A major upgrade to Megaparsec: more speed, more power

Published on July 6, 2017

It looks like comparing Haskell’s performance with C (even just FFI) causes too much disturbance in the force, so this time I’ll be comparing Haskell with Haskell, namely Megaparsec 6 (still in making) with the gold standard of fast parsing in the Haskell world—Attoparsec.

The post is about a modification to Megaparsec extending its Stream type class to achieve four goals:

  1. Allow to return more natural types from things like string. If you parse Text stream, you should get Text from there, with minimal repacking/overhead. (Megaparsec 5 returns String ~ [Char] for any stream of tokens Char.)

  2. Reduce allocations and increase speed. Consuming input token by token and repacking them into String for example is not most efficient way to parse a row of tokens. Surely we can do better.

  3. Add more combinators like takeWhile, which should return “chunks” of input stream with correct type (e.g. ByteString if we parse ByteString stream). This is to match what Attoparsec can do.

  4. Make code simpler by moving the complex position-updating logic that we keep for custom streams of tokens into the methods of the Stream type class. This way if you have a custom stream of tokens, you’ll have to write the correct position updating code. At the same time, default streams (String, Text, ByteString) will enjoy simplified, faster processing.


We’re going to need some benchmarks. I have made the repo with the code I used for comparison public, it can be found here: https://github.com/mrkkrp/parsers-bench.

It contains 3 pairs of parsers:

  • CSV parser (original code)
  • JSON parser (stolen from Attoparsec’s Aeson.hs benchmark with simplifications)
  • Log parser (stolen from School of Haskell tutorial)

I do not want to focus on microbenchmarks, instead I want to compare “common place”, average parsing code people usually write with the libraries (fortunately the code written using Attoparsec is easily convertable to Megaparsec). To make the comparison fair, I also do not use complex monadic stacks with Megaparsec, as it would surely make it slower (with Attoparsec you just can’t do that after all).

Running the benchmark with Megaparsec before any Stream-related optimizations gives us the starting point:

Megaparsec vs Attoparsec (before optimizations)
Megaparsec vs Attoparsec (before optimizations)

Honestly, this is better than I expected. Average Megaparsec parser is just twice as slow as average Attoparsec parser. Now what is really interesting is how close we can get to performance of the venerable library without compromising on flexibility and quality of error messages.

Extending Stream and adding new primitives

In this section I’m going to explain how the Stream type class has been extended (or rather re-written) to allow for a more efficient (and simpler) tokens implementation and addition of completely new primitive combinators. After that we’ll see if it helps with performance.


Let’s start with tokens, which is a familiar primitive: string and string' are implemented in terms of it. It allows to match a fixed chunk of stream (that is, several tokens in a row). It also backtracks automatically in modern versions of Megaparsec, which makes it easier to just slice and compare a “chunk” of stream directly and efficiently.

There are several possible implementations that would require different methods to be added to Stream. I went with extracting a chunk of fixed length equal to the length of the chunk we want to match against, then comparing it using user-supplied function to figure out if what we’ve fetched is a match.

The implementation currently looks like this:

pTokens :: forall e s m. Stream s
  => (Tokens s -> Tokens s -> Bool)
  -> Tokens s
  -> ParsecT e s m (Tokens s)
pTokens f tts = ParsecT $ \s@(State input (pos:|z) tp w) cok _ _ eerr ->
  let pxy = Proxy :: Proxy s
      unexpect pos' u =
        let us = pure u
            ps = (E.singleton . Tokens . NE.fromList . chunkToTokens pxy) tts
        in TrivialError pos' us ps
      len = chunkLength pxy tts
  in case takeN_ len input of
    Nothing ->
      eerr (unexpect (pos:|z) EndOfInput) s
    Just (tts', input') ->
      if f tts tts'
        then let !npos = advanceN pxy w pos tts'
             in cok tts' (State input' (npos:|z) (tp + len) w) mempty
        else let !apos = positionAtN pxy pos tts'
                 ps = (Tokens . NE.fromList . chunkToTokens pxy) tts'
             in eerr (unexpect (apos:|z) ps) (State input (apos:|z) tp w)

If it doesn’t make much sense to you, it’s OK. The point here is that we need this takeN_ primitive to grab N tokens from input stream:

-- | Type class for inputs that can be consumed by the library.

class (Ord (Token s), Ord (Tokens s)) => Stream s where

  -- | Type of token in the stream.

