Perl is Good for Nothing

I love Perl – and the perl interpreter always impresses me.  Today, I decided to try a few languages to see how they compare.

How well does the language do nothing?  I decided to test this out on my fairly speedy Macbook Pro.  All tests were executed multiple times and the best result was used for this post, to account for various caching speedups.

First, C:

do-nothing$ touch nothing.c
do-nothing$ time clang nothing.c
Undefined symbols for architecture x86_64:
  "_main", referenced from:
     implicit entry/start for main executable
ld: symbol(s) not found for architecture x86_64
clang: error: linker command failed with exit code 1 (use -v to see invocation)

real	0m0.041s
user	0m0.017s
sys	0m0.017s

So, C can spit out an error that will probably not make sense to people new to the language (it’s missing a main function, although usually you’ll define main without a leading underscore – for reasons I won’t get into here).  But it was fairly quick – about 40ms (I repeated this several times to account for caching).

Next I tried Java (using the SunOracle implementation):

do-nothing$ touch
do-nothing$ time javac

real 0m0.759s
user 0m1.323s
sys 0m0.105s

Java doesn’t throw any errors, but it takes over 750ms to compile nothing (in a somewhat satisfyingly mathematically pure way, it literally produces nothing – no output files are created). When I ran javac with the -verbose option (how a Unix workstation company would think long options with a single hypen are okay is beyond me, but I digress), it spits out some timing information. It takes 23ms to parse nothing and roughly 290ms to do the compilation. I can only assume the other 450ms or so are going to compiler startup overhead.

How about Ruby?

do-nothing$ touch nothing.rb
do-nothing$ time ruby nothing.rb

real 0m0.073s
user 0m0.053s
sys 0m0.010s

It takes 73ms to do nothing, but it does properly do nothing.

How about Python (v2)?

do-nothing:t$ touch
do-nothing:t$ time python

real 0m0.018s
user 0m0.009s
sys 0m0.007s

Python does nothing pretty darn well – 18ms!

Now, my language of choice, Perl 5:

do-nothing$ touch
do-nothing$ time perl

real 0m0.006s
user 0m0.002s
sys 0m0.003s

Brilliant – it does nothing very quickly compared to other languages – 6ms.

That said, my old version (Christmas) of the Rokudo-based Perl 6 takes roughly 250ms – not all that good. I’m not sure how the newer versions do. It’s certainly a powerful new language (you should think of Perl 5 and Perl 6 as distinct language – both are being actively developed with new features, optimizations, bug fixes, etc, added to both continually, with no plans to discontinue development on either).

So, It think, in conclusion:

  • C isn’t good for nothing
  • Java can’t do nothing quickly
  • Perl 6 can do nothing, but not too quickly
  • Ruby seems okay for nothing, while Python 2 is pretty darn good at nothing
  • Perl 5 is good for nothing!

(Yes, this post is 90% jest – startup time of the tools is important, but is almost always a dumb reason to pick a language)

4 thoughts on “Perl is Good for Nothing

  1. Pingback: Making PAR::Packer Work with RPM | Digital Barbed Wire

  2. I got Perl 6, version 2018.09-453, and made a with nothing in it and did a time perl6

    real 0m0.153s
    user 0m0.164s
    sys 0m0.016s

    That’s a lot better than your 250ms. It’s still not good. But when somebody is going to spend some valuable time on the startup process, there is a lot to be gained. It is not going to be easy though…


  3. What makes you believe one can “measure” C startup perfomance this way?
    The very Perl interpreter (same for Python, Ruby, etc and probably the C
    compiler itself) is written in C! In all this cases you “measured” C’s startup
    time aswell. 😉

    C is not an interpreted language, so compiling and running are 2 different
    steps. All you measured here is the C compiler’s startup time which might
    be quite high indeed, similar holds for Java.

    Do this instead:

    $ echo ‘int main ( void ) { return 0 ; }’ > nothing.c

    and now compile it:

    $ gcc -O2 -s nothing.c

    There you go:

    $ time [-p] ./a.out

    How does this compare?
    How fast is “doing nothing” in C really?

    Maybe the other scripting languages can also speed up by
    reducing the libraries they might suck in at startup, I dunno.


  4. Pingback: Perl Weekly Challenge 13 Task 1 – Smallest Script | Digital Barbed Wire

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