Recently, a friend of mine pointed out a concurrent implementation of Eratosthenes’ prime sieve expressed in google’s Go programming language. I couldn’t resist trying a Haskell version of that same approach.

What motivates me is that I find that Haskell code is generally more elegant than what you can manage with most other languages. For a taste of that, here is the simplest expression of a sieve in Haskell, the elegance of which I think most other languages will have a tough time beating –

It says this in effect – “if you divide the infinite list of primes into two parts, the latter part doesn’t contain any numbers divisible by the numbers in the former.” … or rather it says that for one prime entry at a time.

So what does the concurrent code look like?

As expected, this is overall much more elegant looking than the equivalent Go implementation. Much of the elegance is due to the use of lazy evaluation – sending a lazily generated list of numbers through a channel using writeList2Chan.

Now, this concurrent code runs like a … no it crawls like a … no I really can’t think of a simile that expresses how slow this code is! It generates a handful of primes every second on a 2GHz dual core mac! … while the straight forward primes blazes through by comparison, despite its poor asymptotic behaviour.

Writing performant Haskell is a black art and this case amply demonstrates that. With absolutely no clue about why this is such a drag, I started transforming the code to see whether anything improved the performance.

Rather quickly though, I found that rewriting writeList2Chan to run more slowly gave a huge boost. Here is what I replaced the writeList2Chan function with –

The original code above took about 23 seconds to print out up to 227! With this change, it takes 9 seconds to print out up to 29573! The most crucial ingredient of this change is … the yield !! Without it, the performance drags, with it, at least you see thousands of primes fly by every second. Considering that we’re chaining one sieve “process” for each prime found, I’d say … not bad.

What’s more, you don’t need to replace all the mentions of writeList2Chan. You only need to replace

```
(writeList2Chan ch [2..])
```

with

```
(slowlyWriteList2Chan ch [2..])
```

to get that kind of performance boost. Black art indeed!

PS: The old link to the Go sieve code is now broken.