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### Wasting time thinking about wasted time

by brian_d_foy (Abbot)
 on Sep 23, 2004 at 04:50 UTC Need Help??

## The Problem

I'm teaching our (Stonehenge's) Alpaca course (Packages, References, Objects, and Modules) this week. Day 2 is sponsored by the letter R, so after we talk about references, we throw in some stuff about the Schwartzian Transform, which uses a reference to do its magic.

In one of the exercise,to prove to our students that the transform actually boosts performance, we ask them to sort a bunch of filenames in order of their modification date. Looking up the modification time is an expensive operation, especially when you have to do in N*log(N) times.

The answer we gave in the materials is not the best answer, though. It is short, so it fits on one slide, but it makes things seem worse than they really are. The Schwartzian Transform performs much better than our benchmark says it does.

```use Benchmark qw{ timethese };

timethese( -2, {
Ordinary => q{
my @results = sort { -M \$a <=> -M \$b } glob "/bin/*";
},
Schwartzian => q{
map \$_->[0],
sort { \$a->[1] <=> \$b->[1] }
map [\$_, -M],
glob "/bin/*";
},
});

First, if we are going to compare two things they need to be as alike as we can make them. Notice that in one case we assign to @results and in the other case we use map() in a void context. They do different things: one sorts and stores, and one just sorts. To compare them, they need to produce the same thing. In this case, they both need to store their result.

Second, we want to isolate the parts that are different and abstract the parts that are the same. In each code string we do a glob(), which we already know is an expensive operation. That taints the results because it adds to the time for the two sorts of, um, sorts.

## The solution

While the students were doing their lab exercises, I rewrote our benchmark. It's a lot longer and wouldn't fit on a slide, but it gives more accurate results. I also run Benchmark's timethese() function with a time value (a negative number) and then an iteration count. The first runs the code as many times as it can in the given time, and the second times the code run a certain number of times. Different people tend to understand one or the other better, so I provide both.

I break up the task in bits, and I want to time the different bits to see how they impact the overall task. I identify three major parts to benchmark: creating a list of files, sorting the files, and assigning the sorted list. I'm going to time each of those individually, and I am also going to time the bigger task. I also want to see how much the numbers improve from the example we have in the slides, so I use the original code strings too.

```#!/usr/bin/perl
use strict;

use Benchmark;

\$L::glob  = "/usr/local/*/*";
@L::files = glob \$L::glob;

print "Testing with " . @L::files . " files\n";

my \$transform =
q|map \$_->[0], sort { \$a->[1] <=> \$b->[1] } map [ \$_, -M ]|;
my \$sort      = q|sort { -M \$a <=> -M \$b }|;

my \$code = {
assign               =>  q| my @r       = @L::files              |,
'glob'               =>  q| my @files   = glob \$L::glob          |,

sort_names           =>  q| sort { \$a cmp \$b } @L::files         |,
sort_names_assign    =>  q| my @r = sort { \$a cmp \$b } @L::files |,
sort_times_assign    =>  q| my @r = \$sort              @L::files |,

ordinary_orig        => qq| my \@r = \$sort glob \\$L::glob        |,
ordinary_mod         => qq| my \@r = \$sort      \@L::files       |,

schwartz_orig        => qq|          \$transform, glob \\$L::glob  |,
schwartz_orig_assign => qq| my \@r = \$transform, glob \\$L::glob  |,
schwartz_mod         => qq| my \@r = \$transform, \@L::files      |,
} ;

# # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #
print "Timing for 2 CPU seconds...\n";

timethese( -2, \$code );

# # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #
my \$iterations = 1_000;

print "-" x 73, "\n";
print "Timing for \$iterations iterations\n";

timethese( \$iterations, \$code );

First, I create some package variables. Benchmark turns my code strings into subroutines, and I want those subroutines to find these variables. They have to be global (package) variables. Although I know Benchmark puts these subroutines in the main:: package, I use L::*.

The \$L::glob variable is just the pattern I want glob to use. I specify it once and use it everywhere I use glob. That way, every code string gets the same list of files. If I were really fancy, I would set that from the command line arguments so I could easily run this with other directories to watch how performance varies with list size. The transform is going to be slow for a small number of files, but be a lot better for large number of files ( N instead of N*log(N) ).

I also want to run some code strings that don't use a glob, so I pre-glob the directory and store the list in @L::files.

To make the code strings a bit easier to read, I define \$transform and \$sort. I use these when I create the code string. I avoid excessively long lines this way, and the code still looks nice in my terminal window even though I've blown it up to full screen (still at 80x24) and projected it on a much larger screen.

