Andi Kleen's blog

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Archive for the ‘kernel performance’ tag

Speeding up less

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Often when doing performance analysis or debugging, it boils down to stare at long text trace files with the less text viewer. Yes you can do a lot of analysis with custom scripts, but at some point it’s usually needed to also look at the raw data.

The first annoyance in less when opening a large file is the time it takes to count lines (less counts lines at the beginning to show you the current position as a percentage). The line counting has the easy workaround of hitting Ctrl-C or using less -n to disable percentage. But it would be still better if that wasn’t needed.

Nicolai Haenle speeded the process by about 20x in his less repository.

One thing that always bothered me was that searching in less is so slow. If you’re browsing a tens to hundreds of MB file file it can easily take minutes to search for a string. When browsing log and trace files searching over longer distances is often very important.

And there is no good workaround. Running grep on the file is much faster, but you can’t easily transfer the file position from grep to the less session.

Some profiling with perf shows that most of the time searching is spent converting each line. Less internally cleans up the line, convert it to canonical case, remove backspace bold, and some other changes. The conversion loop processes each character in a inefficient way. Most of the time this is not needed, so I replaced that with a quick check if the line contains any backspaces using the optimized strchr() from the standard C library. For case conversion the string search functions (either regular expression or fixed string search) can also handle case insensitive search directly, so we don’t need an extra conversion step. The default fixed string search (when the search string contains no regular expression meta characters) can be also done using the optimized C library functions.

The resulting less version searches ~85% faster on my benchmarks. I tried to submit the patch to the less maintainer, but it was ignored unfortunately. The less version in the repository also includes Nicolai’s speedup patches for the initial line counting.

One side effect of the patch is that less now defaults to case sensitive searches. The original less had a feature (or bug) to default to case-insensitive even without the -i option. To get case insensitive searches now “less -i” needs to be used.

[Edit: Fix typos]

Written by therapsid

July 10th, 2015 at 8:26 pm