Nokogiri’s Xpath Search Is Fast(er)!

Recently I ran into an architectural problem when parsing XML with “Nokogiri”: I used an xpath to find child elements in a document. Coming to the conclusion that replacing that xpath @#search@ with a self-baked @#find_all@ would lead to a better design I set up a quick benchmark.

The XML contains a root node with 1000 empty childs.

  ... 998 times

This is the code I am using now.


Note the usage of @#search@ which evaluates the xpath expression and returns a list of matching nodes.

The replacement code comes here.

Nokogiri::XML(xml).root.children.find_all do |c| == "item"

Instead of invoking the internal search I do it myself by querying each child.

Benchmarking time.

xpath:    0.003901151
find_all: 0.014400985

Going the “official” way by *using an xpath is about 3.5 times faster!* Wow.

It turns out that the manual comparison in @find_all@ is the bottleneck. I guess Nokogiri has some internal optimization which saves the creation of the child nodes.


children: 0.003361085

Takes about the same amount of time than the xpath search (without having filtered matching elements).

Here’s the “benchmark code”: I’ll keep going with the xpath search.


2 thoughts on “Nokogiri’s Xpath Search Is Fast(er)!

  1. Yes, the underlying libxml2 library is implemented in C and is very fast, and in Nokogiri you’ll always be better off using built-ins than Ruby code. Note that you could have used .xpath(“item”) instead of search(), because search() first makes a determination whether you are using XPath or CSS, and without the leading dot-slash it would have assumed CSS, which has a different behavior.


  2. Mark: Thanks! I thought xpath("item") would return any item node in the tree, not just the children of the context node – RTFM would have helped 😉

    Also, I thought Nokogiri uses libxml2 just for parsing, not searching etc. Makes sense now.


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