Will it recur? Part 2: in depth analysis

The social experiment

This first chapter is not about recursion. One member of the community wrote that certain inflammatory statements that I use may upset people. I replied with: “buzz marketing”. Neutral articles, with neutral titles, written by nobodies like me, gain zero traction, although I may write something that’s technically sound. Cheap journalism has more success. I even have graphs to prove it now.

The second stuff is the usefulness of my little experiment. I don’t know about others, but the curiosity was the main thing behind my whole benchmark. If it isn’t useful for some people, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful for others.

The other thing: the lack of tail recursion. I mean, do you need a “DUH” award, or something? The whole point of a “bad” algorithm that’s mathematically correct (well, almost, I stated that fibonacci(0) is wrong) is to prove how smart are specific compilers regarding recursion. The rest, simply do brute force.

Patterns that emerge

The numbers say something if you know how to read the page. There are runtimes that are optimized for doing proper recursion without bothering the programmer with it: C, D, PyPy, V8, LuaJIT, JVM. The rest aren’t: PHP, CPython, Ruby, Perl, Lua. PyPy and V8 could do better. LuaJIT is already close to the speed of unoptimized C and D. V8 isn’t the king of the hill if you take Ruby (MRI / KRI), CPython, plain Lua VM, and PHP (Zend Engine) out of the equation. This may be another opportunity to get bashed by the node.js benchmark police with “this is irrelevant” statements, although this wasn’t something that I wanted to prove.

Thing is, that for most of the web development, I rarely needed to actually solve purely recursive problems. At most a fairly simple tree. Sometimes even that simple tree didn’t actually require recursion. Therefore I get why some don’t optimize for this specific case, although they refer the thing as being “a general purpose language”.

For the “write better algorithms” crowd … WHY? The difference between C’s 0.6 seconds and Ruby’s 5 minutes doesn’t ring any bell that some things are fundamentally flawed regarding recursion?

As for the edge cases, there are 3rd party libraries that solve this issue without bothering the programmer. Or for other edge cases, such as applications that do complicated stuff, operating at Google-like scale, there are better tools that most mere mortals won’t use. The fact that some implementation do poor recursion is indeed irrelevant when the problems you’re trying to solve don’t include this.

In the end

Initially I wanted to try more stuff such as factorial, Euclid’s GCD, or the Ackermann function, for example. Try them on runtimes that don’t take longer than the next ice age to return a value. But why bother, except maybe to give the “one true way of doing recursion in functional languages” programmers a reason to bash stuff without returning any useful output. Not even an academic paper. It’s not productive.

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