giovedì 28 agosto 2014

Java GWT added to Dart RayTracer demo

The Dart RayTracer demo is getting bigger!

Thanks to Ümit Seren and Slava Pankov, we now have a Java port that compiles both for the native JVM and the browser (via GWT compiler).

Here are the updated test results with the inclusion of Java:

Java's JVM jumps in first position resulting the fastest among all. Java on the browser via GWT does a pretty well job too, rivaling its direct competitor (C# to JS).

Disappointing results from C# native CLR, which resulted the slowest virtual machine of the set, not even able to reach the performance of JavaScript transpiled C# (running on Chrome).

Get this test from GitHub or see my previous blog post about it.

venerdì 22 agosto 2014

Dart ray tracer benchmark (compared to C#)

As an exercise in Dart programming, this morning I've ported this Raytracer demo from C# to Dart.

You can get it from Github.

Two years ago, I've used the same raytracer program to compare the performances of two C#-to-JavaScript compilers, JSIL and Saltarelle (see my blogpost).

Now I use the same program to compare C# and Dart.

Speed comparison is a marginal topic here (though it will be curious to see who's fastest in rendering the raytraced scene), I am more interested in the overall programming experience as this is my first attempt at Dart (apart the classic "hello world"). In brief, I have to decide if Dart it's worth embracing, perhaps for a future replacement of C#, considering that Microsoft is not pushing it for client-side web development (they are investing in TypeScript instead).

Porting the raytracer demo

So I download the 64 bit windows version of the Dart editor and decompress in my desktop. The editor doesn't need to be installed, it just runs from the directory. Good.

The editor is a stripped version of Eclipse, the same IDE it's used for Java programming. For a long term Visual Studio user, it's a rather chaotic, inconsistent and ugly-looking IDE, and I have to force myself to get accustomed to it. My locale (italian) apparently is not available (as any other locales), so I have to stick to English. Not a good first impression.

While editing the code, the IDE flickers a lot and lags in intellisense/syntax highlighting. Sometimes typing "." or "(" does not produce the intellisense dialog (don't know why!). And if the source code has too many errors, the whole syntax correction is unstable and unreliable, for instance for a while it gave me a clueless "int is not a type", making me wonder if I had correctly imported the libraries.

Anyway at the end I got used to the IDE and learned to cope with its defects.

For the raytracer demo, I started a new project, and copied the .html and .cs files from the old C# project. I then renamed to .dart and started to convert it all. The whole process, from installing Dart to seeing the raytraced image, took about three hours. I was afraid of getting stuck somewhere, but to my luck that didn't happen. Fear of the unknown I suppose.

Knowing very little of Dart, I decided to resort to Google for everything, even for the most trivial problem. Dart documentation is scarce, but a trick I've learned is that if you "open declaration" of a method, you are taken directly to the source code and can see directly the API comments and/or peek around. Sometimes this is quicker than goggling.

A page that helped me a lot is this comparison between languages, for those who already know another mainstream language. It bootstraps you in very short time.

Back to the code. The first thing I do is to remove by find'n'replace all occurrences of "public" because in Dart everything is public by default. Good, C# is too verbose in this regard. In my code there are also some "private" variables that I rename by prefixing them with "_". That's how Dart marks privates. Don't like much this design, but I comprehend where it comes from.

Another easy replace is "extends" in place of ":" for class inheritance.

float data type is not available in Dart so I replace it with double, removing also the "f" from numeric constants (like 3.1415f).  It doesn't matter much because even in C# floats are mapped to the JavaScript number data type.

Looking at the docs, I find that Double.MaxValue and Double.MinValue are different, in Dart they are: double.MAX_FINITE and double.MIN_POSITIVE.

Dart has no namespaces (it has libraries instead), so I completely remove them from the code.

import takes the place of using in Dart, with a little difference. You import files instead of namespaces. So for instance if your projects has three .dart files, you have to import them where needed. In C#, once the files are added to the project, there is no need to declare them, unless they are on a different namespace (in that case you use using). Dart approach is more dynamic, and clearly reminds of the Javascript approach (and honestly I think that makes sense in the context of a dynamic language).

Overall, I had to import the following libraries
  • "dart:html" to be able to work with the canvas (the raytraced image)
  • "dart:js" for JavaScript interop (see later)
  • "dart:math" for sqrt() (in place of Math.Sqrt).  Math.Floor() is done via double.floor().
To my surprise Dart has no cast (e.g. (double)x), and in a certain sense it's less tolerant than C#. For example you can't pass "0" or "1" as a double parameter, but you have to be specific by writing "0.0" and "1.0". A bit annoying. Also I had to specify the ~/ operator when dividing by an int number, which looks a bit weird.

