Day 4 – Having Fun with Rakudo and Project Euler

Day 4 – Having Fun with Rakudo and Project Euler

Rakudo, the leading Perl6 implementation, is not perfect, and performance is a particularly sore subject. However, the pioneer does not ask ‘Is it fast?’, but rather ‘Is it fast enough?’, or perhaps even ‘How can I help to make it faster?’.

To convince you that Rakudo can indeed be fast enough, we’ll take a shot at a bunch of Project Euler problems. Many of those involve brute-force numerics, and that’s something Rakudo isn’t particularly good at right now. However, that’s not necessarily a show stopper: The less performant the language, the more ingenious the programmer needs to be, and that’s where the fun comes in.

All code has been tested with Rakudo 2012.11.

We’ll start with something simple:

Problem 2

By considering the terms in the Fibonacci sequence whose values do not exceed four million, find the sum of the even-valued terms.

The solution is beautifully straight-forward:

    say [+] grep * %% 2, (1, 2, *+* ...^ * > 4_000_000);

Runtime: 0.4s

Note how using operators can lead to code that’s both compact and readable (opinions may vary, of course). We used

  • whatever stars * to create lambda functions
  • the sequence operator (in its variant that excludes the right endpoint) ...^ to build up the Fibonacci sequence
  • the divisible-by operator %% to grep the even terms
  • reduction by plus [+] to sum them.

However, no one forces you to go crazy with operators – there’s nothing wrong with vanilla imperative code:

Problem 3

What is the largest prime factor of the number 600,851,475,143?

An imperative solution looks like this:

    sub largest-prime-factor($n is copy) {
        for 2, 3, *+2 ... * {
            while $n %% $_ {
                $n div= $_;
                return $_ if $_ > $n;

    say largest-prime-factor(600_851_475_143);

Runtime: 2.6s

Note the is copy trait, which is necessary as Perl6 binds arguments read-only by default, and that integer division div is used instead of numeric division /.

Nothing fancy going on here, so we’ll move along to

Problem 53

How many, not necessarily distinct, values of nCr, for 1 ≤ n ≤ 100, are greater than one-million?

We’ll use the feed operator ==> to factor the algorithm into separate steps:

    [1], -> @p { [0, @p Z+ @p, 0] } ... * # generate Pascal's triangle
    ==> (*[0..100])()                     # get rows up to n = 100
    ==> map *.list                        # flatten rows into a single list
    ==> grep * > 1_000_000                # filter elements exceeding 1e6
    ==> elems()                           # count elements
    ==> say;                              # output result

Runtime: 5.2s

Note the use of the Z meta-operator to zip the lists 0, @p and @p, 0 with +.

The one-liner generating Pascal’s triangle has been stolen from Rosetta Code, another great resource for anyone interested in Perl6 snippets and exercises.

Let’s do something clever now:

Problem 9

There exists exactly one Pythagorean triplet for which a + b + c = 1000. Find the product abc.

Using brute force will work (solution courtesy of Polettix), but it won’t be fast (~11s on my machine). Therefore, we’ll use a bit of algebra to make the problem more managable:

Let (a, b, c) be a Pythagorean triplet

    a < b < c
    a² + b² = c²

For N = a + b + c it follows

    b = N·(N - 2a) / 2·(N - a)
    c = N·(N - 2a) / 2·(N - a) + a²/(N - a)

which automatically meets b < c.

The condition a < b gives the constraint

    a < (1 - 1/√2)·N

We arrive at

    sub triplets(\N) {
        for 1..Int((1 - sqrt(0.5)) * N) -> \a {
            my \u = N * (N - 2 * a);
            my \v = 2 * (N - a);

            # check if b = u/v is an integer
            # if so, we've found a triplet
            if u %% v {
                my \b = u div v;
                my \c = N - a - b;
                take $(a, b, c);

    say [*] .list for gather triplets(1000);

Runtime: 0.5s

Note the declaration of sigilless variables \N, \a, …, how $(…) is used to return the triplet as a single item and .list – a shorthand for $_.list – to restore listy-ness.