The \$code anonymous hash has the code strings. I want to test the pieces as well as the whole thing, so I start off with control strings to assign the list of files to a variable and to run a glob. Benchmark is also running an empty subroutine behind the scenes so it can adjust its time for that overhead too. I expect the "assign" times to be insignificant and the glob times to be a big deal. At the outset, I suspect the glob may be as much as a third of the time of the benchmarks.

The next set of code strings measure the sort. The "sort_names" string tries it in void context, and the "sort_names_assign" does the same thing but assigns its result to an array. I expect a measurable difference, and the difference to be the same as the time for the "assign" string.

Then I try the original code strings from our exercise example, and call that "ordinary_orig". That one uses a glob(), which I think inflates the time significantly. The "ordinary_mod" string uses the list of files in @L::files, which is the same thing as the glob() without the glob(). I expect these two to differ by the time of the "glob" code string.

The last set of strings compare three things. The "schwartz_orig" string is the one we started with. In "schwartz_orig_assign", I fix that to assign to an array, just like we did with the other original code string. If we want to compare them, they have to do the same thing. The final code string, "schwartz_mod", gets rid of the glob().

Now I have control code to see how different parts of the overall task perform, and I have two good code strings, "original_mod" and "schwartz_mod" to compare. That's the comparison that matters.

## The results

The Benchmark module provides the report, which I re-formatted to make it a bit easier to read (so some of the output is missing and some lines are shorter). The results are not surprising, although I like to show the students that they didn't waste an hour listening to me talk about how wonderful the transform is.

```albook_brian[519]\$ perl benchmark
Testing with 380 files
Timing for 2 CPU seconds...
Benchmark: running assign, glob, ordinary_mod, ordinary_orig, schwartz
+_mod, schwartz_orig,
schwartz_orig_assign, sort_names, sort_names_assign for at least 2
+ CPU seconds...
assign:            (2.03 usr + 0.00 sys = 2.03 CPU) (n=   6063)
glob:            (0.81 usr + 1.27 sys = 2.08 CPU) (n=    372)
ordinary_mod:          (0.46 usr + 1.70 sys = 2.16 CPU) (n=     80)
ordinary_orig:         (0.51 usr + 1.64 sys = 2.15 CPU) (n=     66)
schwartz_mod:          (1.54 usr + 0.51 sys = 2.05 CPU) (n=    271)
schwartz_orig:         (1.06 usr + 1.03 sys = 2.09 CPU) (n=    174)
schwartz_orig_assign:  (1.20 usr + 0.87 sys = 2.07 CPU) (n=    156)
sort_names:            (2.09 usr + 0.01 sys = 2.10 CPU) (n=3595626)
sort_names_assign:     (2.16 usr + 0.00 sys = 2.16 CPU) (n=   5698)
----------------------------------------------------------------------
+---
Timing for 1000 iterations
Benchmark: timing 1000 iterations of assign, glob, ordinary_mod, ordin
+ary_orig, schwartz_mod,
schwartz_orig, schwartz_orig_assign, sort_names, sort_names_assign
+...
assign:            1 secs ( 0.33 usr +  0.00 sys =  0.33 CPU)
glob:            6 secs ( 2.31 usr +  3.30 sys =  5.61 CPU)
ordinary_mod:         28 secs ( 5.57 usr + 21.49 sys = 27.06 CPU)
ordinary_orig:        34 secs ( 7.86 usr + 24.74 sys = 32.60 CPU)
schwartz_mod:          8 secs ( 5.12 usr +  2.47 sys =  7.59 CPU)
schwartz_orig:        12 secs ( 6.63 usr +  5.52 sys = 12.15 CPU)
schwartz_orig_assign: 14 secs ( 7.76 usr +  5.41 sys = 13.17 CPU)
sort_names:            0 secs ( 0.00 usr +  0.00 sys =  0.00 CPU)
sort_names_assign:     0 secs ( 0.39 usr +  0.00 sys =  0.39 CPU)

The "sort_names" result stands out. It ran almost 2 million times a second. It also doesn't do anything since it is in a void context. It runs really fast, and it runs just as fast no matter what I put in the sort() block. I need to know this to run a good benchmark: a sort() in void context will always be the fastest. The difference between the sort() and the map() in void context is not as pronounced in "schwartz_orig" and "schwartz_orig_assign" because it's only the last map that is in void context. Both still have the rightmost map() and the sort() to compute before it can optimize for void context. There is an approximately 10% difference in the number of extra iterations the "schwartz_orig" can go through, so the missing assignment gave it an apparent but unwarranted boost in our original example.

I like to look at the second set of results for the comparisons, and use the wallclock seconds even though they are not as exact as the CPU seconds. The "glob" code string took about six seconds, and the "schwartz_orig_assign" code string took 14 seconds. If I subtract those extra six seconds from the 14, I get the wallclock time for "schwartz_mod", just like I expected. That's over a third of the time! The "ordinary_*" times drop six seconds too, but from 34 to 28 seconds, so the percent difference is not as alarming.

So, "ordinary_orig" and "schwartz_orig_assign" take 34 and 14 seconds, respectively. That's 2.5 times longer for the ordinary sort(). I expect the first to be O( N*log(N) ), and the second to be O( N ). Their quotient is then just O( log( N ) ), roughly. There were 380 files, so log(N) = log(380) = 6, which is a lot more than 2.5. The "ordinary_orig" could have been a bit worse (although the transform has some extra overhead that is probably skewing that number).

The modified versions, "ordinary_mod" and "schwartz_mod", have times 28 and 8 seconds, for a quotient of 3.5. That extra glob() obscured some of that because it added a constant time to each.

## Burning even more time

This is the point where a good scientist (or any business person) makes a chart using Excel. That's what I did for my Benchmark article in The Perl Journal #11 I want to see how the difference scales, so I try the same benchmark with more and more files. For the rest of the comparisons, I'll use the actual CPU time since the round-off error is a lot higher now.

### 873 files

Notice that the glob() still has a significant affect on the times, and that the original transform that was in the void context is still shaving off about 10% off the real time. The quotient between the transform and the ordinary sort() is 73 / 20 = 3.6, which is a little bit higher than before. Now log( N ) = log( 873 ) = 6.8, so although the transform still outperforms the ordinary sort(), it hasn't gotten that much better. The sort() performance can vary based on its input, so this comparison to log( N ) doesn't really mean much. It isn't an order of magnitude different (well, at least in powers of 10 it isn't), so that is something, I guess.

