Switch branches/tags
Nothing to show
Find file
Fetching contributors…
Cannot retrieve contributors at this time
250 lines (172 sloc) 9.46 KB

Map versus GNU Parallel

Here's a feature comparision of map versus GNU parallel, mostly using examples in their man page.

Note that GNU parallel appears to have an unholy obsession with files that have funky names, like filenames with newlines in them. One of their examples is a file called My brother's 12" records (no comments from the peanut gallery please!).

In real life, if you have a file with a newline or a double quote (or combination of quotes) in it, it's more likely someone trying to attack you than anything else. See Appendix 1 in the main documentation for a longer rant on this.


Anyway, the main man page has 48 examples (as of 2015-11). Here are some meta-comments about those examples that didn't translate cleanly (or in some cases didn't translate at all) in map:

  • Cartesian product: Map can do that by piping to another map (probably ad infinitum), but on the rare occasions I have needed them, I used a very simple program; see Appendix 1 (it's small enough that I can -- if I ever feel the need -- roll it into map, too). Almost all of the examples involving CPs can be done using that, with the final result piped to map's delimiter mode; see example 13 below.

  • Embedding perl code: we don't do that, but it can't be that hard, if needed. If someone sends me a really convincing -- as in, not contrived -- use case I will probably add it.

  • Grouping output lines: I have never come across a case where I want parallelism as well as ordered output. On the rare cases that I did, I just add | tail -9999 to the command template; works fine.

  • Tagging output lines: Even rarer than the above. If needed, I would probably just add | sed -e "s/^/% /".

  • Keep output order same as input: Again, I never needed that and parallelism. Unlike the previous two examples, I don't have a ready alternative either. So this is definitely something I may look into if I ever see the need (or someone asks).

  • Splitting a big file and sending it to different invocations: I had a program called split_map in the old 'map' but I don't think I ever used it so I got rid of it. (If someone was using it and needs it back, let me know...)

  • Dealing with remote systems, sending files back and forth, and so on: fuggedaboudit!

PS: Honestly, Parallel has so many options for so many things I'm disappointed it doesn't come with a game of tetris to play while you're waiting for your jobs to complete ;-)


Let's briefly recap map's options, defaults, and argument handling first. The default max-args is 100 (-n option) and the default parallelism is 4 (-p option). The documentation explains the rationale behind these defaults. The command template can contain % (which is eqvt to %F), or %D, %B, and %E. Generally, %F equals %D/%B.%E. In 'delimiter mode', you can use %1 thru %9.

With that out of the way, here are the details for some of the interesting ones, as briefly as I could write them up. I've left out many that are boring, trivially doable, or repeat an earlier example with marginal changes, Stuff that is completely outside the core idea (like all the remote file handling stuff) is also ignored. And I've already ranted about filenames with quote characters and so on.

  • example 1, xargs -n1

    parallel gzip --best
    map -n1 "gzip --best"
  • example 2, arguments from command line

    parallel gzip --best ::: *.html
    map -n1 "gzip --best" *.html
  • example 3, inserting multiple arguments

    parallel -m mv {} destdir
    map "mv % destdir"
  • example 4, context replace

    seq -w 0 9999 | parallel -X rm pict{}.jpg
    seq -w 0 9999 | map "rm pict%.jpg"
  • example 5, compute intensive jobs and substitution

    find . -name '*.jpg' | parallel convert -geometry 120 {} {}_thumb.jpg
    find . -name '*.jpg' | map "convert -geometry 120 % %_thumb.jpg"
    find . -name '*.jpg' | parallel convert -geometry 120 {} {.}_thumb.jpg
    find . -name '*.jpg' | map "convert -geometry 120 % %D/%B_thumb.jpg"
  • example 6, substitution and redirection

    parallel "zcat {} >{.}" ::: *.gz
    map "zcat % > %B" *.gz
  • example 8, calling bash functions

    So, after impressing us with their ability to handle shell functions entirely typed at the command line (in example 7), they now stoop down to how we mere mortals can/should do it.

    Anyway this works fine (in bash), using map.

  • example 10, log rotate

    seq 9 -1 1 | parallel -j1 mv log.{} log.'{= $_++ =}'
    seq 9 -1 1 | map -p1 'echo mv log.% log.$(( % + 1 ))'
  • example 11, removing file extension...

