A while ago I was in an online discussion regarding “Correct Tools for the Jobs” and how ruby was not a good language for developing say, an operating system.
Someone made a comment that it was not a good idea to use ruby for bayesian filtering of things like forum posts. (Bayesian filtering is one of the primary algorithms used for determining if an email or forum post is spam or not).
They made some performance claims which seemeds exceedingly slow, but also made some statements that made me suspect their application design was not all that it could be so I thought I would see if ruby was the guilty party.
This post is not primarily about bayesian filtering but about performance testing; it is probably most helpful to low to intermediate ruby developers.
In this post I will write about:
- Investigating to see if ruby can bayesian filter 1000 posts / second
- Finding a Bayesian filter
- Finding an appropriate data-set
- Writing some code to allow us to benchmark things
- Identifying performance bottlenecks using the stackprof gem and fixing them.
- Great success!
- “I learned something today”
If you are here for the performance analysis stuff with Stackprof then you can skip down to “The Analysing” section below.
So first we need to identify the claims made against ruby, this will determine what our goals are.
The poster made the following claims (Paraphrased slightly):
- “Implemented a Bayesian Filter to help deal with forum spam”
- “Tested under load”
- “Sometimes took up to 15 seconds due to all the Array structures”
- “The same implementation in C never exceeded half a second”
Now, if you are a ruby person the third claim might have been a red flag for you (It was for me). “All the Array Structures”… Now when it comes to searching, Arrays are slow, dog slow. A quick look at our farvourite Big-O Notation Cheetsheet site shows that searching an array is an “O*N” operation. This means that search time increases as the size of the array increases.
The other thing is that Arrays shouldn’t really feature that much in Bayesian filtering as the algorithm doesn’t really care if a word appears once or a hundred times.
These were the things that made me wonder if the poster was correct in blaiming ruby for the slowness. I also happened to know that there are some bayesian filter gems in the ruby-ecosystem which doesn’t really make sense if it is as slow as the poster claims.
When I pointed out the fact that it might be the poster’s design they didn’t take it very well. They stated the challenge to create a userland ruby application that processes 1000 unique variable length posts a second. Their training data set was 100,000 posts.
So, now we know the claims we need the goal.
- Benchmark a ruby Bayesian filter.
- Try and attain a filtering rate in the neighbourhood of 1000 posts / second. Say +- 10%
- Do the above with a training data-set of around 100,000 items.
Right sports fans! The first thing we need to do is write a bayesian filter in ruby… Bwahahahahah, I make myself laugh. I am a great believer in standing on the shoulders of giants so instead of writing a filter lets find some likely ruby gems.
Some searching on github and “The Ruby Toolbox” lead me to the Classifier gem, however the last commit was a bit old and there was this issue which called Classifier’s accuracy into question which, at the time, was not fixed.
Now, at this point I should confess, I only have a vague overview level of knowledge on how bayesian filtering works and I was hoping to spare my brain-power by not learning the nitty gritty mathematical details (One of the reasons I was looking for a Gem in the first place)
However, the poster of that issue wrote their own gem instead called Ankusa which looks pretty good. So lets go with that.
So now we have our filter we just need a data-set. The original poster said that they used a training data set of 100,000 posts. I am going to assume a roughtly 50/50 split here and say they had 50,000 known good posts (from now on called ‘ham’) and 50,000 spam posts.
After some DuckDuckGo‘ing I found some likely sources of curated spam/ham data-sets. It looked like at least one good thing came out of the Enron Collapse which is that their emails were made public as part of the discovery process.
Some researchers then put them up for download. While the numbers aren’t quite up to the 100,000 posts the original poster said they are in the same ballpark.
- 19,089 ham emails
- 32,989 spam emails
For a grand-total of around 50,000 emails. Due to the way the filter is written I don’t see there being much difference in speed between 50,000 and 100,000 items in the training set.
NOTE: If you are reading this and know of a bigger training set that is freely available I would love to hear about it.
Wow, 750 odd words into this article and we haven’t even gotten to the beginning of the code stuff yet.