```Benchmark: timing 1000 iterations of glob, ordinary_mod, schwartz_mod,
+ schwartz_orig_assign...
glob:           14 secs ( 6.28 usr +  8.00 sys = 14.28 CPU)
ordinary_mod:         73 secs (14.25 usr + 57.05 sys = 71.30 CPU)
ordinary_orig:        93 secs (20.83 usr + 66.14 sys = 86.97 CPU)
schwartz_mod:         20 secs (14.06 usr +  5.52 sys = 19.58 CPU)
schwartz_orig:        32 secs (17.38 usr + 13.59 sys = 30.97 CPU)
schwartz_orig_assign: 34 secs (19.95 usr + 13.60 sys = 33.55 CPU)

### 3162 files

Idle CPUs are wasted CPUs, but I think I'd rather have an idle CPU instead of one doing this benchmark. My disk was spinning quite a bit as I ran this benchmark. The quotient could be as bad a log(N) = log(3162) = 8.0, but with the real numbers, I got 603 / 136 = 4.4.

How is the transform scaling? The quotient with 873 files was 19.6. So, does 3612 / 873 come close to 136.2 / 19.6? For a four-fold increase in files, the map took about 7 times longer. How about the ordinary sort(), with 603.8 / 71.3? It took 8.4 times as long. Don't be fooled into thinking that the transform and the sort() are close: the sort() took 8.4 times as long as an already long time. It's paying compound interest!