    This is covered extensively in the main documentation. Not sure what parallel's {.} means but for map, you use %B if you are sure the file doesn't have a directory component, and %D/%B otherwise. (Or you can play safe by always using %D/%B.)

  • example 12, removing two file extensions

    parallel --plus 'mkdir {..}; tar -C {..} -xf {}' ::: *.tar.gz
    map -1 "echo % %B" *.tar.gz | map -1 echo %B |
        map -1 -ds "echo mkdir %2; echo tar -C %2 -xf %1"

    The first map takes "foo.tar.gz" and prints "foo.tar.gz foo.tar". That's in one line. The next map take that, and since map treats the entire line as one argument, it chops off what it sees as the extension, giving us "foo.tar.gz foo". Then delimiter mode picks up the two fields and substitutes them for %1 and %2 in the appropriate places.

    But yeah, their solution looks simpler. However, I won't be adding a "%BB" or something; it's not that important.

  • example 13, download 10 images for past 30 days

    parallel echo'$(date -d "today -{1} days" +%Y%m%d)_{2}.jpg' ::: $(seq 6) ::: $(seq -w 2)

    This is basically a cartesian product, with some backtick interpolation thrown in to complicate things needlessly. (By which I mean, the date command could have been pushed into the $(seq 6) piece, and it would have been much clearer overall.)

    seq 6 | map -1 'date -d "today -% days" +%%Y%%m%%d' |
        map -1 'seq -w 2 | map -1 echo % %%' |
        map -1 -ds "echo wget"

    The first line produces a series of dates (YYYYmmdd), the second creates a cartesian product with the sequence "1", and "2", producing lines like "20151115 1", "20151115 2", etc., and the third line uses delimiter mode to create the actual command from the two fields in each line.

    But honestly, if I needed a cartesian product I'd use a program meant to do just that; see Appendix 1.

  • example 14, embedding perl code

    The stated purpose is "Copy files as last modified date (ISO8601) with added random digits", but why would you do that?

    find . | parallel cp {} \
        '../destdir/{= $a=int(10000*rand); $_=`date -r "$_" +%FT%T"$a"`; chomp; =}'

    Map doesn't allow embedded perl code, but this specific example can be done -- for what it is worth with such a meaningless exercise -- in shell too:

    find . | map -1 'cp % ../dst/`date -r % +%%FT%%T `_$RANDOM'
  • example 25, suppsedly about "using shell variables"

    Please see the appendix on "security" in the documentation for map.

  • example 29, parallel grep: "on multi-core CPUs [...] can often speed this up", says the manual.

    Not for most people. I've seen people make measurements on a warm cache and walk away blithely saying "grep is not IO-bound". Sorry, but it is. Disk speeds -- and especially latency -- have not kept pace with CPU.

    There are two exceptions to this. One, your regex is pathologically bad, (or you need to dust off your regex book). Two, you are using high end SSD, because then not only is the raw speed much more, there is no latency.

    Anyway, the only part of their examples that map does not do, is the "keep order". (Curiously, they are feeding it from find without a sort, which makes the "keep order" somewhat useless; I have never known find to print filenames in any predictable order.)

  • example 39, run the same command 10 times

    seq 10 | parallel -n0 my_command my_args
    seq 10 | map "my_command my_args # %"

    yeah, it's a trick but it works fine!

  • example 40, working as 'cat | sh'

    parallel -j 100 < jobs_to_run
    map -p100 -n1 < jobs_to_run

Appendix 1: cartesian products

I have rarely found a need for a cartesian product but it does happen. Long before I wrote map, I had the following script in my ~/bin:


# seq 1 3 | cart-prod a b c | cart-prod one two

use strict;
use warnings;

my @args = @ARGV;
@ARGV = ();

while (<>) {
    for my $a (@args) {
        print "$_\t" if $_;
        print "$a\n";

If I had to do example 13 it would be:

seq 6 | cart-prod {1..2} | while read a b
    echo wget$(date -d "today -$a days" +%Y%m%d)_$b.jpg

which is a lot more readable than Parallel's ":::" syntax.

Similarly, the first part of example 16 would be:

seq 5 | cart-prod {01..10} | cart-prod {1..5} | map -ds 'echo x%1y%2z%3 > x%1y%2z%3'

And example 21 (finding the lowest difference between files) would be:

ls | cart-prod * | map -1 -ds 'echo %1 %2\\t`diff %1 %2 | wc -l`' | sort -k3n