Before I continue with the actual code stuff I am also going to have to make some assumptions on how the filter was actually used. (At least this is probably how I would have done it) I hope you will agree that these are logical assumptions:
A dedicated Bayesian machine: If you are processing 1000 forum posts / second I am going to assume that your operation is large enough to warrent a dedicated bayesian filtering server (Probably at the end of a REST API or message queue called by your front-end machines)
No online updating of the training data-set: I will assume the training set is batch-updated at some point (Maybe a daily / weekly thing).
The training data-set is held in memory: After implementating the training code using the Enron data-set I found that the training data only took up about 17MB of disk-space. Since this is pretty small and we assumed we have a dedicated server (See Assumption #1) that we will hold it in memory for maximum performance rather than a database.
Before we can benchmark Ankusa we need some sort of test-runner code. To that end I present to you “Don’t Bayes Me Bro” (DBMB: Well it made me chuckle when I named it and I like the idea of spammers being tazered).
All code samples from here-on-out will come from either Ankusa or DBMB.
WARNING: DBMB code is messy and not TDD’d and likely to make your “Beautiful Code” gland rupture.
The first thing we need to do is create our training data-set.
The actual code is here
DBMB has a “training” folder into which we dumped the Enron emails from earlier. All we are doing in this code recursively reading files from the “spam” and “ham” sub-directories and training ankusa with them.
We then save the data to a file called “corpus”. Note that since we are doing an operation that uses file I/O we can speed things up by creating one thread for “spam” and one for “ham”. The GIL gets in the way a bit but still get a performance speed-up in this case.
Since the original poster was talking about “Forum Threads” I decided to just parse the email body rather than everything including headers etc.
This is kicked off from a Rake task.
Benchmarking is done here and is started from another Rake task which allows us to test 1,000 to 30,000 emails using the original data-set from which the corpus came from.
To run the benchmark we insert the required number of email bodies into a queue. We then pop from the queue and run the filter. Why a queue? Well I was thinking down the road when multi-threading might make an appearance.
A few things to note. To avoid skewing the benchmarks we pre-initialize a two variables which are otherwise lazy loaded by Ankusa.
To keep things deterministic we save our queue data to a file for future reading, this also saves time over parsing thousands of emails each time. We also avoid emails with VERY short bodies (Less than 100 characters) to avoid getting an corpus with an overly short average body length.
Ok, here it is, the moment we have all been waiting for. After lots of waffle about setting this up, it is time for the main event, the actual benchmarking, the thing you are actually reading this blog post about probably, the thing that is at the end of this overly long sentence which is driving you insane!
Note: In the interest of brevity (In a post this long?! HAH) I have removed a lot of unnecessary output from the commands.
- CPU: Intel® Core™ i7-2600 CPU @ 3.40GHz
- OS: Kubuntu 14.04
- Ruby: 2.1.2
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Oook then, roughly 159 jobs per second. 1/10th of what we need. This is not the end of the world but it was a bit slower than I was hoping for.
So let us run the test again with stackprof enabled and see what we can see.
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Here I have told stackprof to identify the methods which were taking up the most runtime and limit it to the longest 4 methods. And holy moly!
From reading line 17 we can tell that the vast VAST VAST majority of the runtime is taken up with a single method! This is good and bad. Good, in that if we can optimise this then it will be a huge win, bad in that if we cannot, we are screwed. So let us look at the offending code.
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Hunh, ok, not that complicated. But the first part of this stands out.
.include? is used on enumerables. Enumerables like…. Arrays? Let us
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I have removed all the words from STOPWORDS but let me tell you it had 544 entries. So what we have here is a 544 entry Array that is searched for every.. SINGLE… WORD! Remember what we said about searching arrays? O*N average complexity, as the size of the array increases so does the time it takes to search. We can show this using a micro-benchmark.
The following code searches a set of arrays 5000 times.
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You can see how the time take to run
.include? increases with the
size of the array.
So what are we to doooooo!? Well, when we have an array for the
sole purpose of calling
include? on it we do not care about
duplicate values. Therefore we can use another, underused Ruby
Tadaaaa! Set to the rescue! Sets are similar to Arrays with a few key differences.
But the big one, the BIG one, is that, unlike Arrays, Sets use the same “Hash Table” data-structure as ruby Hashes to store their data. What does this mean? Well another visit to Big-O Notation Cheetsheet tells us that Hash Tables are much MUCH better for searching with an average complexity of O*1 and a worst-case of O*N.
