rjbs forgot what he was saying

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more on the speed of file finding

by rjbs, created 2013-01-28 22:33
last modified 2013-01-30 10:23
tagged with: @markup:md journal perl programming

Last week I wrote about the speed of Perl file finders, including a somewhat difficult to read chart of their relative speeds in a pretty contrived race. My intent wasn't really to compare the "good" ones, but to call out the "bad" ones. Looking at that graph, it should be clear that you "never" want to use Path::Class::Rule or File::Find::Rule. Their behavior is vastly worse than their competition's.

There were some complaints that some lines were obscured. That's okay! For example, you can't see File::Next because it's obscured perfectly by File::Find, because they almost always take near to exactly the same amount of time. Heck, I don't even mind the relatively vast difference in speed between the "slow" configuration of Path::Iterator::Rule given there and the "fast" default behavior of File::Next. I figure that in any real work, the few minutes difference between their performance at million-file scale is unlikely to be worth noticing for my purposes.

Beyond that, there are so many variables to consider when trying to actually understand these speed differences. I think that some of the reactions I got, both privately and publicly, were interesting because the demonstrated to me the danger of publishing benchmarks. It was very clear to me what I was measuring, and presenting, and why. Readers, on the other hand, seemed more likely to read more into things that I'd meant to present. Most often, benchmarks are seen as passing judgement on whether something is good or bad. Heck, I said that myself didn't I? I wanted to "call out the difference between the good ones and the bad ones."


Well, what I wanted to do was to see how fast the different libraries could possibly be, given the fastest possible bare iteration over a bunch of entities, since that's the starting point for any real work I'd do. For example, this was the test code for File::Next:

  my $iter = File::Next::everything({}, $root);
  while (defined ( my $file = $iter->() )) {
    last if $i++ > $max;

Let's face it: that's not much of a real world use case. In real life, you're going to want to look at the filename, maybe its size or type, and quite likely you'll even (gasp!) open it. All that stuff is going to stomp all over the raw speed of iteration, unless the iteration is itself really out of line with what it could be.

David Golden read my report and got to work figuring out why Path::Iterator::Rule was lagging behind File::Next, and he sped it up. Some of that speedup was just plain speedup, but much of it comes from providing the iter_fast iterator constructor:

  sub iter_fast {
    my $self     = shift;
    my %defaults = (
      follow_symlinks => 1,
      depthfirst      => -1,
      sorted          => 0,
      loop_safe       => 0,
      error_handler   => undef,
    $self->_iter( \%defaults, @_ );

Why is this one faster? Well, it stops worrying about symlinks, so there's no -l involved. It doesn't sort names, which makes it unpredictable between runs over the same corpus. It doesn't worry about noticing one directory being scanned multiple times (because of symlinks). It doesn't handle exceptions when testing files. File::Next acts like this by default, too, but in the end, you very often want these safeguards.

It's great if your program can iterate over 1,000,000 distinct files in four minutes, but you'll feel pretty foolish when it takes forty minutes because you forgot that you had a few symlinks in there that caused repeated scans of subtrees!

Then there's the change to depthfirst. There, we start to get into even more situational optimization. What tree-walking strategy is best for your tree? Probably you should learn how to decide for yourself, and then make the right decision.

Still, the availability of these options is definitely a great thing. Not only does it make the library more flexible, but it allows one to compare File::Next with Path::Iterator::Rule as apples to apples.

Finally, there are plenty of things to judge more than the raw speed of the library's fastest base configuration. Path::Iterator::Rule, for example, has a very pleasant interface, in my opinion:

  my $rule = Path::Iterator::Rule->new;
  my $iter = $rule->or( $rule->new->name('*.txt'),

That's going to build about a half dozen subs that will test each file to decide whether to include it in the results, and three of them will called for each kick of the iterator (I think!). That's fine, it's still really fast, but you can start to imagine how this can get microöptimized. After all, with File::Next:

my $iter = File::Next::files($root);
while (defined (my $file = $iter->())) {
  next unless $file =~ /\.(?:html|txt)\z/;
  next unless -f -r $file;
  next unless -s $file < 10240;

Will this be faster? I bet it will. Will I ever notice the difference…? I'm not so sure. If I thought it would matter, I'd perform another benchmark, of my actual code. I'd profile my program and figure out what was fast or slow.

Again: beware of taking very specific benchmark tests as meaning anything much about your real work without careful review.

Finally, I mention just to scare the reader: did you know that File::Find::Rule, though it looks outwardly just like Path::Iterator::Rule, does not have that 3-6 subroutine call overhead? See, it takes all the rules that you build up and, just in time to iterate, builds them into a string of Perl code that is then evaled into a subroutine to execute as a single aggregate test.

It's the nastiness of that code that prevented me from ever making good on my threats to add lazy iteration to File::Find::Rule. I'm glad, too, because now Andy and David have provided me with better tools, and all I had to do to get them was whine and make a chart.

The free software community is fantastic!