, I chose to implement it in hook_update_N(), because: it gives me access to the Batch API for free; it's guaranteed to run only once; and it's protected by superuser-only access control. But, for example, you could also implement it as a custom admin page, calling the Batch API from a menu callback within your module.

Just one example

The use case presented here – a Computed Field used as a search index for Views exposed filters – is really just one example of how this technique could come in handy. What I'm trying to provide in this article, is a code template that can be applied to any scenario in which a single field (or a small number of fields) needs to be modified across a large volume of existing nodes (or other entities).

I can think of quite a few other potential scenarios. A custom "phone" field, where a region code needs to be appended to all existing data. A "link" field, where any existing data missing a "www" prefix needs to have it added. A node reference field, where certain saved Node IDs need to be re-mapped to new values, because the old pages have been archived. Whatever your specific requirement, I hope this code snippet makes your life a bit easier, and your server load a bit lighter.

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Roman Zimmermann

In such cases I always try to whip up a database query that does the job on its own. That usually works in the blink of an eye and spares me hours of digging into drupal core internals.

I'll keep your post in mind though for whenever the SQL-only approach fails.


In Drupal 6 there is the computed_field_tools module that does the recompute. Unfortunately there is only a dev version for D7.


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