d3 language graphs a la marceau

About a year ago I came across this blog post from Guillaume Marceau graphing benchmark speed and size data from the Computer Language Benchmarks Game.

Given my interests in data visualization and programming languages, it is no surprise that these graphs tickled me. They are, however, a little old, and Marceau’s post leaves a few outstanding questions, so I thought I’d try to recreate his findings. And we may as well use D3 for it.

Like many D3 tutorials, we’ll be using CoffeeScript for its simplicity. To translate to javascript, just add a ton of parentheses, curly braces and semicolons, and throw in the words `var` and ‘function’ liberally.

In this post I’ll walk through building only one of Marceau’s graphs, but if you’re interested checkout this page for more of them. Also feel free to poke around the git repo for this project. This blog post was generated from the literate CoffeeScript file found there.

width = 250
height = 250
margin = 100

Let’s navigate over to the Benchmarks Game website and download the summary data. You can find it here. Load up the data with D3’s csv function.

d3.csv "data.csv", (data) ->
    for d in data
        d["cpu(s)"]  = parseFloat d["cpu(s)"]
        d["size(B)"] = parseFloat d["size(B)"]

the scatter plot

The first thing we notice is that the CSV reports absolute numbers, but Marceau graphs relative ones, the number of times larger or longer running a program is than the best solution. It’s easy enough to ask D3 to do this conversion for us.

    best = d3.nest()
        .key (d) -> d.name
        .rollup (v) ->
            "cpu(s)":  d3.min v, (d) -> d["cpu(s)"]
            "size(B)": d3.min v, (d) -> d["size(B)"]

    mins = best.map data

Calculate the minimum size and time for each benchmark, then scale the data accordingly.

    for d in data
        d["cpu(s)"]  = d["cpu(s)"]  / mins[d.name]["cpu(s)"]
        d["size(B)"] = d["size(B)"] / mins[d.name]["size(B)"]

Great. Let’s draw a basic scatter plot. We’ll scale the domain manually to exclude the outliers. Framing our plot this way highlights an interesting fact about the data: other than those outliers, the largest programs only take a few times the space of the most optimum solution. However, the slowest programs run for thousands of times longer than the fastest.

    scaleX = d3.scale.sqrt()
        .domain [1, 5000]
        .rangeRound [0,  width]
    scaleY = d3.scale.sqrt()
        .domain [1, 6]
        .rangeRound [height, 0]

    x = (d) -> scaleX d["cpu(s)"]
    y = (d) -> scaleY d["size(B)"]

Now add a dot for each benchmark data point. The x-coordinate is the relative speed, and the y-coordinate the relative size.

    focus = createCanvas()

    focus.selectAll ".benchmark"
        .data data 
        .enter().append "circle"
        .attr "class", "benchmark"
        .attr "r", 2
        .attr "transform", (d) ->
            "translate(#{x d},#{y d})"

performance stars

On top of the scatter plot we’ll draw a star showing the performance of a particular language. The center of the star is the average of the benchmarks, so first we’ll rollup the data points by language.

    average = d3.nest()
        .key (d) -> d.lang
        .rollup (v) ->
            "cpu(s)":  d3.mean v, (d) -> d["cpu(s)"]
            "size(B)": d3.mean v, (d) -> d["size(B)"]

    averages = average.map data

We’ll only show the star for the currently selected language, so let’s also map the benchmark results by language to make finding them easy.

    benchmarks = d3.nest()
        .key (d) -> d.lang
        .map data

Now we have everything we need to draw the star. We’ll create an SVG group to work with in a moment.

    star = focus.append "g"
        .attr "class", "star"

We’ll declare a local function so we can easily update the star when the language changes.

    showLanguageStar = (lang) ->

First we get the average performance for this language and move the star group to that position.

        avg = averages[lang]

            .attr "transform", "translate(#{x avg},#{y avg})"

Then we append a spoke for each benchmark data point of the selected language, update existing ones, and remove spokes if there are some we don’t need. Read more about this process in Mike Bostock’s General Update Pattern tutorials.

        lines = star.selectAll "line"
            .data benchmarks[lang]

        lines.enter().append "line"

            .attr "x2", (d) -> x(d) - x(avg)
            .attr "y2", (d) -> y(d) - y(avg)


Set the default language on page load.

    showLanguageStar "JavaScript V8"


Finally we’ll create the ui. We want the user to be able to choose a language, so we’ll need a list of languages to select from.

    languageNames = (name for name of averages)

    languages = d3.select "body"
        .append "ul"
        .selectAll "li" 
        .data languageNames
        .enter().append "li"
        .text (d) -> d

Whenever we mouseover the name of a language, call showLanguageStar to redraw the star.

    languages.on "mouseover", showLanguageStar


Now we can answer a few questions Marceau left. Would JavaScript V8 maintain its position? Yes, not just maintained, but improved. It has become one of the fastest languages in the rankings while remaining expressive. I’d be intrigued to see CoffeeScript on here.

There have been a few major langauge movements. Java 7 seems to have lost the edge that Java 6 had. Haskell, Fortran and Ada have all moved into the fastest column. I understand developers working on improving the Haskell programs, but I’m curious who’s hacking at these Fortran and Ada benchmark programs. Otherwise things are largely how they were four years ago.

Check out https://couchand.github.io/language-viz/ for more of Marceau’s visualizations recreated.


Create an svg canvas with a little frame and clip path.

createCanvas = ->

    svg = d3.select "body"
        .append "svg"
        .attr "width", width + 2*margin
        .attr "height", height + 2*margin
        .append "g"
        .attr "transform", "translate(#{margin},#{margin})"

    svg.append "defs"
        .append "clipPath"
        .attr "id", "clip"
        .append "rect"
        .attr "width", width
        .attr "height", height

    svg.append "g"
        .attr "clip-path", "url(#clip)"

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