  type Token s :: *

  -- | Type of “chunk” of the stream.

  type Tokens s :: *

  -- | Extract a single token form the stream. Return 'Nothing' if the
  -- stream is empty.

  take1_ :: s -> Maybe (Token s, s)

  -- | @'takeN_' n s@ should try to extract a chunk of length @n@, or if the
  -- stream is too short, the rest of the stream. Valid implementation
  -- should follow the rules:
  --     * If the requested length @n@ is 0 (or less), 'Nothing' should
  --       never be returned, instead @'Just' (\"\", s)@ should be returned,
  --       where @\"\"@ stands for the empty chunk, and @s@ is the original
  --       stream (second argument).
  --     * If the requested length is greater than 0 and the stream is
  --       empty, 'Nothing' should be returned indicating end of input.
  --     * In other cases, take chunk of length @n@ (or shorter if the
  --       stream is not long enough) from the input stream and return the
  --       chunk along with the rest of the stream.

  takeN_ :: Int -> s -> Maybe (Tokens s, s)

As you can see, takeN_ returns Tokens s thing, where Tokens is a new associated type of the Stream type class. It’s the same as stream type for built-in streams (String, strict and lazy Text and ByteString), but it may be desirable to have something that differs from the stream type s when working with custom streams.

take1_ is our old workhorse uncons under different name—truly the most common operation in parsing (basis of the token primitive), but we’ll talk more about that later when analyzing performance.

takeN_ is in foundation of tokens for another reason as well—we’d like to keep the number of Stream’s methods minimal, and takeN_ can be used to implement many useful combinators such as match:

-- | Return both the result of a parse and the list of tokens that were
-- consumed during parsing. This relies on the change of the
-- 'stateTokensProcessed' value to evaluate how many tokens were consumed.
-- If you mess with it manually in the argument parser, prepare for
-- troubles.
-- @since 5.3.0

match :: MonadParsec e s m => m a -> m (Tokens s, a)
match p = do
  tp  <- getTokensProcessed
  s   <- getInput
  r   <- p
  tp' <- getTokensProcessed
  -- NOTE The 'fromJust' call here should never fail because if the stream
  -- is empty before 'p' (the only case when 'takeN_' can return 'Nothing'
  -- as per its invariants), (tp' - tp) won't be greater than 0, and in that
  -- case 'Just' is guaranteed to be returned as per another invariant of
  -- 'takeN_'.
  return ((fst . fromJust) (takeN_ (tp' - tp) s), r)

If you look carefully at the definition of pTokens, you’ll notice more methods of Stream: positionAtN, advanceN, and chunkLength.

-- | Type class for inputs that can be consumed by the library.

class (Ord (Token s), Ord (Tokens s)) => Stream s where

  -- …

  -- | Set source position __at__ given token. By default, the given
  -- 'SourcePos' (second argument) is just returned without looking at the
  -- token. This method is important when your stream is a collection of
  -- tokens where every token knows where it begins in the original input.

    :: Proxy s         -- ^ 'Proxy' clarifying the type of stream
    -> SourcePos       -- ^ Current position
    -> Token s         -- ^ Current token
    -> SourcePos       -- ^ Position of the token
  positionAt1 Proxy = defaultPositionAt

  -- | The same as 'positionAt1', but for chunks of the stream. The function
  -- should return the position where the entire chunk begins. Again, by
  -- default the second argument is returned without modifications and the
  -- chunk is not looked at.

    :: Proxy s         -- ^ 'Proxy' clarifying the type of stream
    -> SourcePos       -- ^ Current position
    -> Tokens s        -- ^ Current chunk
    -> SourcePos       -- ^ Position of the chunk
  positionAtN Proxy = defaultPositionAt

  -- | Advance position given a single token. The returned position is the
  -- position right after the token, or position where the token ends.

    :: Proxy s         -- ^ 'Proxy' clarifying the type of stream
    -> Pos             -- ^ Tab width
    -> SourcePos       -- ^ Current position
    -> Token s         -- ^ Current token
    -> SourcePos       -- ^ Advanced position

  -- | Advance position given a chunk of stream. The returned position is
  -- the position right after the chunk, or position where the chunk ends.

