Improving Perl Application Performance

The four basic performance-tuning steps to improve an existing application's performance.

During this process I identified a function that probably wasn't performing as well as it could. I was able to achieve several modest performance gains by refining the logic of the calculation in Perl. I also tried using an open-source package, only to find that it was 48% worse than my original function. Finally, I implemented the standard deviation function in C and exposed it to Perl through an XS layer. The C version showed a 1,175% speedup compared to the original Perl version. Improvements are summarized in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Comparison of All Implementations

In most cases, I have seen Perl performance that rivals C; however, this obviously isn't one of those cases. Perl is a good general-purpose language, and one of its benefits is the ability to step out of the language and implement code in a lower-level language. Don't be afraid of language mix-ins when you really need to improve performance, as long as you understand that there is a maintenance cost. The disadvantage of introducing additional languages is that it will increase the burden for those that must maintain the application in the future. They will need to know C and understand XS functions. However, in our case, the improved performance significantly outweighed the impact of supporting XS.

Bruce W. Lowther ( is a software engineer for Micron Technology, Inc., in Boise, Idaho. He has worked at Micron for nine years and has spent the past five years there working on tools to help integrate semiconductor equipment into the Micron manufacturing process. He received his undergraduate and Master's degrees in Computer Science from the University of Idaho.



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standard deviations..

Nagilum's picture

use Statistics::Descriptive;
my $stat = Statistics::Descriptive::Sparse->new();
print $stat->standard_deviation() . "\n";

-> 2153.60937343181

sub std_dev_ref_sum {
my $ar = shift;
my $elements = scalar @$ar;
my $sum = 0;
my $sumsq = 0;
foreach (@$ar) {
$sum += $_;
$sumsq += ($_ **2);
return sqrt( $sumsq/$elements -
(($sum/$elements) ** 2));
print std_dev_ref_sum(\@scratch) . "\n";

-> 1758.41469005422

Someone makes a mistake here..

Difference between standard deviation, knowing full population

anonymous's picture

The difference between the two calculations:

The calculation in the Statistics::Descriptive package assumes that the data available is a sample from the population, does not contain the full population. See:
In the Statistics::Descriptive documentation, this is referenced by the note: "Returns the standard deviation of the data. Division by n-1 is used."

The calculation used in the article assumes that the data represents the full population.

Err... No.

Gordan Bobic's picture

In most cases, I have seen Perl performance that rivals C;

I would love to see you demonstrate even just one example where this is the case. The gain of _only_ 11.75x of your "C" over Perl in the case you describe is because you used XS for the implementation and not pure C with XS to just glue the two together. For big arrays you'll find it's faster to transcribe the Perl array into a C array of floats, and to do the work in pure C. Perl is usually about two orders of magnitude (100x) slower than C or decently coded C++.

What you say about object oriented interfaces slowing things down is also completely untrue. The only thing you'll save by using procedural rather than OO implementation is a pointer dereference when you call the std_dev method on the object - which is negligible compared to the calculations inside the function.

Re: Improving Perl Application Performance

Anonymous's picture

Hopefully, in the future, there will be less of a need for this sort of thing... With any luck, Perl6 and Parrot will prove to be faster, and far easier to integrate with C. In fact, the equivalent Parrot routines are already only about 3x slower than the equivalent C program, and both are far faster than Perl5 is today. (code follows)
-- pb

time N0 # time
mul N0, 1048576.0
mod N0, N0, 2000000000.0
set I0, N0 # seed
new P0, .Random # rng
set P0, I0 # seed the rng
set I0, 1000000 # array size
set I1, I0
set I2, 100 # loops
new P1, .SArray
set P1, I1
set N0, P0 # random numbers
mul N0, N0, I0
dec I1
set P1[I1], N0
time N4
set I1, P1 # array size
set N3, I1
div N3, 1, N3 # 1 / array size
set N1, 0
set N2, 0
dec I1
set N0, P1[I1]
add N1, N1, N0 # sum
mul N0, N0, N0
add N2, N2, N0 # sumsq
mul N1, N1, N3 # sum / array size
mul N1, N1, N1 # (squared)
mul N2, N2, N3 # sumsq / array size
sub N2, N2, N1 # -
pow N2, N2, 0.5 # sqrt
dec I2
time N5
sub N4, N5, N4
print N4 # time elapsed in bench loop
print "

That is parrot? That looks

Anonymous's picture

That is parrot? That looks like shit. I love perl but its as good as dead with this perl6 garbage.