Performance Comparison: Regex versus string operations

Do you know the difference between : RegEx Vs String Operations

Click here to read full article.


I consider regular expressions
one of the most useful features ever. I use them a lot, not only when
coding, but also when editing files and instead of copy and paste. I
find the Visual Studio Find/Replace feature with regular expressions
really useful as well. In case you are not familiar with it, you can
use regular expressions to find and replace characters like this:


In the picture, I used the expression {[^;]+}; -
meaning tag the string formed by any characters until ";" (at least one
character) and replace the matching text with "// " followed by the
tagged expression, forgetting the last ";". There are a lot of
tutorials about regular expressions. I just learned the basics, and now
I just try, fail, undo, and try again until I get it right.

Moving back to coding, .NET has great support for regular expressions.
The classes are relatively easy to use (though at the beginning I had
to play a while to find out how to capture strings in one match and
other more advanced features). The biggest advantages I find in using
Regex are that it makes parsing input very easy (once you have the
regular expression in place) and it makes it much harder to introduce
bugs - less code has by definition fewer bugs, and parsing with regular
expressions requires less code than the traditional method of parsing
strings with different string methods like get substring at different
indexes, check that is starts or ends with certain characters etc.

However, there are cases when the string concatenation and parsing
is better than the regular expressions: when the checks are done on a
path that is executed a lot (a hot path), and that has strict
performance requirements. Why? The regular expressions are slower than
string concatenation.

I did a simple experiment and measured the time needed by regex and
strings to perform the same operations. I considered I need to keep
data about persons in the format "Firstname:Oana Lastname:Platon
Money:2183 UniqueIdentifier:fwsjfjehfjkwh8r378". I have defined a
constant that represents this format, and I'll use it to serialize the
person data.

const string nameFormat = "Firstname:{0} Lastname:{1} Money:{2} UniqueIdentifier:{3}";

The data must be serialized and deserialized a lot of times (lets
say that we need to send the data on the wire frequently or something
like that). When deserializing the data, we need to make sure that it
respects the pattern and then we need to extract the firstname,
lastname etc.

1. Using regular expressions

I defined a regular expression like this:

static Regex regex = new Regex("^Firstname:(\\w+)\\sLastname:(\\w+)\\sMoney:(\\d{1,9})\\sUniqueIdentifier:([\\w-]+)$", RegexOptions.IgnoreCase | RegexOptions.Compiled);

Then, the code to parse the expressions and get the desired data is:

void ParseWithRegex(string description)


    Match m = regex.Match(description);

    if (!m.Success)


        throw new ArgumentException("description doesn't follow the expected format");


    this.firstname = m.Groups[1].Value;

    this.lastname = m.Groups[2].Value;

    if (!int.TryParse(m.Groups[3].Value, out this.age))


        throw new ArgumentException("age doesn't have the correct value");


    this.uniqueIdentifier = m.Groups[4].Value;


2. Using string operations

The verification that the given string respects the format becomes
more difficult. In our case, the patters is pretty simple, but imagine
that we needed to check an email address or something more complicated.
In that case, the code would have had a lot of cases, to follow all
possible solutions.

void ParseWithStrings(string description)


    string[] parts = description.Split(new char[] { ' ', '\t' });

    if (parts.Length != 4)


        throw new ArgumentException("description doesn't follow the expected pattern");


    this.firstname = parts[0].Substring(parts[0].IndexOf(":") + 1);

    this.lastname = parts[1].Substring(parts[1].IndexOf(":") + 1);

    if (!int.TryParse(parts[2].Substring(parts[2].IndexOf(":") + 1), out this.age))


        throw new ArgumentException("age doesn't have the correct value");


    this.uniqueIdentifier = parts[3].Substring(parts[3].IndexOf(":") + 1); ;


See that this is much more error prone than the previous code,
because it needs to look at a lot of indexes and to substract the
desired part of the string.

However, when I run the 2 methods in a loop and I measure how long
they take with a stopwatch (from System.Diagnostics namespace), I get
these results:


In conclusion, when choosing between using traditional string parsing or regular expressions, I would recommend:...MORE

No comments:

Post a Comment