Hacking Thy Fearful Symmetry

Hacker, hacker coding bright

Deduping 100 Gigs Worth of Files? Gimme 5 Minutes...

January 11, 2014
perl dfw contest

Shortly before the Holidays, I became aware of the Dallas/Fort Worth Perl Mongers Winter Hackaton Contest. The challenge was simple enough: here's a directory structure filled with 100G worth of files, go and find all the duplicate files in there, as fast as you can.

You know me: can't resist a contest. But since I knew I didn't have heaps of time to sink into it, and because -- let's face it -- the Perl community is despairingly brim-full of smart peoples who always beat me to the finish line, I decided to compete on slightly different terms. My main objective would be to leverage a maximum from modern Perl tools so that effort to get a working solution would be minimal. As for the performance of the solution, I decided that I'd be satisfied, and that the case for modernity and laziness would be made if it was at least in the ballpark of the other entries.

And so it began...

The Application Interface

Writing code to interact with the users is booooooring.

The hard part, the fun part, the challenging part is to come up with the function do_it( $foo, $bar ). Once this is done, all that remains to do is to turn the handle and give a way to the user to set $foo and $bar. And to validate the incoming values for $foo and $bar. And document what are $foo and $bar. Blergh. It's dotting the i's, and crossing the t's. It's writing the police report after that blood-pumping drug cartel take-down.

Fortunately, there are a few modules that will take that tedium off yours hands. One of my favorites is MooseX-App, and for this project I used its single-command variation, MooseX::App::Simple. Its use is pretty straightforward. The main module of the application is a Moose class

package Deduper;

use strict;
use warnings;

use MooseX::App::Simple;

Attributes of the class that you want to be accessible as options of the script are defined using the option keyword. Same story for positional parameters, with the parameter keyword. Other attributes stays untouched, and won't be visible to the user.

parameter root_dir => (
    is => 'ro',
    required => 1,
    documentation => 'path to dedupe',

option hash_size => (
    isa => 'Int',
    is => 'ro',
    default => '1024',
    trigger => sub {
        my $self = shift;
        Deduper::File->hash_size( $self->hash_size );
    documentation => 'size of the file hash',

option stats => (
    isa => 'Bool',
    is => 'ro',
    documentation => 'report statistics',

option max_files => (
    traits => [ 'Counter' ],
    isa => 'Int',
    is => 'ro',
    predicate => 'has_max_files',
    default => 0,
    documentation => 'max number of files to scan (for testing)',
    handles => {
        dec_files_to_scan => 'dec',

has start_time => (
    is => 'ro',
    isa => 'Int',
    default => sub { 0 + time },

Last required touch for the class: a run() method that will be invoked when the app is run:

sub run {
    my $self = shift;

    say join "\t", map { $_->path } @$_ for $self->all_dupes;

With that, your app is in working condition. Command-line parsing, argument validation, --help text, it's all taken care of for you:

$ cat ./dedup.pl

use Deduper; 

$ ./dedup.pl
Required parameter 'root_dir' missing
    dedup.pl [long options...]
    dedup.pl --help

    root_dir  path to dedupe [Required]

    --hash_size           size of the file hash [Default:"1024"; Integer]
    --help -h --usage -?  Prints this usage information. [Flag]
    --max_files           max number of files to scan (for testing) [Default:
                          "0"; Integer]
    --stats               report statistics [Flag]

Traversing Directory Structures

Traversing directory structures isn't terribly hard. But there are a few things like symlinks that you have to watch for. What we care about, really, is to have each file of the structure handed to us on a silver platter. Let's have somebody else deal with the underlying menial work.

Here, this somebody else is Path::Iterator::Rule. With it, visiting all files of the directory structure boils down to creating an attribute

has file_iterator => (
    is => 'ro',
    lazy => 1,
    default => sub {
        my $self = shift;
        return Path::Iterator::Rule->new->file->iter_fast( 
            $self->root_dir, {
                follow_symlinks => 0,
                sorted          => 0,

and, well, using it

while( my $file = $self->file_iterator->() ) {
    # do stuff with $file...

A Couple Of No-Brainish Optimizations

Everybody love optimizations that require no more effort than to press a 'turbo' button. On this project, two modules providing that kind of boost were just begging to be used.

The first is MooseX::XSAccessor, which invests the accessors of the class with super-speedy XS powers. Alas, that module does not speed up lazy-defined attributes, which I used in spade. But since its use only require to drop a

use MooseX::XSAccessor;

at the top of the file, it's not like I have much to lose anyway.