Look at the huge penalty from the glob()! Now the glob() takes almost as much time as the transform. If we stuck with the original solution, students might think that the transform wasn't so hot.

```Benchmark: timing 1000 iterations of glob, ordinary_mod, schwartz_mod,
+ schwartz_orig_assign...
glob:           148 secs ( 31.26 usr + 102.59 sys = 133.85 CPU)
ordinary_mod:         675 secs ( 86.64 usr + 517.19 sys = 603.83 CPU)
ordinary_orig:        825 secs (116.55 usr + 617.62 sys = 734.17 CPU)
schwartz_mod:         151 secs ( 68.88 usr +  67.32 sys = 136.20 CPU)
schwartz_orig:        297 secs ( 89.33 usr + 174.51 sys = 263.84 CPU)
schwartz_orig_assign: 294 secs ( 96.68 usr + 168.76 sys = 265.44 CPU)

## In summary

If we want to believe our benchmarks, we have to know what goes into their numbers. Separate out the bits of the task and benchmark those separately to provide controls. Ensure that the actual code strings that you want to compare give the same result. If they don't end up with the same thing, we don't have a useful comparison.

In this case, separating the glob() from the rest of the code removed a huge performance hit that had nothing to do with the comparison. This penalty only got worse as the list of files became longer.

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Wasting time thinking about wasted time
by theorbtwo (Prior) on Sep 23, 2004 at 12:37 UTC

It looks to me like the major case where the benchmark straight-out lies (well, where you, the speaker, presumably lie about what it's saying) is that the first snippet is in list context, and the second is in void context. Simply adding my @results = before the initial (in lexical order; final in execution order) map would fix that, and still have it fit on your slide (assuming your slide uses a monospaced font). You could probably even write it on a sepperate line and still have it fit on the slide.

The rest of the changes make the benchmark more useful, perhaps, but they do not unfairly favor one over the other -- the most important type of error to avoid in any benchmark. (The reason, for example, that polls should rotate the options -- there's a significant bias amongst voters for the first option listed on a form.)

Warning: Unless otherwise stated, code is untested. Do not use without understanding. Code is posted in the hopes it is useful, but without warranty. All copyrights are relinquished into the public domain unless otherwise stated. I am not an angel. I am capable of error, and err on a fairly regular basis. If I made a mistake, please let me know (such as by replying to this node).

Re: Wasting time thinking about wasted time
by bluto (Curate) on Sep 23, 2004 at 15:25 UTC
One thing you may have taken into account (though I probably missed) is that most filesystems, even network ones, tend to cache file attributes. The very first test that runs tends to get poor results. Even if the cache is warmed up, the caching behavior also changes as soon as you test on a large enough population of files. The cache in this case can turn into a kind of FIFO buffer, though you will still see caching effects (esp with sorts).

One way to help mitigate this is to test on a network filesystem with attribute caching disabled (e.g. many NFSs use the -noac option on the mount). You will probably still see server side caching effects, though I imagine the network delays will tend to dominate.

Another way to handle this might be to put the results for file attributes into a hash before the actual benchmark timing, and then introduce a constant delay during each lookup. (You could time how long it took to fill the initial hash and then use that to compute the delay, but then again this too can be affected by a warm cache...)

Generally working on a mounted filesystem for test one, then unmounting, then remounting, before running test two, eliminates cache issues for most OSes

I run these kind of benchmarks against my usb thumbdrive. Easy to mount, easy to unmount, and the drive's so fast that it tends to reduce or eliminate disk speed confusion in benchmarks

Cheers,
Erik

Light a man a fire, he's warm for a day. Catch a man on fire, and he's warm for the rest of his life. - Terry Pratchet

Generally working on a mounted filesystem for test one, then unmounting, then remounting, before running test two, eliminates cache issues for most OSes

When benchmarking in perl, I'm assuming that the first test case to run will incur the cold cache issues on it's very first run. After that every other test should run in the cache. It seems like you'd have to unmount every single test run -- not necessarily pleasant. It's Monday so I'm probably missing something...

Re: Wasting time thinking about wasted time
by Aristotle (Chancellor) on Sep 26, 2004 at 17:14 UTC

It's a lot longer and wouldn't fit on a slide

I don't see why it has to be. You can level the playing field without any significant difference.

```use Benchmark qw( timethese );
my @files = glob "/bin/*";
timethese( -2, {
Ordinary => sub {
() = sort { -M \$a <=> -M \$b } @files
},
Schwartzian => sub {
() =
map \$_->[0],
sort { \$a->[1] <=> \$b->[1] }
map [ \$_, -M ],
@files;
},
},
);

And that's it. Note that I always use sub refs with Benchmark, so the package issues don't even come up. You could assign to an actual array if you don't feel like explaining the () = .. construct, but it wouldn't make an appreciable difference in the code.

Makeshifts last the longest.

Re: Wasting time thinking about wasted time
by salva (Abbot) on May 26, 2006 at 18:08 UTC
The maths you are doing here are plain wrong!

O expressions only show how an algorithm performance scales depending on the size of the data. They can't be manipulated as regular math expressions, and so O(NlogN) / O(N) != logN .

Undoing the tipical simplifications performed to get to the O expression, we can obtain a valid expression for the number of operations required by an algorithm. For instance, for an O(NlogN) algorithm as perl built-in sort, the number of operations should be something like A*NlogN + B*N + C (where A, B and C are unknown constants).

For an O(N) algorithm the number of operations is usually B'*N + C'. But when sorting using the ST the cost of the algorithm is still O(NlogN), you can not ignore the sort step, even if it is implemented in fast C. So the real number of operations is A'*NlogN + B'*N + C', though A' is much smaller than A.

Considering all this, the resulting relative performance between both algorithms is (A*NlogN + B*N + C)/(A'NlogN + B'*N + C)

It's very different from the logN value you were using and that's why the benchmark results don't mach your expectations.

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