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ub is a PHP microbenchmarking framework. Its purpose is to make it fast and easy to write little code snippets and see how long they take to run. This is particularly useful if there are a few potential ways of solving a problem and you want to choose the fastest one.


An ub microbenchmark is just a regular PHP script. It needs a few comments in a few places to tell ub what to measure.

The most important comment is “// time”. It tells ub to measure how long it takes to execute the code that comes after the comment. For example:

<?php // time array_merge(array(‘alice’), array(‘alice’,’bob’));

Save that code to a file called “array-merge.php” and then run:

ub array-merge.php

You’ll get some output that looks like:

array-merge: mean=0.005670 median=0.005000 min=0.005000 max=0.027000 stdev=0.001417

All times are in milliseconds. By default, ub runs your code 1000 times and then reports the results across all 1000 iterations. The “-i” command line argument changes the number of iterations.

Frequently, you need some setup code that you don’t want to include in the timing but needs to be run on each benchmark iteration nonetheless. The ub comment that marks this kind of code is “// init”. For example:

<?php // init $numbers = range(0, 100); shuffle($numbers); // time sort($numbers);

Each time ub executes a timing loop, it runs the range() and shuffle() functions, turns on the clock, runs sort(), and then turns off the clock. This ensures a potentially different array is shuffled in each iteration, but the time required to construct the shuffled array isn’t part of the results.

When benchmarking functions or classes, you need to define the function or class just once, not each time through the timing loop. That’s where the “// once” comment comes in. Use that to denote code that should run just once, before the timing loop starts. For example:

<?php // once function range_and_shuffle($size) { $numbers = range(0, $size); shuffle($numbers); return $numbers; } // init $nums = range_and_shuffle(100); // time sort($nums);

There are two other comments that are useful:

  • ”// done” marks code that is run inside each loop after the code to time is run. The “// done” code does not count towards the measured times.
  • ”// ignore” marks code that is ignored when benchmarking is active. This is useful for debugging or other information you want to print out when running the benchmark script through regular PHP or through ub’s runner mode.

Only the “// time” comment is required. The rest are optional, but if they appear, have to be in order: once, init, time, done, ignore. You must use the “//” comment style. (And strictly speaking, “//time” is not required – if you leave it out, the results will just reflect the overhead of two successive gettimeofday() calls in PHP.)

Options and Intracacies

Passing Options to Benchmarks

Having to write entirely separate benchmark files for small variations (such as the number of elements in an array of numbers to sort) is tedious. Instead, use ub’s option passing capabilities. The -x command-line argument, which can be specified more than once, tells ub to populate an $___opts array that will be available to the benchmark file. Depending on how -x is used, different values show up in $___opts. For example:

Command line: no -x arguments $___opts structure: array()

Command line: -x asparagus $___opts structure: array(‘asparagus’ => true)

Command line: -x asparagus -x broccoli=green $___opts structure: array(‘asparagus’ => true, ‘broccoli’ => ‘green’)

Command line: -x asparagus -x broccoli=green -x broccoli=12 $___opts structure: array(‘asparagus’ => true, ‘broccoli’ => array(‘green’,’12’)

-x values with = in them are converted to key/value pairs (and the values are always strings); -x values without = result in a value of boolean true. Multiple keys result in $___opts array values which are themselves values.

Runner Mode

If you’ve created a benchmark file that uses $___opts, you’ve lost a little bit of the ease of testing your benchmarking file by running it through regular PHP – there is no $___opts array available. ub’s “runner mode”, activated with the -r command line argument helps with this. Runner mode populates $___opts from command line arguments and runs the benchmark file – that’s it. No iteration, no special attention to the comments that delimit the file. After runner mode builds $___opts, your benchmark file is run as usual.

Multiple Benchmarks

You can supply multiple benchmark names or filenames on the commandline to run them all in one go. Internally, ub uses a separate PHP process for each benchmark. This prevents any collision between classes or functions that may have the same name in separate benchmark files.

Clock Extension

ub uses PHP’s gettimeofday() function (which uses the underlying gettimeofday(2) system call) to obtain wall clock time before and after the code to be timed is run. The experimental extension in the “clock” subdirectory provides a PHP interface to the clock_gettime(3) Linux system call. For now, it just offers the CLOCK_MONOTONIC clock, but this can provide a higher granularity measure of elapsed time with less overhead. The clock-gettime.[ch] files in this directory provide OS X functions that duplicate Linux’s clock_gettime(3) functionality.