1 line to cache slow functions and speed up your Python script

1 line to cache slow functions and speed up your Python script


In a nutshell: caching is an easy way to improve performance when costly computations can be reused. You can implement it easily in Python using @cache and @lru_cache decorators

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Caching is a simple technique to speedup your code when costly computations can be re-used. A cache is a high-speed, ephemere data storage layer containing a subset of data for fast access. Instead of computing over and over the same costly results, you store it into the cache. When you need it later, read it from the cache instead of re-computing.

Python's standard libary provides decorators to easily cache functions: @cache and @lru_cache from the functools module.

Cache Size

A cache typically lives in a storage with a significantly fast access compared to time to compute the results. It will often be your RAM, which is limited in size. Tradeoff: the bigger your cache, the more costly computation you can save, but the more space it will use.

Eviction Policy

Most of the time, you want to limit the maximum size in your cache. You do so via an eviction policy. It's a strategy to choose which element to throw in the cache when it reaches its capacity. A simple one is the Last Recently Used (LRU) policy, which removes the oldest cache entries.

Cache Freshness

Remember that element in the cache are not re-computed. If for a same imput, you computation output will change in the future (e.g. a webpage with a game leaderboard ), you need to remove the stale elements from the cache.

In Practice

Here we take as an example the [Fibonacci sequence] fibo computation. We implement the recursive definition which gets quickly slow as the input number grows.

Here is the recursion: f(n) = f(n-1) + f(n)

If we develop a few term for n=10:

  1. f(10) = f(9) + f(8)
  2. f(10) = (f(8) + f(7)) + (f(7) + f(6))
  3. f(10) = ( (f(7) + f(6)) + (f(6) + f(5)) ) + ( (f(6) + f(5)) + (f(5) + f(4)) )
  4. ...

Here is the implementaion in Python:

# Recursive fibo without cache
def recur_fibo_no_cache(n):
if n <= 1:
return n
return recur_fibo_no_cache(n - 1) + recur_fibo_no_cache(n - 2)

This implementaion is recursive: the function calls itself many times to solve the problem. It is not the most performant implementation. The iterative version is both more computationally and memory efficient. However it's a good example to demonstrate the benefits of caching.

As you can observe, we repeat over and over the same computations. An easy way to speedup this code is to have a cache: we will never compute more than once for a given input.

In the following snippet, we create 2 cached functions using functools decorators. These functions just call the recursive implementation, but they use a cache to avoid re-computing. First we use the @cache decorator, which uses an unbounded cache. Then we use the @lru_cache decorator with a max size of 5. @lru_cache(maxsize=None) is equivalent to @cache.

# Recursive fibo with cache (using functools cache decorator)
def recur_fibo_cache(n):
if n <= 1:
return n
return recur_fibo_cache(n - 1) + recur_fibo_cache(n - 2)
# Recursive fibo with lru cache (using functools lru_cache decorator)
def recur_fibo_lru_cache(n):
if n <= 1:
return n
return recur_fibo_lru_cache(n - 1) + recur_fibo_lru_cache(n - 2)

As always, measure the performance gain to validate the solution. No need to add complexity if it does not improve the performance!

FunctionRun Time (seconds)
no cache1.99
lru cache8.73e-6

Using the @cache decorator we get a x2.44e5 speedup!

Using the @lru_cache decorator we get a x2.28e5 speedup!

Execution time for cache vs no-cache implementation
Linear Scale
Log Scale

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