Ruby More Memory-Efficient than Lisp?

I continue to sweat (see previous entry) over the question of language choice for future iterations of Project Posner (and some as-yet-unnamed similar projects). Ruby on Rails is the obvious mainstream choice, mainstream at least compared to Lisp. But a part of me really wants to do it in Common Lisp, just to prove I can.

One concern I do have speed. Ruby is pooh-poohed for being slow, which, its true, is not really fair for a 1.x version scripting language, but the Programming Language Shootout does support the accusation. I tried comparing Ruby and SBCL on the Shootout. As I expected, SBCL is up to several hundred times faster than Ruby, but I did not expect that Ruby would use two to five times less memory.

Maybe Ruby’s data structures are very close to their C analogs, lacking the extra padding that Lisp needs for type identification? But no, Ruby is dynamically typed, too, so surely it needs just as many tag bits. Ah, I know: The test must be counting the large size of the SBCL runtime (over 20MB, I recall reading somewhere) compared to Ruby’s (less than 2MB). For a limited-duration algorithmic test, this would certainly dominate the results.

I wonder, though: over longer run times, which language would use less memory for actual data storage? I suspect that carefully optimized Lisp arrays would win, but Ruby’s arrays, the standard way to represent lists in Ruby, might fit in less space than a linked list structure, the standard way to represent lists in Lisp.

1 thought on “Ruby More Memory-Efficient than Lisp?”

  1. (Take this with a pinch of salt, I don’t know anything about Lisp.)

    Remember the basic sbcl.core image (not runtime) we use is about 22MB, I expect knowledgeable Lisp programmers could reduce that before deployment.

    We’ve made no attempt to slim down that Lisp memory image.

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