The sub &triplets acts as a generator and uses &take to yield the results. The corresponding &gather is used to delimit the (dynamic) scope of the generator, and it could as well be put into &triplets, which would end up returning a lazy list.

We can also rewrite the algorithm into dataflow-driven style using feed operators:

    constant N = 1000;

    1..Int((1 - sqrt(0.5)) * N)
    ==> map -> \a { [ a, N * (N - 2 * a), 2 * (N - a) ] } \
    ==> grep -> [ \a, \u, \v ] { u %% v } \
    ==> map -> [ \a, \u, \v ] {
        my \b = u div v;
        my \c = N - a - b;
        a * b * c
    ==> say;

Runtime: 0.5s

Note how we use destructuring signature binding -> […] to unpack the arrays that get passed around.

There’s no practical benefit to use this particular style right now: In fact, it can easily hurt performance, and we’ll see an example for that later.

It is a great way to write down purely functional algorithms, though, which in principle would allow a sufficiently advanced optimizer to go wild (think of auto-vectorization and -threading). However, Rakudo has not yet reached that level of sophistication.

But what to do if we’re not smart enough to find a clever solution?

Problem 47

Find the first four consecutive integers to have four distinct prime factors. What is the first of these numbers?

This is a problem where I failed to come up with anything better than brute force:

    constant $N = 4;

    my $i = 0;
    for 2..* {
        $i = factors($_) == $N ?? $i + 1 !! 0;
        if $i == $N {
            say $_ - $N + 1;

Here, &factors returns the number of prime factors. A naive implementations looks like this:

    sub factors($n is copy) {
        my $i = 0;
        for 2, 3, *+2 ...^ * > $n {
            if $n %% $_ {
                repeat while $n %% $_ {
                    $n div= $_
        return $i;

Runtime: unknown (33s for N=3)

Note the use of repeat while … {…}, the new way to spell do {…} while(…);.

We can improve this by adding a bit of caching:

    BEGIN my %cache = 1 => 0;

    multi factors($n where %cache{$n}:exists) { %cache{$n} }
    multi factors($n) {
        for 2, 3, *+2 ...^ * > sqrt($n) {
            if $n %% $_ {
                my $r = $n;
                $r div= $_ while $r %% $_;
                return %cache{$n} = 1 + factors($r);
        return %cache{$n} = 1;

Runtime: unknown (3.5s for N=3)

Note the use of BEGIN to initialize the cache first, regardless of the placement of the statement within the source file, and multi to enable multiple dispatch for &factors. The where clause allows dynamic dispatch based on argument value.

Even with caching, we’re still unable to answer the original question in a reasonable amount of time. So what do we do now? We cheat and use Zavolaj – Rakudo’s version of NativeCall – to implement the factorization in C.

It turns out that’s still not good enough, so we refactor the remaining Perl code and add some native type annotations:

    use NativeCall;

    sub factors(int $n) returns int is native('./prob047-gerdr') { * }

    my int $N = 4;

    my int $n = 2;
    my int $i = 0;

    while $i != $N {
        $i = factors($n) == $N ?? $i + 1 !! 0;
        $n = $n + 1;

    say $n - $N;

Runtime: 1m2s (0.8s for N=3)

For comparison, when implementing the algorithm completely in C, the runtime drops to under 0.1s, so Rakudo won’t win any speed contests just yet.

As an encore, three ways to do one thing:

Problem 29

How many distinct terms are in the sequence generated by ab for 2 ≤ a ≤ 100 and 2 ≤ b ≤ 100?

A beautiful but slow solution to the problem can be used to verify that the other solutions work correctly:

    say +(2..100 X=> 2..100).classify({ .key ** .value });

Runtime: 11s

Note the use of X=> to construct the cartesian product with the pair constructor => to prevent flattening.

Because Rakudo supports big integer semantics, there’s no loss of precision when computing large numbers like 100100.