Differently from C#, const(s) are necessarily static, while overloading operators are not static. It doesn't make a big difference, but now that I think of it, it makes more sense, because constants are defined regardless of the object instance, while operators do work on instances.

Two nice Dart features that helped to shorten the code, are constructor initialization (now also featured in C# 6.0) and property getter/setter with the  => syntax. For example:

int get ElapsedMilliseconds => getTime() - start_time;  

This syntax is not very intuitive and one needs to get used to it; but reading the Dart documentation it seems to be coherent with the approach of having functions as first-class citizens (something I really miss in C#).

The code shortens also for abstract classes, once a class is declared abstract there is no need to specify "abstract" for methods, nor to write the "override" keyword when implementing the member.

Another nice feature is string interpolation, which is the equivalent of C#'s String.Format. DartEditor is able to perform in-string syntax highlight for string interpolation. Unexpected, very good.

Parameters by reference: apparently Dart doesn't have an equivalent of the "ref" C# keyword (I guess it's the same for "out"). But I discovered in my code the only "ref" usage was unnecessary, so I just dropped it. I like Dart's design here, arguments by reference make code unreadable. If more than a return parameter is needed, why not returning a structured object? (easy in true dynamic languages).

The code conversion became more complex when I had to do JavaScript interop. In this regard the C# Saltarelle compiler is more practical because gives you full access to JavaScript by the mean of the[InlineCode] attribute. Here C# is totally different from Dart: the C# compiler doesn't pretend to live in a proprietary VM, but assumes from the start the code is running within the JavaScript VM, so all objects are accessible and tricked to be true C# objects (by the mean of [InlineCode] and other attributes like [Imported]). Working with inline JavaScript code is similar to going down at the assembler level, it can be more efficient but it's no longer C#. But that fits perfectly in the strange world of C# run by the browser.

Dart can't do the same because it's meant to run in its separate VM, and has to work the regardless whether it's running in a browser or not. So to be able to access JavaScript objects in Dart, you have to do interop.

Interop is really tedious to write, to a certain extent it resembles working with Reflection in C#. But luckily for me I had just one object to convert. It's called MersenneTwister, and it's used for the sole reason of providing the same random numbers across the two different implementations. Since the raytraced scene is generated randomly, I want exactly the same scene in both C# and Dart so I can compare their execution speeds. In a different context I would have used Dart's native Random functions.

That's why I have a custom Random (and DartEditor will warn of the name conflict) and also a custom StopWatch, just to be sure time measurements are the same between the two implementations.

I was very happy to see that the interfaces for working with the canvas (CanvasElement, CanvasRenderingContext2D and ImageData) are almost identical to C#, so I had to do only minor changes.

Now it's finished, the code is completely converted.

I click run, Dartium quickly opens  and the familiar raytraced image is rendered on the screen. Cool, I didn't expect it to work at the first attempt!!!

Being to good to be true, I check for caching, fearing that the old C# was called in some way. But no, it's really Dart code running and doing ray-tracing! Hurray!

After that, it took me a while and lot of googling to discover how to generate the needed JavaScript files. While developing, your program will run in Dartium within the DartVM. You can "Manage Launches" and run on generic browsers too, but if you want your JavaScript files generated for deploy, you have to click the tool option "Pub Build".

Ok. Done. All is ready. Let's see the benchmark results!


I tested the program my old AMD Athlon II X4 640 CPU, running @3GHZ with 8GBRAM and Windows 7 X64. It's the same machine I used two years ago for the JSIL-vs-Saltarelle test.

  • Firefox: 31.0
  • Chrome: 36.0.19
  • Chromium: 36.0.19
  • Internet Explorer: 11.0.96
The program is set to draw the random scene pictured above, in a 640x480 canvas and report the average time per pixel spent in calculation (expressed in milliseconds).

Since there is a certain variability among different runs, I repeated the test several times taking the smallest number (this aint very scientific, I know). Such variability is evident in Chrome, where the first run is usually a lot faster. Refreshing the page never gives the same fast numbers. Maybe it's because of garbage collector kicking in, who knows!

