What Is Your Python Budget?

Jan 18 2013 Published by under General, New York, Python

C programmers, by necessity, generally develop a mental model for understanding the performance characteristics of their code. Developing this intuition in a high level language like Python can be more of a challenge. While good Python tools exist for identifying time and memory performance (line_profiler by Robert Kern and guppy by Sverker Nilsson), you are largely on your own if you want to develop intuition for code that is yet to be written. Understanding the cost of basic operations in your Python implementation can help guide design decisions by ruling out extensive use of expensive operations.

Why is this important you ask? Interactive applications appear responsive when they react to user behaviour within a given time budget. In our consulting engagements, we often find that a lack of awareness regarding the cost of common operations can lead to sluggish application performance. Some examples of user interaction thresholds:

  • If you are targeting 60 fps in a multimedia application you have 16 milliseconds of processing time per frame. In this time, you need to update state, figure out what is visible, and then draw it.
  • Well behaved applications will load a functional screen that a user can interact with in under a second. Depending on your application, you may need to create an expensive datastructure upfront before your user can interact with the application. Often one needs to find a way to at least make it feel like the one second constraint is being respected.
  • You run Gentoo / Arch. In this case, obsessing over performance is a way of life.

Obviously rules are meant to be broken, but knowing where to be frugal can help you avoid or troubleshoot performance problems. Performance data for Python and PyPy are listed below.

Machine configuration

CPU – AMD 8150

RAM – 16 GB PC3-12800

Windows 7 64 bit

Python 2.7.2 — EPD 7.3-1 (64-bit)

PyPy 2.0.0-beta1 with MSC v.1500 32 bit
Steps to obtain timings and create table from data

python measure.py cpython.data
pypy measure.py pypy.data

python draw_table.py cpython.data cpython.png
python draw_table.py pypy.data pypy.png

To obtain the code to measure timings and create the associated tables for your own machine, checkout https://github.com/deepankarsharma/cost-of-python

CPython timing data


PyPy timing data



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