Skip to content

Performance

Disclaimer

In a previous version of this page, I compared Miller to some items in the Unix toolkit in terms of run time. But such comparisons are very much not apples-to-apples:

  • Miller's principal strength is that it handles key-value data in various formats while the system tools do not. So if you time mlr sort on a CSV file against system sort, it's not relevant to say which is faster by how many percent -- Miller will respect the header line, leaving it in place, while the system sort will move it, sorting it along with all the other header lines. This would be comparing the run times of two programs produce different outputs. Likewise, awk doesn't respect header lines, although you can code up some CSV-handling using if (NR==1) { ... } else { ... }. And that's just CSV: I don't know any simple way to get sort, awk, etc. to handle DKVP, JSON, etc. -- which is the main reason I wrote Miller.

  • Implementations differ by platform: one awk may be fundamentally faster than another, and mawk has a very efficient bytecode implementation -- which handles positionally indexed data far faster than Miller does.

  • The system sort command will, on some systems, handle too-large-for-RAM datasets by spilling to disk; Miller (as of version 5.2.0, mid-2017) does not. Miller sorts are always stable; GNU supports stable and unstable variants.

  • Etc.

Summary

Miller can do many kinds of processing on key-value-pair data using elapsed time roughly of the same order of magnitude as items in the Unix toolkit can handle positionally indexed data. Specific results vary widely by platform, implementation details, and multi-core use (or not). Lastly, specific special-purpose non-record-aware processing will run far faster if implemented in grep, sed, etc.

Some examples

This is some data from https://community.opencellid.org: approximately 40 million records, 0.9GB compressed, 3.2GB uncommpressed.

First we see that decompression is much cheaper than compression: 10 seconds vs. 2.5 minutes:

$ time gunzip cell_towers.csv.gz

real    0m10.431s
user    0m9.235s
sys     0m1.030s

$ ls -lh cell_towers.csv
-rw-r--r--  1 johnkerl  staff   3.2G Sep  8 17:13 cell_towers.csv

$ time gzip cell_towers.csv

real    2m30.171s
user    2m28.508s
sys     0m1.257s

$ ls -lh cell_towers.csv.gz
-rw-r--r--  1 johnkerl  staff   917M Sep  7 12:34 cell_towers.csv.gz

Next we look at system cut which needs to split on lines and fields. Since cut is in the Unix toolkit it handles integer column names, starting with 1.

$ gunzip < cell_towers.csv.gz | head -n 5
radio,mcc,net,area,cell,unit,lon,lat,range,samples,changeable,created,updated,averageSignal
UMTS,262,2,801,86355,0,13.285512,52.522202,1000,7,1,1282569574,1300155341,0
GSM,262,2,801,1795,0,13.276907,52.525714,5716,9,1,1282569574,1300155341,0
GSM,262,2,801,1794,0,13.285064,52.524,6280,13,1,1282569574,1300796207,0
UMTS,262,2,801,211250,0,13.285446,52.521744,1000,3,1,1282569574,1299466955,0
UMTS,262,2,801,86353,0,13.293457,52.521515,1000,2,1,1282569574,1291380444,0

This takes about a minute and a half:

$ time cut -d, -f 1,2,12,13 cell_towers.csv > /dev/null

real    1m29.228s
user    1m26.347s
sys     0m2.426s

Columns 1,2,12,13 are the same as radio,mcc,created,updated. Since decompression is quick, it's perhaps unsurprising that whether we decompress and have Miller read uncompressed data, or have it decompress in-process, or use an external decompressor with --prepipe, the results are about the same. This is not as fast as cut, but it's in the ballpark.


$ gunzip cell_towers.csv.gz
$ time mlr --csv cut -f radio,mcc,created,updated cell_towers.csv > /dev/null

real    4m10.097s
user    8m56.975s
sys     4m40.046s

$ gzip cell_towers.csv
$ time mlr --csv cut -f radio,mcc,created,updated cell_towers.csv.gz > /dev/null

real    4m14.185s
user    9m5.044s
sys     4m23.886s

$ time mlr --csv --prepipe gunzip cut -f radio,mcc,created,updated cell_towers.csv.gz > /dev/null

real    4m13.614s
user    9m5.623s
sys     4m57.827s