However, we do not actually care about the power’s value, but can use base and exponent to uniquely identify the power. We need to take care as bases can themselves be powers of already seen values:

    constant A = 100;
    constant B = 100;

    my (%powers, %count);

    # find bases which are powers of a preceeding root base
    # store decomposition into base and exponent relative to root
    for 2..Int(sqrt A) -> \a {
        next if a ~~ %powers;
        %powers{a, a**2, a**3 ...^ * > A} = a X=> 1..*;

    # count duplicates
    for %powers.values -> \p {
        for 2..B -> \e {
            # raise to power \e
            # classify by root and relative exponent
            ++%count{p.key => p.value * e}

    # add +%count as one of the duplicates needs to be kept
    say (A - 1) * (B - 1) + %count - [+] %count.values;

Runtime: 0.9s

Note that the sequence operator ...^ infers geometric sequences if at least three elements are provided and that list assignment %powers{…} = … works with an infinite right-hand side.

Again, we can do the same thing in a dataflow-driven, purely-functional fashion:

    sub cross(@a, @b) { @a X @b }
    sub dups(@a) { @a - @a.uniq }

    constant A = 100;
    constant B = 100;

    2..Int(sqrt A)
    ==> map -> \a { (a, a**2, a**3 ...^ * > A) Z=> (a X 1..*).tree } \
    ==> reverse()
    ==> hash()
    ==> values()
    ==> cross(2..B)
    ==> map -> \n, [\r, \e] { (r) => e * n } \
    ==> dups()
    ==> ((A - 1) * (B - 1) - *)()
    ==> say();

Runtime: 1.5s

Note how we use &tree to prevent flattening. We could have gone with X=> instead of X as before, but it would make destructuring via -> \n, [\r, \e] more complicated.

As expected, this solution doesn’t perform as well as the imperative one. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out how it works exactly ;)

That’s it

Feel free to add your own solutions to the Perl6 examples repository under euler/.

If you’re interested in bioinformatics, you should take a look at Rosalind as well, which also has its own (currently only sparsely populated) examples directory rosalind/.

Last but not least, some solutions for the Computer Language Benchmarks Game – also known as the Debian language shootout – can be found under shootout/.

You can contribute by sending pull requests, or better yet, join #perl6 on the Freenode IRC network and ask for a commit bit.

Have the appropriate amount of fun!

3 thoughts on “Day 4 – Having Fun with Rakudo and Project Euler

  1. You can probably get a fast enough problem 47 using pure perl6 (though you’d need a priority queue to do it).

    Like anything, you flip the problem onto it’s head. Instead of factoring the number, you work from the fact you are going through these numbers in sequence and essentially write a sieve of Eratosthenes that keeps track of how many primes cross out a number.

    Slow version that uses a list instead of a priority queue is

    (The essential difference with the priority queue is that you pop off all the items with key == $_, then push them back on with the updated number).

    To reduce churn in the data structure, you’d probably also want to just keep 2 and 3 as separate counters because they come up so often.

    I have a very old version of perl6 at work, so I can’t really give you speed numbers. But the c version of the same algorithm is in the less than a second category for N = 4, even without a priority queue.

    1. Very nice. I actually thought about looking into a sieve-of-Eratosthenes-like solution when writing the article, but decided against it as having an example of what to do when all else fails seemed like a good idea.

      Anyway, I ran your algorithm on my machine and it clocks in at 1.7s for N=3. For N=4, I stopped the run after ~40m without result.

      If you have a github account, feel free to add your code to the repository – as-is or after making the suggested improvements.

      1. I agree completely that your solution was the right one to put in the post, native call is important to show off, it’s a cool feature.

        Not surprised on the lack of result for N=4, performing a linear extrapolation of the comparisons on the 1.7 seconds leads to about 10 hours. (41,314 for N=3 vs. 880,972,037 comparisons for N=4).

        I created a priority queue based version last night, but I tickled Rakudo the wrong way with my implementation and it was very slow (heaps are pretty simple, they pretty much just need push, pop, and swap to be fairly fast operations on the list type). It may still end up faster for N=4 because 10 hours is not a hard time to beat, but N=3 was about 5-10 times slower using it. I’ll see if I can get it running faster, perl 6 should have a priority queue module implemented for it anyways, so it will be good to have either way.

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