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Is Morepath Fast Yet?

Morepath is a Python web framework. But is it fast enough for your purposes?

Does performance matter?

Performance is one of the least important criteria you should use when you pick a Python web framework. You're using Python for web development after all; you are already compromising performance for ease of use.

But performance makes things seem easy. It boils down the whole choice between web frameworks to a single seemingly easy to understand variable: how fast is this thing? All web frameworks are the same anyway, right? (Wrong). We don't want the speed of our application be dragged down by the web framework. So we should just pick the one that is fastest. Makes total sense.

It makes total sense until you take a few minutes to think about it. Performance, sure, but performance doing what? Performance is notoriously difficult to measure. Sending a single "hello world" response? Parsing complex URLs with multiple variables in them? HTML template rendering? JSON serialization? Link generation? What aspect of performance matters to you depends on the application you're building. Why do we worry so much about performance and not about features, anyway?

Choosing a web framework based on performance makes no sense for most people. For most applications, application code dominates the CPU time spent. Pulling stuff out of a database can take vastly more time than rendering a web response.

What matters

So it makes sense to look at other factors when picking a web framework. Is there documentation? Can it do what I need it to do? Will it grow with me over time? Is it flexible? Is it being maintained? What's the community like? Does it have a cool logo?

Okay, I'm starting to sound like someone who doesn't want to admit the web framework I work on, Morepath, is atrociously slow. I'm giving you all kinds of reasons why you should use it despite its performance, which you would guess is pretty atrocious. It's true that the primary selling point of Morepath isn't performance -- it's flexibility. It's a micro-framework that is easy to learn but that doesn't let you down when your requirements become more complex.

Morepath performance

I maintain a very simple benchmark tool that measures just one aspect of performance: how fast a web framework at the Python WSGI level can generate simple "hello world" responses.

I run it against Morepath once every while to see how we're doing with performance. I actually care more about what the framework is doing when Morepath generates the response than I care about the actual requests per second it can generate. I want Morepath's underlying complexity to be relatively simple. But since performance is so easy to think about I take advantage of that as a shortcut. I treat performance as an approximation of implementation complexity. Plus it's cool when your framework is fast, I admit it.

The current Morepath development version takes about 5200 ms per 100,000 requests, which translates to about 19200 requests per second. Let's see how that compares to some of the friendly competition:

                ms     rps  tcalls  funcs
django       10992    9098     190     85
flask        15854    6308     270    125
morepath      5204   19218     109     80

So at this silly benchmark, Morepath is more than twice as fast as Django and more than three times faster than Flask!

Let me highlight that for marketing purposes and trick those who aren't reading carefully:

Morepath is more than 2 times faster than Django and more than 3 times faster than Flask

Yay! End of story. Well, I gave a bit of a selective view just now. Here are some other web frameworks:

                ms     rps  tcalls  funcs
bottle        2172   46030      53     31
falcon        1539   64961      26     24
morepath      5204   19218     109     80
pyramid       3920   25509      72     57
wheezy.web    1201   83247      25     23

I'm not going to highlight that Bottle is more than two times faster at this silly benchmark nor that Falcon is more than three times faster. Let's not even think about wheezy.web.

I think this performance comparison actually highlights my point that in practice web framework performance is usually irrelevant. People aren't flocking to wheezy.web just because it's so fast. People aren't ignoring Flask because it's comparatively slow. I suspect many are surprised are surprised Flask is one of the slowest frameworks in this benchmark, as it's a lightweight framework.

Flask's relatively slow performance hasn't hurt its popularity. This demonstrates my point that web framework performance isn't that important overall. I don't fully understand why Flask is relatively slow, but I know part of the reason is werkzeug, its request/response implementation. Morepath is actually doing a lot more sophisticated stuff underneath than Flask and it's still faster. That Pyramid is faster than Morepath is impressive, as what it needs to do during runtime is similar to Morepath.

Let's look at the tcalls column: how many function calls get executed during a request. There is a strong correlation between how many Python function calls there are during a request and requests per second. This is why performance is a decent approximation of implementation complexity. It's also a clear sign we're using an interpreted language.

How Morepath performance has changed

So how has Morepath's performance evolved over time? Here's a nice graph:

Morepath performance over time

So what does this chart tell us? Before its 0.1 release when it still used werkzeug, Morepath was actually about as slow as Flask. After we switched to webob, Morepath became faster than Flask, but was still slower than Django.

By release 0.4.1 a bunch of minor improvements had pushed performance slightly beyond Django's -- but I don't have a clear idea of the details. I also don't understand exactly why there's a performance bump for 0.7, though I suspect it has to do with a refactor of application mounting behavior I did around that time -- while that code isn't exercised in this benchmark, it's possible it simplified a critical path.

I do know what caused the huge bump in performance in 0.8. This marked the switch to Reg 0.9, which is a dispatch library that is used heavily by Morepath. Reg 0.9 got faster, as this is when Reg switched to a more flexible and efficient predicate dispatch approach.

Performance was stable again until version 0.11, when it went down again. In 0.11 we introduced a measure to make the request object sanitize potentially dangerous input, and this cost us some performance. I'm not sure what caused the slight performance drop in 0.14.

And then there's a vast performance increase in current master. What explains this? Two things:

  • We've made some huge improvements to Reg again. Morepath benefits because it uses Reg heavily.
  • I cheated. That is, I found work that could be skipped in the case no URL parameters are in play, as in this benchmark.

Skipping unnecessary work was a legitimate improvement of Morepath. The code now avoids accessing the relatively expensive GET attribute on the webob request, and also avoids a for loop through an empty list and a few if statements. In Python, performance is sensitive to even a few extra lines of code on the critical path.

But when you do have URL parameters, Morepath's feature that lets you convert and validate them automatically is pretty nice -- in almost all circumstances you should be glad to pay the slight performance penalty for the convenience. Features are usually worth their performance cost.

So is Morepath fast yet?

Is Morepath fast yet? Probably. Does it matter? It depends. What benchmark? But for those just skimming this article, I'll do another sneaky highlight:

Morepath is fast. Morepath outperforms the most popular Python web frameworks while offering a lot more flexibility.


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