    :: Proxy s         -- ^ 'Proxy' clarifying the type of stream
    -> Pos             -- ^ Tab width
    -> SourcePos       -- ^ Current position
    -> Tokens s        -- ^ Current token
    -> SourcePos       -- ^ Advanced position

  -- | Return length of a chunk of the stream.

  chunkLength :: Proxy s -> Tokens s -> Int

positionAt1 and positionAtN set position at single token and given chunk of stream respectively. For all the built-in streams it’s enough to just return the given source position:

defaultPositionAt :: SourcePos -> a -> SourcePos
defaultPositionAt pos _ = pos

Because in input like aaab, if we have matched all as, we are automatically at b’s position—that’s it. The methods are more useful for streams of tokens where every token contains its position in original input, for example:

data Span = Span
  { spanStart :: SourcePos
  , spanEnd   :: SourcePos
  , spanBody  :: NonEmpty Char
  } deriving (Eq, Ord, Show)

instance Stream [Span] where
  type Token [Span] = Span
  type Tokens [Span] = [Span]
  positionAt1 Proxy _ (Span start _ _) = start
  positionAtN Proxy pos [] = pos
  positionAtN Proxy _ (Span start _ _:_) = start
  advance1 Proxy _ _ (Span _ end _) = end
  advanceN Proxy _ pos [] = pos
  advanceN Proxy _ _ ts =
    let Span _ end _ = last ts in end
  chunkLength Proxy = length
  take1_ [] = Nothing
  take1_ (t:ts) = Just (t, ts)
  takeN_ n s
    | n <= 0   = Just ([], s)
    | null s   = Nothing
    | otherwise = Just (splitAt n s)

advance1 and advanceN position stream right after parsed token or chunk. For built-in streams advanceN is just defined via advance1 and a strict left fold over given chunk.

chunkLength should be obvious—without it we wouldn’t be able to keep track of the total number of processed tokens.

Isomorphism between [Token s] and Tokens s

Let’s see more methods of Stream:

-- | Type class for inputs that can be consumed by the library.

class (Ord (Token s), Ord (Tokens s)) => Stream s where

  -- …

  -- | The first method that establishes isomorphism between list of tokens
  -- and chunk of the stream. Valid implementation should satisfy:
  -- > chunkToTokens pxy (tokensToChunk pxy ts) == ts

  tokensToChunk :: Proxy s -> [Token s] -> Tokens s

  -- | The second method that establishes isomorphism between list of tokens
  -- and chunk of the stream. Valid implementation should satisfy:
  -- > tokensToChunk pxy (chunkToTokens pxy chunk) == chunk

  chunkToTokens :: Proxy s -> Tokens s -> [Token s]

chunkToTokens is primarily necessary to report chunks of input in parse errors. There will be a different blog post about changes related to parse errors, but it suffices to say that unexpected and expected tokens are ErrorItems, defined like this:

data ErrorItem t
  = Tokens (NonEmpty t)      -- ^ Non-empty stream of tokens
  | Label (NonEmpty Char)    -- ^ Label (cannot be empty)
  | EndOfInput               -- ^ End of input

This removes weird errors like unexpected "" or expecting "" and merges one token/many tokens case into the single constructor Tokens (NonEmpty t) simplifying error reporting and making it more uniform (you can’t get different renderings of essentially the same thing like "a" and 'a', if there is one token, it’s always formatted 'a', if there are more tokens, string-like syntax is used: "aa").

To get NonEmpty t, we need to get [Token s] (remember t ~ Token s), so that’s what chunkToTokens is for. (Don’t worry, because of the requirements we state for takeN_, NE.fromList never blows up in pTokens).

There are reasons to request also tokensToChunk—that is, mapping in the opposite direction. Here is a motivating example:

-- | Parse a carriage return character followed by a newline character.
-- Return the sequence of characters parsed.

crlf :: forall e s m. (MonadParsec e s m, Token s ~ Char) => m (Tokens s)
crlf = string (tokensToChunk (Proxy :: Proxy s) "\r\n")

-- reminder:

string :: MonadParsec e s m => Tokens s -> m (Tokens s)
string = tokens (==)

string takes Tokens s, but if we add constraint like Tokens s ~ Text, crlf will be useful with only one type of input stream. We can just request that Token s ~ Char if we can convert list of tokens [Char] to the chunk type. This way, the same crlf function works out-of-the-box with String, strict and lazy Text, and any other Stream instance with Token s ~ Char that user may add. (We could go with IsString (Tokens s), in this particular case but it’s a less-general solution because tokens may have nothing to do with characters and IsString may make no sense for Tokens s type).