The second module is MooseX::ClassAttribute. As you probably realized from the previous code snippets, my code create an object per file. For 100G worth of files, that turns out to be lots of objects. So having configuration attributes that will all end up having the same value over and over again for each object would be quite wasteful. In that case, using an attribute which value is shared for all objects of the class makes much more sense. And, again, using that module is dead simple:

package Deduper::File;

use Moose;
use MooseX::ClassAttribute;

class_has hash_size => (
    isa => 'Int',
    is => 'rw',
    default => 1024,

sub foo {
    my $self = shift;

    # hash_size can be used as a regular attribute
    my $hs = $self->hash_size;

The cherry on top of everything is that those class attributes are totally transparent to the rest of the code. Ever find that you want per-object values after all, change 'class_has' for 'has', and you're done.

Keeping Different Functionalities Nicely Segregated

A bonus that using a Moose-based class brought to the project was to keep different functionalities logically apart via method modifiers. For example, the run() method of an app typically juggles with the different options requested:

sub run {
    my $self = shift;

    my $n = $self->max_files || -1;

    until ( $self->finished ) {
        print $self->next_dupe;
        if ( $n > -1 ) {
            $self->finished(1) if $n == 0;
    $self->print_stats if $self->stats;

instead, once can encapsulate those different behaviors in separate functions

sub check_max_files {
    my $self = shift;

    $self->finished(1) if $self->files_to_scan == 0;

sub stats {
    # print a lot of stuff

sub run {
    my $self = shift;

    print $self->next_dupe until $self->finished;

and stitch in whatever is needed at creation time:

sub BUILD {
    my $self = shift;


        next_dupe => \&check_max_file,
    ) if $self->max_files;

    $self->meta->add_after_method_modifier( run => \&print_stats )
        if $self->stats;


If managed properly, this makes each method much smaller and much more single-minded. As a nice side-effect, the final application object will only contain the code that it requires. If the option --max_file isn't passed, the algorithm won't have an additional 'if' statement to deal with per iteration. It's not much, but it will make the default case just a tad faster. I must say, however, that this is not a free lunch: if the option is passed, the running time will be slower than if a simple 'if' was used. But that trade-off can make sense, like here where I'm ready to have a slight penalty when I run my test runs, but really want to have the tires screeching for the main event.

Finally, The Core Algorithm

With all boilerplate stuff dealt with, we can focus on the core problem. After some experimenting, I ended up with a recipe that isn't exactly ground-breaking, but seems to be efficient. The encountered files are first classified by file size. For files of the same size, we compare the first X bytes of the file (where 'X' is fairly small). If they share that beginning, we compare their last X bytes (in case we're dealing with file types with the same preamble). Then, ultimately, we compare full-file digests (using Digest::xxHash which is pretty damn fast). Everything is only computed if required, and then cached so that we do the work only once.

Translated into code, it looks pretty much like

# in class Deduper

sub next_dupe {
    my $self = shift;

    return if $self->finished;

    while( my $file = $self->file_iterator->() ) {
        $file = Deduper::File->new( path => $file );
        my $orig = $self->is_dupe($file) or next;
        return $orig => $file;


sub is_dupe {
    my( $self, $file ) = @_;

    return $_ for $self->find_orig($file);

    # not a dupe? enter it in the registry


sub find_orig {
    my( $self, $file ) = @_;

    # do we have any file of the same size?
    my $candidates = $self->files->{$file->size}
        or return;

    my @c;

    # only have a sub-hash if we have more than one
    # file, so as not to compute the 'hash' (beginning of the file) 
    # needlessly
    if( ref $candidates eq 'Deduper::File' ) {
        return if $candidates->hash ne $file->hash;
        @c = ( $candidates );
    else {
        @c = @{ $candidates->{$file->hash} || return };

    # first check if any share the same inode
    my $inode = $file->inode;
    for ( @c ) {
        return $_ if $_->inode == $inode;

    # then check if dupes
    for ( @c ) {
        return $_ if $_->is_dupe($file);


sub add_file {
    my( $self, $file ) = @_;

    if( my $ref = $self->files->{$file->size} ) {
        if ( ref $ref  eq 'Deduper::File' ) {
            $ref = $self->files->{$file->size} = { $ref->hash => [ $ref ] };
        push @{$ref->{$file->hash}}, $file;
    else {
        # nothing yet, just put the sucker
        $self->files->{$file->size} = $file;


# and then in Deduper::File

sub is_dupe {
    my( $self, $other ) = @_;

    # if we are here, it's assumed the sizes are the same
    # and the beginning hashes are the same

    # different hashes?
    return $self->end_hash eq $other->end_hash
        && $self->digest eq $other->digest;

And I Give You The Pudding, Fully Cooked

The application, as submitted to the contest, can be found on GitHub.

"And how did it fare, performance-wise?", you ask? Well, if the contest results are to be trusted, it processed the 100G monster in a little less than 4 minutes which, I think, ain't too shabby.

Mostly considering that, y'know, it turned out to be the best time of all submitted entries. :-)

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About the author

Yanick Champoux
Perl necrohacker , ACP writer, orchid lover. Slightly bonker all around. he/him/his