[erlang-questions] Erlang shows its slow face!

Anders Nygren anders.nygren@REDACTED
Tue Nov 16 16:23:10 CET 2010

On Tue, Nov 16, 2010 at 8:20 AM, Kostis Sagonas <kostis@REDACTED> wrote:
> Richard O'Keefe wrote:
>> ... SNIP
>> The time for p0 was 420 milliseconds in Erlang.
>> On the same machine, the same function, the time was
>> 91 milliseconds in SML/NJ.
>>            SML/NJ  MLton   Erlang
>> n=100 L= 34 s=0.004 m=0.004 e=0.020
>> n=200 L= 86 s=0.028 m=0.027 e=0.130
>> n=300 L=146 s=0.090 m=0.086 e=0.410
>> n=400 L=210 s=0.213 m=0.202 e=0.980
>> n=500 L=274 s=0.415 m=0.394 e=1.900
>> We see that Erlang is about 5 times slower than SML.
> Is Erlang running native code here?
> (Because both SML/NJ and MLton are.)
>> Here's the SML code.
>> ...  What's more, SML is
>> strongly typed, and the Dialyzer should be able to handle this,
>> so the compiler *knows* it is dealing with integers.
> Let's leave dialyzer out of this discussion -- it is a type analyzer
> alright, but the types it infers are not necessarily usable for optimization
> purposes (I can possibly elaborate in some other mail).
> Can you post p0 to see whether the compiler can infer whether the program
> deals with integers or not?
>> There are two basic issues here:
>> (1) The Erlang compiler doesn't really handle list comprehension as
>>    native loops; it compiles list comprehensions to recursive
>>    functions.  lists:seq(1, N) is not special syntax -- unlike Haskell --
>>    and almost surely builds an actual list.
> Yes.  This is an issue.  Actually, it's more general: in my experience most
> Erlang programmers do not understand the difference between list
> comprehensions and lists:foreach/2. Many of them find list comprehension
> notation so nice that they often use it in places where building the list is
> not only is not their intention but is completely unnecessary.
> The compiler is not sufficiently clever to perform deforestation and avoid
> construction of intermediate lists.

Maybe You are talking about some special case here that I missed but the
"Efficiency Guide" ch 5.2, in the documentation says
"In R12B, if the result of the list comprehension will obviously not
be used, a list will not be constructed."


>>    This could be changed, and maybe some day it will change.
>> (2) Erlang is compiled incrementally to support hot loading and
>>    (again in order to support hot loading) does not do much if any
>>    cross-module inlining.
>>    MLton is a whole-program optimising compiler, it can SML _are_
>>    allowed to do cross-module inlining by the nature of the language.
>>    This *can't* be changed without making Erlang less useful for its job.
>> Ah, but there's one more wrinkle!
> Yes, there is that too in Erlang ;-)
>>            SML/NJ  Erlang  SML/NJ     Smalltalk
>> n=100 L= 34 s=0.004 e=0.020 s= 0.250   p1=0.016
>> n=200 L= 86 s=0.028 e=0.130 s= 1.904   p1=0.109
>> n=300 L=146 s=0.090 e=0.410 s= 6.567   p1=0.369
>> n=400 L=210 s=0.213 e=0.980 s=15.581   p1=0.873
>> n=500 L=274 s=0.415 e=1.900 s=30.218   p1=1.705
>> (3) Erlang integer arithmetic is *not* limited to some ridiculous
>>    size like 32 bits, it is _semantically_ unbounded integer
>>    arithmetic, with a space-efficient representation and fast
>>    calculation path for small integers.  To get something
>>    comparable in SML, you have to use the type IntInf.int
>>    instead of Int.int.  And when you do *that*, Erlang really
>>    really shines.
>>    The difference here is that if you use int in C or Java or C#
>>    or SML, then you'll find a positive integer n such that n+1 < 0.
>>    That kind of nonsense simply doesn't happen in Erlang.
>>    It comes with a price, but the price of *not* using a Lispy
>>    (or Smalltalky, or Erlangy) approach to integers is the price
>>    of getting wrong answers without knowing.
>>    The Smalltalk column was done using my Smalltalk-via-C compiler.
>>    It might be possible to go a factor of 2 faster using machine-
>>    specific assembly code, but what we seem to be looking at in
>>    the Erlang column really does seem to be no more than the
>>    price of arithmetic that gives correct results.
> Thanks for a nice post!
> Kostis
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