So for instances of Stream we request that list of tokens [Token s] and Tokens s are isomorphic with tokensToChunk and chunkToTokens acting as a way to switch representations:

chunkToTokens pxy (tokensToChunk pxy ts)    == ts
tokensToChunk pxy (chunkToTokens pxy chunk) == chunk

One special case is lifting single token to the chunk type, like in this eol parser:

-- | Parse a CRLF (see 'crlf') or LF (see 'newline') end of line. Return the
-- sequence of characters parsed.

eol :: forall e s m. (MonadParsec e s m, Token s ~ Char) => m (Tokens s)
eol = (tokenToChunk (Proxy :: Proxy s) <$> newline)
  <|> crlf
  <?> "end of line"

“Common denominator” return type of newline :: m (Token s) and crlf :: m (Tokens s) is certainly Tokens s. No problem, we could use tokensToChunk (Proxy @s) . pure, but it feels like a shame to do that when there are singleton functions that do the conversion in a list-free fashion, so we add tokenToChunk to Stream as well.

takeWhileP, takeWhile1P, and takeP

We’ve got 10 methods in Stream type class now. That’s (unfortunately) not enough. Our aim is to add the following very useful primitives found in Attoparsec: takeWhile, takeWhile1, and take. They all should return chunks of input without repacking just like tokens does.

Let’s start with takeWhile and write its signature:

takeWhile :: MonadParsec e s m => (Token s -> Bool) -> m (Tokens s)

Looks about right? With Attoparsec it’s OK to go with this one, but there are subtle details related to quality of parse errors that we cannot neglect in Megaparsec, so the signature will be a bit different.

The problem here is that we know nothing about these Token s things for which the predicate returns True. Without that information parse errors will suck. You may be thinking now that adding (<?>) could save the situation:

space = takeWhile isSpace <?> "white space"

The idiom is valid and has its uses, but it’s not quite the same as:

space = many spaceChar
    spaceChar = satisfy isSpace <?> "white space"

To understand why, we need to remember that when we match a row of tokens and then fail right after that we should not forget that there could be more of those tokens before the position where we failed at, to illustrate:

λ> parseTest (many spaceChar <* eof) "  a"
unexpected 'a'
expecting end of input or white space

Megaparsec keeps track of those “possible” matches using something called hints. (Parsec passes around dummy parse errors from which only “expected” component is used with the same result.) They are created when something fails without consuming input in context of a bigger combinator (typically alternatives with (<|>)) that itself succeeds and are kept until more input is consumed, then they are discarded by Megaparsec’s machinery:

λ> parseTest (many spaceChar <* many (char 'b') <* eof) "  a"
unexpected 'a'
expecting 'b', end of input, or white space
λ> parseTest (many spaceChar <* many (char 'b') <* eof) "  ba"
unexpected 'a'
expecting 'b' or end of input

Furthermore, this is different from labeling the whole thing (I don’t bother to convert the chars to actual number here):

λ> parseTest ((some digitChar <?> "integer") <* eof) "123a"
unexpected 'a'
expecting end of input or the rest of integer

This “the rest of integer” phrase is different from just “digit”, so it’s a different thing.

We want to label those individual tokens matched by takeWhile even though our parsing code never really gets to manipulate them “normally”. So a better signature is probably something like this:

  -- | Parse /zero/ or more tokens for which the supplied predicate holds.
  -- Try to use this as much as possible because for many streams the
  -- combinator is much faster than parsers built with 'many' and
  -- 'Text.Megaparsec.Char.satisfy'.
  -- The following equations should clarify the behavior:
  -- > takeWhileP (Just "foo") f = many (satisfy f <?> "foo")
  -- > takeWhileP Nothing      f = many (satisfy f)
  -- The combinator never fails, although it may parse an empty chunk.
  -- @since 6.0.0

    :: Maybe String    -- ^ Name for a single token in the row
    -> (Token s -> Bool) -- ^ Predicate to use to test tokens
    -> m (Tokens s)    -- ^ A chunk of matching tokens

We can make the normal “hints” machinery deal with the label and it’s still possible to label the whole thing with (<?>) for a slightly different result.

Since Megaparsec is typically imported unqualified, the “P” suffix should prevent name collisions with the standard list functions from prelude.

