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What Is Federated Search?

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

Figure 1: Use Federated search to gather results from multiple sources simultaneously.

Users can search these sources all at once and see the results in a consistent, centralized interface.

This is especially useful for opening up siloed resources across different departments. For example, imagine you’re a city clerk and the public works department has its own set of databases, repositories and websites. Federated search would allow you to search those resources in addition to your own, while staying in your familiar search portal.


Another key benefit of federated search is that it can query secure, gated sources. In addition to sending search queries to each source, a federated search can also send user credentials,2 allowing users to see results that wouldn’t otherwise appear in, say, a typical web search.

For instance, colleges and other academic institutions can use federated search to provide students easier access to academic journals and other subscription-based resources. Instead of having to log into each system and search separately, students can view results from a variety of authoritative sources as a combined list.

In addition, if the user of the federated search engine doesn’t have access to a particular source, those results simply won’t appear. This means that two users can search using the same interface, while having different results depending on their levels of access.

Figure 2: Federated search can pass user credentials, allowing for collected results from subscription-based resources.

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