Dart Results:

When run in Chromium (aka Dartium) Dart can be executed in native mode because of the embedded DartVM. In all other cases, Dart code needs to be transpiled to JavaScript.
  1. Dartium (DartVM) unchecked mode: 0.002,8 ms/pixel
  2. Dartium (DartVM)   checked mode: 0.006,3 ms/pixel
  3. Chrome   (JavaScript): 0.025,6 ms/pixel
  4. Explorer (JavaScript): 0.108,3 ms/pixel (*)
  5. Firefox  (JavaScript): 0.112,9 ms/pixel
(*) For some strange reason, Explorer didn't work from outside of the DartEditor, giving the exception "unable to bind to a null object".

C# Results:

These numbers come from running the C# program (Chrome result is different from the two years ago test, due to browser updates).
  • Firefox:  0.000,3 ms/pixel
  • Chrome:   0.003,6 ms/pixel
  • Explorer: 0.012,6 ms/pixel


First we notice the native Dart VM fulfils the promise of being faster than compiled JavaScript. It's a 10x increase between unchecked mode and the fastest JavaScript browser. Not bad, but we expected that.

What we didn't expect is the poor performance of DartVM compared to C#. They are on the same order of magnitude (Dartium 0.002 ms vs Chrome 0.003 ms), meaning that there is no big difference of using transpiled JavaScript or going native with Dart. If that holds true, the whole Dart purpose is in danger!

What are the reason of this? Hard to say. For sure Javascript runtimes have benefited from browsers war between vendors, while Dart is young and has no competitors. This is confirmed if you look at the numbers of the two years ago test: you will notice that, on the same machine, Chrome has halved its execution speed, in just two years!

Anyway what is totally disappointing for me is the even worse performance of the compiled JavaScript (dart2js). It's ten time slower than the C# counterpart! It is evidently slower even without doing any measurement, just by eye. Not only, Dart output is also bigger in terms of file size. The file dart_raytracerdemo.dart.js is 360 KB long (unminified), while the C# counterpart (mscorlib.js+raytracerdemo.js) is only 139 KB. The Dart team has a lot to improve here.


Overall, it was an interesting experience to port this program from C# to Dart. My conclusion is that Dart is a promising language, featuring all that I miss in C#, but still too young to go all-in with it. But it's also true that Microsoft failed to adopt C# as main web development language, so I would be happy if Dart takes its place one day.

Edit of 23 Aug: Tests repeated

As I've been asked to report data differently and do more accurate measurements, I've repeated the whole benchmarks with some changes:
  • I've measured total elapsed time in place of time per pixel; it doesn't change much but it easier to understand.
  • The scene was made more complex by having 300 random spheres instead of 30. This increases the overall elapsed time roughly by 10x, making the measurements less variable.
  • I've also compiled a "native C#" version of it, in order to compare Dart VM vs Microsoft VM (aka CLR or MSIL). 

Edit of 24 Aug: added TypeScript

+Freemen Muaddib suggested to add a native JavaScript implementation to the benchmark, so this morning I derived one by porting the source first to TypeScript and then compiling to JavaScript.

It was an harder work than the Dart port, because in TypeScript type annotations have a different (and more clumsy) syntax. Also, no operator overloads (it was an hell to work with vector math) and you have always to reference to "this" for class members, even when you are within the class itself. In other words, TypeScript inherits all the JavaScript quirks.

Anyway Typescript resulted the fastest among all in Chrome. See the updated table of results.

Edit of 25 Aug: improved Dart code

+StephanHerhut suggested to initialize two fields to 0.0, because explicit initialization, especially for static fields, helps type inference in Dart. This is also semantically consistent with the C# version, because in a certain sense, it simulates non-nullability of the fields.
This simple fix resulted in a ~50% speed increase for dart2js compiled code and ~10% for DartVM. The native execution was also improved with +VyacheslavEgorov's suggestion of using double constants instead of integer constants when doing compare operations (eg. if(r>255.0) in place of if(r>255)).

See the updated results.
the new 3d test scene

new results, time is expressed in seconds

Final remarks

  • TypeScript is the fastest among all. 
  • Dart VM is the faster than Microsoft VM, it's a surprise.
  • Transpiled C# does a nice job competing both with Dart VM and Microsoft VM. 
  • Dart2Js has a lot to improve

The Github repo now contains all the versions used for this test: Dart, C# Saltarelle, C# native and TypeScript.

venerdì 28 dicembre 2012

A MetaStock class library in C#

Metastock is a popular data format for storing end-of-day and intraday stock quotes data.

