# Re: [R] Possible Improvement to sapply

```Martin

In terms of context of the actual problem, sapply is called millions of times
because the work involves scoring individual students who took a test. A score
for student A is generated and then student B and such and there are millions
of students. The psychometric process of scoring students is complex and our
code makes use of sapply many times for each student.```
```
The toy example used length just to illustrate, our actual code doesn't do
that. But your point is well taken, there may be a very good counterexample why
my proposal doesn't achieve the goal is a generalizable way.

-----Original Message-----
From: Martin Morgan [mailto:martin.mor...@roswellpark.org]
Sent: Tuesday, March 13, 2018 9:43 AM
To: Doran, Harold <hdo...@air.org>; 'r-help@r-project.org'
<r-help@r-project.org>
Subject: Re: [R] Possible Improvement to sapply

On 03/13/2018 09:23 AM, Doran, Harold wrote:
> While working with sapply, the documentation states that the simplify
> argument will yield a vector, matrix etc "when possible". I was
> curious how the code actually defined "as possible" and see this
> within the function
>
> if (!identical(simplify, FALSE) && length(answer))
>
> This seems superfluous to me, in particular this part:
>
> !identical(simplify, FALSE)
>
> The preceding code could be reduced to
>
>
> and it would not need to execute the call to identical in order to trigger
> the conditional execution, which is known from the user's simplify = TRUE or
> FALSE inputs. I *think* the extra call to identical is just unnecessary
>
> Take for example, the following toy example code and benchmark results and a
> small modification to sapply:
>
> myList <- list(a = rnorm(100), b = rnorm(100))
>
> answer <- lapply(X = myList, FUN = length) simplify = TRUE
>
> library(microbenchmark)
>
> mySapply <- function (X, FUN, ..., simplify = TRUE, USE.NAMES = TRUE){
>       FUN <- match.fun(FUN)
>      answer <- lapply(X = X, FUN = FUN, ...)
>      if (USE.NAMES && is.character(X) && is.null(names(answer)))
>          simplify2array(answer, higher = (simplify == "array"))
> }
>
>
>> microbenchmark(sapply(myList, length), times = 10000L)
> Unit: microseconds
>                     expr    min     lq     mean median     uq    max neval
>   sapply(myList, length) 14.156 15.572 16.67603 15.926 16.634 650.46
> 10000
>> microbenchmark(mySapply(myList, length), times = 10000L)
> Unit: microseconds
>                       expr    min     lq     mean median     uq      max neval
>   mySapply(myList, length) 13.095 14.864 16.02964 15.218 15.573
> 1671.804 10000
>
> My benchmark timings show a timing improvement with only that small change
> made and it is seemingly nominal. In my actual work, the sapply function is
> called millions of times and this additional overhead propagates to some
>
> I have done some limited testing on various real data to verify that the
> objects produced under both variants of the sapply (base R and my modified)
> yield identical objects when simply is both TRUE or FALSE.
>
> Perhaps someone else sees a counterexample where my proposed fix does not
> cause for sapply to behave as expected.
>

Check out ?sapply for possible values of `simplify=` to see why your proposal

For your example, lengths() is an order of magnitude faster than sapply(.,
length). This is a example of the advantages of vectorization (single call to
an R function implemented in C) versus iteration (`for` loops but also the
*apply family calling an R function many times).
vapply() might also be relevant.

Often performance improvements come from looking one layer up from where the
problem occurs and re-thinking the algorithm. Why would one need to call
sapply() millions of times, in a situation where this becomes rate-limiting?
Can the algorithm be re-implemented to avoid this step?

Martin Morgan

> Harold
>
> ______________________________________________
> R-help@r-project.org mailing list -- To UNSUBSCRIBE and more, see
> https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-help
> http://www.R-project.org/posting-guide.html
> and provide commented, minimal, self-contained, reproducible code.
>

This email message may contain legally privileged and/or confidential
information.  If you are not the intended recipient(s), or the employee or
agent responsible for the delivery of this message to the intended
recipient(s), you are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying,
distribution, or use of this email message is prohibited.  If you have received
this message in error, please notify the sender immediately by e-mail and
delete this email message from your computer. Thank you.

______________________________________________
R-help@r-project.org mailing list -- To UNSUBSCRIBE and more, see
https://stat.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/r-help