Performance considerations with network requests, database queries and other IO

Todays processors, memory and other sub systems are wicked fast. Nevertheless, many applications feel sluggish. In my experience this is true for client and server applications and not limited to specific scenarios. So the question is, why?

Many developer rush straight into optimizing their code to save CPU cycles. Most of the time thats not the real problem. The most important rule of performance optimisation stays true: Measure first!

Often times you will find your application waiting the greater part of its running time waiting for input/output (IO). Common sources for IO are database queries, network/http request and file system operations. Many developers are aware of these facts but we see this problem very often whether in inhouse or on-site customer projects.

Profile the unresponsive/slow parts of your application and check especially for hidden excess IO, here some Java examples:

  • The innocently looking method File.isFile() typically does a seek on the harddrive on each call. Using it an a loop over several dozens of files will slow you down massively.
  • The java.net.URL class does network requests for hashCode() and equals()! Never use it in collections, especially HashMaps. It is better to use the java.net.URI for managing the resource location and only convert to URL when needed.
  • Using an object-relational-mapping (ORM) tool like hibernate most people default to lazy loading. If your usage pattern requires to load the referenced objects all or most of the time you will get many additional database requests, at least one for each accessed association. In such cases it is most likely better to use eager fetching because the network and query overhead is reduced drastically and the data has to be loaded anyway.

So if you have performance and/or responsiveness problems, keep an eye on your IO pattern and optimize the algorithms to reduce IO. Usually it will help you much more than micro optimisation of your application code.

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