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As a testament to my obsession with progress bars in R, here is

a quick investigation about the overhead cost of

drawing a progress bar during computations in R.

I compared several approaches including

my **pbapply** and Hadley Wickham’s **plyr**.

Let’s compare the good old `lapply`

function from base R,

a custom-made variant called `lapply_pb`

that was

proposed here, `l_ply`

from the **plyr** package,

and finally `pblapply`

from the **pbapply** package:

```
library(pbapply)
library(plyr)
lapply_pb <- function(X, FUN, ...) {
env <- environment()
pb_Total <- length(X)
counter <- 0
pb <- txtProgressBar(min = 0, max = pb_Total, style = 3)
wrapper <- function(...){
curVal <- get("counter", envir = env)
assign("counter", curVal +1 ,envir = env)
setTxtProgressBar(get("pb", envir = env), curVal + 1)
FUN(...)
}
res <- lapply(X, wrapper, ...)
close(pb)
res
}
f <- function(n, type = "lapply", s = 0.1) {
i <- seq_len(n)
out <- switch(type,
"lapply" = system.time(lapply(i, function(i) Sys.sleep(s))),
"lapply_pb" = system.time(lapply_pb(i, function(i) Sys.sleep(s))),
"l_ply" = system.time(l_ply(i, function(i)
Sys.sleep(s), .progress="text")),
"pblapply" = system.time(pblapply(i, function(i) Sys.sleep(s))))
unname(out["elapsed"] - (n * s))
}
```

Use the function `f`

to run all four variants. The expected run time

is `n * s`

(number of iterations x sleep duration),

therefore we can calculate the overhead from the

return objects as elapsed minus expected. Let’s get some numbers

for a variety of `n`

values and replicated `B`

times

to smooth out the variation:

```
n <- c(10, 100, 1000)
s <- 0.01
B <- 10
x1 <- replicate(B, sapply(n, f, type = "lapply", s = s))
x2 <- replicate(B, sapply(n, f, type = "lapply_pb", s = s))
x3 <- replicate(B, sapply(n, f, type = "l_ply", s = s))
x4 <- replicate(B, sapply(n, f, type = "pblapply", s = s))
m <- cbind(
lapply = rowMeans(x1),
lapply_pb = rowMeans(x2),
l_ply = rowMeans(x3),
pblapply = rowMeans(x4))
op <- par(mfrow=c(1, 2))
matplot(n, m, type = "l", lty = 1, lwd = 3,
ylab = "Overhead (sec)", xlab = "# iterations")
legend("topleft", bty = "n", col = 1:4, lwd = 3, text.col = 1:4,
legend = colnames(m))
matplot(n, m / n, type = "l", lty = 1, lwd = 3,
ylab = "Overhead / # iterations (sec)", xlab = "# iterations")
par(op)
dev.off()
```

The plot tells us that the overhead increases linearly

with the number of iterations when using `lapply`

without progress bar.

All other three approaches show similar patterns to each other

and the overhead is constant: lines are

parallel above 100 iterations after an initial increase.

The per iteration overhead is decreasing, approaching

the `lapply`

line. Note that all the differences are tiny

and there is no practical consequence

for choosing one approach over the other in terms of processing times.

This is good news and another argument for using progress bar

because its usefulness far outweighs the minimal

(<2 seconds here for 1000 iterations)

overhead cost.

As always, suggestions and feature requests are welcome.

Leave a comment or visit the GitHub repo.

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**Peter Solymos - R related posts**.

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