This means that, even as the size increases the search-time remains relatively constant. Let us test this again with our micro-benchmark.
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Sweeeeeeeeeet. So let us replace the Ankusa::STOPWORDS Array with a Set
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and see what happens.
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Wow, it just goes to show how a tiny, simple change can have such a huge impact. A running time reduced from about 6 seconds to 2 seconds, we are now halfway to our goal!
However halfway is not all the way. Improving performance is a simple cycle
- Find bottleneck
- Fix bottleneck
- Start again
We have fixed out first bottleneck, let us find the next one using trusty stackprof again.
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So the next longest action is actually a method on String which is checking
if the string is numeric or not and it there is some rescue action going on
in there which means it is taking up the top two spots. Now String is a
ruby core class and it does not have a
numeric? method by default so
this looks like something Ankusa has monkey-patched in.
A quick look through the source-code and we see this is the case (in the
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So what is wrong with this method? Well, nothing is wrong with it per se, it is one of the standard ways to see if a String is numeric or not.
The problem with it is that it is slow, it is even slower if the string is not numeric because then it raises an exception which has to be rescued (sloooooooooooow). This is one of the reasons you see people saying. “Don’t use exceptions for flow-control!”.
The problem is that we cannot really change this because every other way of checking if a string is numeric or not has edge-cases where they fail. This is the only bullet-proof way of making sure if a String is numeric or not.
But do we need bullet-proofness? Lets have a nose around and see if there is any other option.
If we go up the call chain a bit we can see that each word is processesed in add_text:
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To create a “word” it first atomises any text passed to it. The comment
looks very interesting “Replace dashes with spaces”… well that would
remove negative numbers for starters. Lets have a look at the
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Hmm, this looks interesting, this code basically strips all dashes and replaces anything that is not a word or whitespace character with a space. Lets assume our regexp knowledge is fuzzy and we are not sure what a “word” (\w) is, we can fire up IRB and do some testing:
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Well, with some experimentation it looks like any kind of number will
always be split into a bunch of integers. This means that we don’t
really need the edge-case surety of
Float(string). Lets see how much
faster a simple regex is.
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And the result:
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Great success! Another simple change, another massive speed-up.
Eagle-eye mathematicians might notice that we DO have an edge-case
that we are no longer covering in that numbers like 1.05e16 will
end up as
["1","05e16"]. However by the time we check if a String
is numeric this number has already been mashed up and checking for
[\d.]+(?:e?\d+) could result in us ignoring words that we would
prefer to check. All in all I think it is safer to not ignore a
string like “1e05”.
Others may cringe at having such a method as a monkey-patch on String but do not worry, in the real PR I also moved it out of there as evidenced here
We are now close enough to 1000 jobs per second that I am going to call time on this post. There are other optimisations we could probably do but we have already done the easy stuff as evidenced by stackprof once again.
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As we can see from this (full) output there is no horrendously slow bottleneck that we can fix for a big win.
(A cofession here: I got the “Need for Speed” bug at this point and did some more tweaking that got us to about 970-980 jobs per second, you can see the full list of changes here
So we had a challenge and I think we met it, We didn’t do much in the way of long-run tests and our setup might have differed from theirs but I think I showed that ruby can have respectable results. This means that Ruby is perfect, right?.
Well no, while I do believe the original poster was wrong to blame ruby for his application’s slowness there are a few issues here.
First is that using ankusa in this manner is massively CPU bound we are stuck here using a single thread. This operation would benefit hugely from effective multi-threading but Ruby’s GIL prevents us from doing so since we are not doing much in the way of I/O.
JRuby to the rescue! I did actually try testing on JRuby. Ankusa actually uses a C Extension for the word-stemming and there is a JRuby drop-in equivalent but when I ran the tests on JRuby it was horrendously slow (Something like 40 times slower) and at that point I was not really up for trying to figure out why.
There is always Rubinius, I have never used it to be honest, but it does sound ideal for this case, maybe I will write a part 2 (RBX Redux!).
I Learned Something Today
What I hoped I demonstrated was that improving performance is not the black-magic beginners might think it is. There are tools that make it dead simple to do so I highly recommend you give it a go.