Implementation of takeWhileP:

pTakeWhileP :: forall e s m. Stream s
  => Maybe String
  -> (Token s -> Bool)
  -> ParsecT e s m (Tokens s)
pTakeWhileP ml f = ParsecT $ \(State input (pos:|z) tp w) cok _ eok _ ->
  let pxy = Proxy :: Proxy s
      (ts, input') = takeWhile_ f input
      !npos = advanceN pxy w pos ts
      len = chunkLength pxy ts
      hs =
        case ml >>= NE.nonEmpty of
          Nothing -> mempty
          Just l -> (Hints . pure . E.singleton . Label) l
  in if chunkEmpty pxy ts
       then eok ts (State input' (npos:|z) (tp + len) w) hs
       else cok ts (State input' (npos:|z) (tp + len) w) hs

Nothing new, except we need to add takeWhile_ to the Stream type class because it’s not expressible via what we have so far. Another addition is chunkEmpty because we want to use the correct continuation (eok when nothing has been consumed and cok otherwise):

-- | Type class for inputs that can be consumed by the library.

class (Ord (Token s), Ord (Tokens s)) => Stream s where

  -- …

  -- | Check if a chunk of the stream is empty. The default implementation
  -- is in terms of the more general 'chunkLength':
  -- > chunkEmpty pxy ts = chunkLength pxy ts <= 0
  -- However for many streams there may be a more efficient implementation.

  chunkEmpty :: Proxy s -> Tokens s -> Bool
  chunkEmpty pxy ts = chunkLength pxy ts <= 0

  -- | Extract chunk of the stream taking tokens while the supplied
  -- predicate returns 'True'. Return the chunk and the rest of the stream.
  -- For many types of streams, the method allows for significant
  -- performance improvements, although it is not strictly necessary from
  -- conceptual point of view.

  takeWhile_ :: (Token s -> Bool) -> s -> (Tokens s, s)

Now Stream is complete. It’s still not hard to make a type an instance of Stream, for example:

instance Stream String where
  type Token String = Char
  type Tokens String = String
  tokenToChunk Proxy = pure
  tokensToChunk Proxy = id
  chunkToTokens Proxy = id
  chunkLength Proxy = length
  chunkEmpty Proxy = null
  advance1 Proxy = defaultAdvance1
  advanceN Proxy w = foldl' (defaultAdvance1 w)
  take1_ [] = Nothing
  take1_ (t:ts) = Just (t, ts)
  takeN_ n s
    | n <= 0    = Just ("", s)
    | null s    = Nothing
    | otherwise = Just (splitAt n s)
  takeWhile_ = span

instance Stream T.Text where
  type Token T.Text = Char
  type Tokens T.Text = T.Text
  tokenToChunk Proxy = T.singleton
  tokensToChunk Proxy = T.pack
  chunkToTokens Proxy = T.unpack
  chunkLength Proxy = T.length
  chunkEmpty Proxy = T.null
  advance1 Proxy = defaultAdvance1
  advanceN Proxy w = T.foldl' (defaultAdvance1 w)
  take1_ = T.uncons
  takeN_ n s
    | n <= 0    = Just (T.empty, s)
    | T.null s  = Nothing
    | otherwise = Just (T.splitAt n s)
  takeWhile_ = T.span

-- etc.

takeWhile1P requires at least one matching token:

  -- | Similar to 'takeWhileP', but fails if it can't parse at least one
  -- token. Note that the combinator either succeeds or fails without
  -- consuming any input, so 'try' is not necessary with it.
  -- @since 6.0.0

    :: Maybe String    -- ^ Name for a single token in the row
    -> (Token s -> Bool) -- ^ Predicate to use to test tokens
    -> m (Tokens s)    -- ^ A chunk of matching tokens

And takeP accepts precise number of tokens to consume as an argument:

  -- | Extract the specified number of tokens from the input stream and
  -- return them packed as a chunk of stream. If there is not enough tokens
  -- in the stream, a parse error will be signaled. It's guaranteed that if
  -- the parser succeeds, the requested number of tokens will be returned.
  -- The parser is roughly equivalent to:
  -- > takeP (Just "foo") n = count n (anyChar <?> "foo")
  -- > takeP Nothing      n = count n anyChar
  -- Note that if the combinator fails due to insufficient number of tokens
  -- in the input stream, it backtracks automatically. No 'try' is necessary
  -- with 'takeP'.
  -- @since 6.0.0

    :: Maybe String    -- ^ Name for a single token in the row
    -> Int             -- ^ How many tokens to extract
    -> m (Tokens s)    -- ^ A chunk of matching tokens

We won’t look at the implementations (which also may be not totally obvious) because they do not introduce anything of interest.