It's a very old format with a structure that is a total mess. I myself have spent a lot of time figuring how to properly read quotes in a jungle of different files and formats.

Here I present the actual C# code I use to interface with the database that I update every evening from my data vendor.

Information on the metastock data structure is scattered over the web. I've collected what seemed to work and implemented as a C# class. A special thank to Julian M Bucknall for providing the code to convert from MBF4 (Microsoft Binary Format single precision) to standard floating point IEEE number.

The library is organized as follows:
  • the struct MetaStockRow stores one day of data
   public struct MetaStockRow  
    public DateTime Day;  
    public double Open;  
    public double High;  
    public double Low;  
    public double Close;  
    public double Volume;  
    public double OpenInterest;  
  • a set of MetaStockRow(s) forms a MetaStockTable, that is, the whole data for a stock symbol
  • a set of MetaStockTable(s) forms a MetaStockCollection, which is useful when you have to work with more than one stock at a time. A special feature of MetaStockCollection is the capability to intersect dates, that is,  making sure that the stocks you are working with have the same data points (days).
  • MetaStockTables and MetaStockCollections are generated by the class MetaStockReader which is the main object that performs the low-level reading on the database files. 
How to use the code:
  • Create a MetaStockReader object
  • Use AddPath() to tell it where your metastock folders are located (usually there are more than one). 
  • Create a MetaStockCollection object
  • Insert stocks in the collection with AddSymbol()
  • Trim and synch dates in the collection with FilterPeriod() and IntersectDates()
  • Get daily closes with GetCloseArray()

An example:

 MetaStockReader MR = new MetaStockReader();       
 MetaStockCollection ML = new MetaStockCollection();                
 ML = ML.FilterPeriod(DateTime.Parse("01/01/2000"),DateTime.Parse("31/12/2011"));  
 ML = ML.IntersectDates();  
 double[] s1 = ML[0].GetCloseArray();  
 double[] s2 = ML[1].GetCloseArray();  

If you need to work with just one stock, you can avoid using MetaStockCollection and work directly with MetaStockTable objects and access to its MetaStockRow(s).

There is a little more in the code of what I've shown here, but if you have a look at the sources you can easily discover by yourself all the other features. I must warn you the code quality is rather poor, because I haven't spent much time in improving it. I stopped when it "worked" (shame on me!).

Download the C# source code here.

sabato 1 dicembre 2012

Saltarelle vs JSIL -- Raytracer Demo

I've compared the performance of Saltarelle-compiler vs. another C# to Javascript compiler: JSIL by Kevin Gadd.

Differently from Saltarelle, JSIL operates at intermediate language (IL) level. After the C# program is compiled by Visual Studio, JSIL examines the MSIL instruction codes contained in the dll files and translates them into javascript.

This allows a greater compatibility and portability of .NET applications, but probably introduces an unnecessary layer of abstraction between the original C# code and the javascript output but the additional code needed to simulate all the .NET library has a negative impact on the execution of the compiled code.

This is shown by the following test.

I've converted the Raytracer Demo featured on the JSIL website to the Saltarelle compiler, with the aim to compare the execution speed of the two versions.

Adapting the code to Saltarelle was easy but not straightforward. Saltarelle was missing some needed System classes that I had to re-implement, namely BitmapColorStopWatch, Console and Random. I tried to keep them as similar as possible to the JSIL version so to not affect the result of the test. I also had to write the import code for mersenne.js, a small library the demo uses for generating random numbers (probably because javascript's Math.random() lacks the random seed feature).

Result of the test

I ran the test on a four core Athlon AMD processor with Windows 7 and Chrome browser. The result is summarized in the table:

Script code size (.js)108 KB15 MB
Average time/pixel0.006 ms0.093 ms

So, on average, Saltarelle is 15 times faster than JSIL. Impressive!

The output script code is also very small-sized with no loading time, while the JSIL version has to download 15 MB of stuff before it can start.

Check by yourself

Run the above test directly in your browser:
You can also download the sources hosted on GitHub .

lunedì 20 giugno 2011

Indirizzo del sito

Il mio vecchio sito (quello statico HTML) ha cambiato indirizzo, adesso si trova su

Ciò è dovuto al fatto che il provider (Virgilio/Xoom) ha fatto dei cambiamenti e il mio sito è sparito all'improvviso. Adesso l'ho ricreato, ma tutti i link che puntavano ad esso non sono più validi.

Inoltre sono sparito pure dai motori di ricerca! (spero temporaneamente).