I stumbled onto an interesting article about performance when using python, called Python performance the easy(ish) way, where the author tries to get the bet available performances out of the dumbiest possible python code, trying to solve a very simple and stupid problem.

With so many smart qualifiers you can only guess that I did love the challenge. The idea is to write the simplest code possible and see how smarter you need to be when you need perfs. Let’s have a try!

local python results

Here’s the code I did use to benchmark the python solution:

def sumrange(arg):
    return sum(xrange(arg))

def sumrange2(arg):
    x = i = 0
    while i < arg:
        x += i
        i += 1
    return x

import ctypes
ct_sumrange = ctypes.CDLL('/Users/dim/dev/CL/jiaroo/sumrange.so')

def sumrange_ctypes(arg):
    return ct_sumrange.sumrange(arg)

if __name__ == "__main__":
    import timeit
    t1 = timeit.Timer('import jiaroo; jiaroo.sumrange(10**10)')
    t2 = timeit.Timer('import jiaroo; jiaroo.sumrange2(10**10)')
    ct = timeit.Timer('import jiaroo; jiaroo.sumrange_ctypes(10**10)')

    print 'timing python sumrange(10**10)'
    print 'xrange: %5fs' % t1.timeit(1)
    print 'while:  %5fs' % t2.timeit(1)
    print 'ctypes: %5fs' % ct.timeit(1)

Oh. And the C code too, sorry about that.

#include <stdio.h>

int sumrange(int arg)
    int i, x;
    x = 0;

    for (i = 0; i < arg; i++) {
        x = x + i;
    return x;

And here’s how I did compile it. The author of the inspiring article insisted on stupid optimisation targets, I did follow him:

gcc -shared -Wl,-install_name,sumrange.so -o sumrange.so -fPIC sumrange.c -O0

And here’s the result I did get out of it:

$ python jiaroo.py
timing python sumrange(10**10)
xrange: 927.039917s
while:  2377.291237s
ctypes: 5.297124s

Let’s be fair, with -O2 we get much better results:

timing python sumrange(10**10)
ctypes: 1.065684s

Common Lisp to the rescue

So let’s have a try in Common Lisp, will you ask me, right?

Here’s the code I did use, you can see three different tries:

;;;; jiaroo.lisp
;;; See http://jiaaro.com/python-performance-the-easyish-way
;;; The goal here is to find out if CL needs to resort to C for very simple
;;; optimisation tricks like python apparently needs too, unless using pypy
;;; (to some extend).

(in-package #:jiaroo)

;;; "jiaroo" goes here. Hacks and glory await!

(defun sumrange-loop (max)
  "return the sum of numbers from 1 to MAX"
  (let ((sum 0))
    (declare (type (and unsigned-byte fixnum) max sum)
	     (optimize speed))
    (loop for i fixnum from 1 to max do (incf sum i))))

(defun sumrange-dotimes (max)
  "return the sum of numbers from 1 to MAX"
  (let ((sum 0))
    (declare (type (and unsigned-byte fixnum) max sum)
	     (optimize speed))
    (dotimes (i max sum)
      (incf sum i))))

(defun pk-sumrange (max)
  (declare (type (and unsigned-byte fixnum) max)
	   (optimize speed))
  (let ((sum 0))
    (declare (type (and fixnum unsigned-byte) sum))
    (dotimes (i max sum)
      (setf sum (logand (+ sum i) most-positive-fixnum)))))

(defmacro timing (&body forms)
  "return both how much real time was spend in body and its result"
  (let ((start (gensym))
	(end (gensym))
	(result (gensym)))
    `(let* ((,start (get-internal-real-time))
	    (,result (progn ,@forms))
	    (,end (get-internal-real-time)))
       (values ,result (/ (- ,end ,start) internal-time-units-per-second)))))

(defun bench-sumrange (power)
  "print execution time of both the previous functions"
  (let* ((max (expt 10 power))
	 (lp-time (multiple-value-bind (r s) (timing (sumrange-loop max)) s))
	 (dt-time (multiple-value-bind (r s) (timing (sumrange-dotimes max)) s))
	 (pk-time (multiple-value-bind (r s) (timing (pk-sumrange max)) s)))
    (format t "timing common lisp sumrange 10**~d~%" power)
    (format t "loop:       ~2,3fs ~%" lp-time)
    (format t "dotimes:    ~2,3fs ~%" dt-time)
    (format t "pk dotimes: ~2,3fs ~%" pk-time)))

And here’s the results:

CL-USER> (bench-sumrange 10)
timing common lisp sumrange 10**10
loop:       11.213s 
dotimes:    7.642s 
pk dotimes: 22.185s 


So python is very slow. C is pretty fast. And Common Lisp just in the middle. Honnestly I expected better performances from my beloved Common Lisp here, but I didn’t try very hard, by using Clozure Common Lisp which is not the quicker Common Lisp implementation around. For this very benchmark, if you’re seeking speed use either Steel Bank Common Lisp or CLISP which is known to have a pretty fast bignums implementation (which you don’t need in 64 bits in that game).

On the other hand, I think that having to go write a C plugin and deal with how to compile and deploy it in the middle of a python script is something to avoid. When using Common Lisp you don’t need to resort to that for the runtime to get down from python xrange implementation at 927.039917s down to the dotimes implementation taking 7.642s. That’s about 121 times faster.

So while C is even better, and while I would like a Common Lisp guru to show me how to get a better speed here, I still very much appreciate the solution here.

Let’s see the winning source code in python and common lisp to compare the programmer side of things: how hard was it really to get 121 times faster?

def sumrange(arg):
    return sum(xrange(arg))
(defun sumrange-dotimes (max)
  "return the sum of numbers from 1 to MAX"
  (let ((sum 0))
    (declare (type (and unsigned-byte fixnum) max sum)
	     (optimize speed))
    (dotimes (i max sum)
      (incf sum i))))

That’s about it. Yes we can see some manual optimisation directives here, which are optimisation extra complexity. Not to the same level as bringing a compiled artifact that you need to build and deploy, though. Remember that you will need to know the full path where to find the sumrange.so file on the production system, in the optimised python case, so that’s what we are comparing against.

Here’s what happens without the optimisation, and with a smaller target:

CL-USER> (time (jiaroo:sumrange-dotimes (expt 10 9)))
took 722,592 microseconds (0.722592 seconds) to run.
During that period, and with 2 available CPU cores,
     714,709 microseconds (0.714709 seconds) were spent in user mode
       1,183 microseconds (0.001183 seconds) were spent in system mode

CL-USER> (time (let ((sum 0)) (dotimes (i (expt 10 9) sum) (incf sum i))))
(LET ((SUM 0)) (DOTIMES (I (EXPT 10 9) SUM) (INCF SUM I)))
took 2,174,767 microseconds (2.174767 seconds) to run.
During that period, and with 2 available CPU cores,
     2,156,549 microseconds (2.156549 seconds) were spent in user mode
        10,225 microseconds (0.010225 seconds) were spent in system mode

We get a 3 times speed-up from those 2 lines of lisp optimisation directives, which is pretty good. And it’s exponential as I didn’t have the patience to actually wait until the non optimised 10^10 run finished, I killed it.


That’s a case here where I don’t know how to reach C level of performances with Common Lisp, which could just be because I don’t know yet how to do.

Still, getting a 121 times speedup when compared to the pure python version of the code is pretty good and encourages me to continue diving into Common Lisp.