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A simple comparison between some programming languages

People tend to have intuitions about which programming language are faster. Most everyone is going to guess that C is fast. PHP is probably slow. Java is... somewhat fast but not that much? OCaml is very fast... right?

The goal of this experiment is not to come up with a definitive answer to the question "which programming languages are the fastest", but rather to get a better idea of how fast some programming languages are or are not.

A good study would take a lot of different examples of codes. It would try to find out the strength and weaknesses of each languages: maybe one is bad with arithmetic but does method resolution very fast? Maybe one has a slow warmup phase, but a high peak performance... Well, this isn't such a study! (mostly because I don't have that much time to dedicate to it right now)

What I've done instead is implement the Sieve of Eratosthenes (a classic algorithm for finding all prime numbers bellow a given limit) in a bunch of languages. I then ran those codes and timed them. Here are the times in second needed to compute the primes up to a given number:

Language Compilation 1000 10000 100000 1000000 10000000 100000000 1000000000
C (gcc) 0.10 0.00 0.00 0.01 0.01 0.05 1.12 13
Java 0.57 0.08 0.09 0.10 0.11 0.16 1.23 14
Go 0.14 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.05 1.22 15
R - 0.13 0.13 0.13 0.16 0.70 6.80 77
Common Lisp (sbcl) 0.05 0.04 0.04 0.05 0.07 0.76 13.09 144
OCaml (native) 0.17 0.01 0.01 0.01 0.05 0.71 11.97 137
Python (Pypy) - 0.08 0.09 0.09 0.12 0.82 12.71 144
Racket - 0.27 0.26 0.28 0.29 1.00 13.81 154
OCaml (bytecode) 0.02 0.01 0.01 0.02 0.10 1.17 15.74 176
PHP - 0.03 0.03 0.04 0.16 2.21 24.40 301
Python (CPython) - 0.04 0.03 0.06 0.29 2.77 32.65 346
Perl - 0.01 0.01 0.04 0.27 3.84 44.21 517
Javascript (node) - 0.36 0.35 0.35 0.38 0.93 9.18 -
Bash - 0.18 0.77 8.51 976.70 - - -
Python (numpy) - 0.12 0.12 0.11 0.11 0.13 1.17 13

(data with standard deviation (on 10 runs) available in raw_data.txt)

Run configuration


The benchmarks were ran on a Intel Xeon E5-2699 v4 @ 2.20GHz (for those who are not really knowledgeable about Intel's CPU: that's a high-end Intel server CPU).


The following compiler/languages versions were used:

  • Bash 4.4.20
  • GCC 7.4.0
  • Go 1.10.4
  • Java OpenJDK 11.0.4
  • Node.js 8.10.0
  • OCaml 4.05.0
  • PHP 7.2.24
  • Perl 5.26.1
  • PyPy 5.10.0
  • Python 3.6.8
  • R 3.4.4
  • Racket 6.11
  • SBCL 1.4.5

Benchmarking methodology

(what I call a benchmark thereafter is a single run of a program computing once the number of prime numbers up to a given limit using Eratosthenes sieve)

The benchmarks are ran by the script It repeats each benchmark 10 times, except if the benchmark takes more than 100 seconds, in which case it only runs it 3 times.

Benchmarks are ran from Perl using a system call, which spawns a new process to run each benchmark.

Time is measured using Perl's builtin time builtin (which is made precise to the micro-second thanks to the module Time::HiRes.

This way of running the benchmark is arguably not super precise (spawning a new process for each benchmark, using Perl's time function, ...), but we run each benchmark 10 times, which should reduce a little bit the uncertainty of the results, and the overhead induced by spawning new processes is same for each language, so this is mostly fair.

Text not written yet:

  • explanations about code (add a pseudo-code), explain that trying to stick to it in most languages. (not highly optimized sieve)
  • what to conclude (Java fast, Pypy fast-ish, OCaml slow, ...) and not conclude (no objects, simple progs)
  • memory footprint (C, Java low, Perl, PHP high)
  • javascript hard limit on array size (=~ 130 million)
  • bash very slow
  • numpy is not the bottom of the list: I feel like using a module specifically designed to handle arrays is cheating. Using a loop instead of nums[i*2:MAX:i] = True would have yielded the same performances as CPython (would stronger reinforce the idea that numpy is fast because is has precisely the right builtin).
  • add some justification for not comparing large systems (would be more time consuming to develop codes using objects, templates, etc.)
  • explain that the Sieve of Eratosthenes is a poor choice for functional languages, but it's hard to find a good example that works for all languages...
  • some further readings about computing prime numbers: how to optimize eratosthene sieves, and what alternatives to use or not.
  • some take-aways?


  • Add languages: Erlang? Scala? Haskell?
  • Improve benchmarking (the current precision isn't too great I think)
  • Use charts rather than tables to display the results?
  • Add other examples (which ones? One that would less imperative, like run the collactz series on a notoriously long run?)


Thanks to Lucas for the R and the Numpy implementations.


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