When String is a more efficient type than Text

People often claim that Text is more efficient than String and “serious” code should prefer Text and ByteString, because String is for suckers. Well, it depends.

To judge capabilities of our new code, we must understand which operations are efficient with ByteString and Text and which are not, and how to use the efficient ones to maximum benefit . There is no magic to make things faster just because we started to parse Text instead of String.

The terrifying truth: if your parser (Megaparsec or Parsec) parses String and you just switch to Text, chances are the performance will degrade.

Surprised? Here are the facts:

  • Unconsing is the most common operation that is performed on input stream. This is because most of the time we need fine-grained control that forces us to consume and analyze one token at a time.

  • String is a list of characters [Char], the characters are already there. No need to allocate a Char every time and uncons is a very efficient operation for lists.

  • Text is data Text = Text Array Int Int (omitting unboxing pragmas). No Chars here. Every time we uncons we need to do a lot more work and allocate new Char. It’s slower.

And here are the benchmarks (made with current Megaparsec master):

When String is an efficient type
When String is an efficient type


Case Allocated GCs Max
manyTill (string)/500 160,312 0 12,024
manyTill (string)/1000 320,312 0 24,024
manyTill (string)/2000 640,312 1 48,024
manyTill (string)/4000 1,280,312 2 96,024
manyTill (text)/500 233,832 0 1,192
manyTill (text)/1000 466,832 0 2,192
manyTill (text)/2000 932,832 1 4,192
manyTill (text)/4000 1,864,832 3 8,192
manyTill (byte string)/500 164,536 0 104
manyTill (byte string)/1000 328,536 0 104
manyTill (byte string)/2000 659,136 1 104
manyTill (byte string)/4000 1,320,600 2 4,136

Note how even though max residency with String is higher, it allocates less than Text.

So, has Attoparsec gone wrong by not supporting String? How do we save prestige of Text and ByteString?

There is hope…

It’s true that unconsing is slow, but there are other operations that are fast. Good news is that we have just wrapped some of them as takeN_ and takeWhile_.

Efficient operations are typically those that produce Text from Text and ByteString from ByteString. In other words the primitives that return Tokens s instead of Token s are fast.

Attoparsec does not make a secret as to where the source of its speed lies (quoting the docs):

Use the Text-oriented parsers whenever possible, e.g. takeWhile1 instead of many1 anyChar. There is about a factor of 100 difference in performance between the two kinds of parser.

This is important. Let me show you a picture:

Performance of some parsers with text
Performance of some parsers with text

And allocations:

Case Allocated GCs Max
string/500 21,760 0 1,072
string/1000 42,744 0 2,072
string/2000 84,744 0 4,072
string/4000 168,744 0 8,072
string’/500 127,856 0 1,072
string’/1000 254,840 0 2,072
string’/2000 508,840 0 4,072
string’/4000 1,016,840 1 8,072
many/500 201,928 0 1,120
many/1000 402,912 0 2,120
many/2000 804,912 1 4,120
many/4000 1,608,912 3 8,120
some/500 221,856 0 1,120
some/1000 442,840 0 2,120
some/2000 884,840 1 4,120
some/4000 1,768,840 3 8,120
manyTill/500 246,096 0 1,184
manyTill/1000 491,080 0 2,184
manyTill/2000 981,080 1 4,184
manyTill/4000 1,961,080 3 8,184
someTill/500 337,648 0 1,184
someTill/1000 674,632 1 2,184
someTill/2000 1,348,632 2 4,184
someTill/4000 2,696,632 5 8,184
takeWhileP/500 21,696 0 1,072
takeWhileP/1000 42,680 0 2,072
takeWhileP/2000 84,680 0 4,072
takeWhileP/4000 168,680 0 8,072
takeWhile1P/500 21,696 0 1,072
takeWhile1P/1000 42,680 0 2,072
takeWhile1P/2000 84,680 0 4,072
takeWhile1P/4000 168,680 0 8,072
takeP/500 21,728 0 1,072
takeP/1000 42,712 0 2,072
takeP/2000 84,712 0 4,072
takeP/4000 168,712 0 8,072

Now that Megaparsec has grown the same sort of “muscle” as Attoparsec, will it make a difference?

Case study: Stache parser

While writing the post, I decided to compare a real-world Megaparsec 5 parser with its upgraded version. The switch wasn’t mechanic, I needed to take advantage of the new combinators to improve the speed.

Here is a PR, I won’t quote the diffs here, but I’ll list results of the switch:

  • I wanted string to return strict Text, so changing input type to strict Text was necessary. Not a big deal.

  • The new design forces the user to be more consistent with data types he/she is using. Previously I had a mix of String and Text. Now everything is strict Text. Which is a good thing.

  • Performance: judging by “comprehensive template” benchmark, the new parser is 43% faster than the old one. You can clone the repo and run the benchmark yourself for more info (the master branch can be used to see performance before the switch).

If you do a mechanical switch to Megaparsec 6, you still may get performance improvements (provided you don’t switch from String to Text without knowing what you are doing):

  • If you happen to use string a lot, you’ll see an improvement.

  • If you use combinators like space from Text.Megaparsec.Char and skipLineComment from Text.Megaparsec.Char.Lexer, you’ll find that they are faster now because they were re-implemented in terms of takeWhileP.

Still, most of the time manual tuning is necessary to get the most of the new combinators.

Back to Megaparsec vs Attoparsec

Ah yeah, I’ve almost forgotten, we’re “competing” with Attoparsec here.

To update the code to Megaparsec 6 I put takeWhileP and takeWhile1P in a couple of places, added inline pragmas that I initially forgot for the same functions as in Attoparsec’s JSON parser. I also followed the good advice from Attoparsec’s docs:

For very simple character-testing predicates, write them by hand instead of using inClass or notInClass.

(“By hand” means with satisfy. inClass in called oneOf in Megaparsec and notInClassnoneOf.)

Then I profiled the parsers and found out that numeric helpers like decimal can be a nasty bottleneck. I’ll save your time and won’t show the details here. Right now I’m working on a PR that should heavily optimize all numeric parsers in Megaparsec (let’s say “no” to read-based implementations!). At the time of writing it’s not ready yet, but I’ve put faster implementations of decimal and scientific (borrowed mostly from Attoparsec source) right into the parsers-bench repo. We’ll have something as efficient in Megaparsec once I finish with that PR.

I’ve got the following results:

Megaparsec vs Attoparsec (after optimizations)
Megaparsec vs Attoparsec (after optimizations)

I’m quite embarrassed about the JSON parser. I’m not sure why on the earth it’s even faster than Attoparsec. I tried it by hand and it looks that it produces valid results, i.e. it works. The style is not most natural, but that’s the style Attoparsec uses so it’s only fair to preserve it (we compare libraries, not styles). It may be some sort of mistake on my part, and I hope someone clever will point out what it is as soon as I publish the post. Again, all the code is here: https://github.com/mrkkrp/parsers-bench, so please be my guest.


Megaparsec in version 6 has acquired (or will acquire, upon release) some appeal that was unique to Attoparsec before. Now we have a collection of parsers that are 100–150× faster than standard approaches using traditional combinators like many and token-based parsers. We also avoid repacking results of token-based parsers as list of tokens (e.g. String) if we parse things like Text. Megaparsec has to do more bookkeeping to provide better error messages, but if these fast combinators are put into use like it’s the case with Attoparsec parsers, the difference with Attoparsec is not that dramatic is it’s usually thought.

Attoparsec still has its uses though: it’s still faster and supports incremental parsing properly. That said, with Megaparsec 6 released I’ll be more hesitant to use Attoparsec because it’s easier to use one library for everything, especially if it’s more powerful and not much slower.

The version 6 thus will aim to be not just a parser for human-readable texts and source code, but “one size fits all” general solution to parsing in Haskell, including low-level binary parsing.

If you want to play with version 6 (it probably won’t be released for another month), use something like this stack.yaml file:

resolver: lts-8.20
- '.'
- location:
    git: https://github.com/mrkkrp/megaparsec.git
    commit: 9a38f8318e5e06ccf861d0efb6f92031a9db0c49
  extra-dep: true
- parser-combinators-0.1.0

I’m thankful for any feedback you may have. You can open issues on GitHub or reach me on Twitter.