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Re: Level 2 iterators

From: Miles Sabin <msabin@cromwellmedia.co.uk>
Date: Fri, 5 Mar 1999 15:26:39 -0000
Message-ID: <c=US%a=_%p=Cromwell_Media%l=ODIN-990305152639Z-17059@odin.cromwellmedia.co.uk>
To: "'DOM list'" <www-dom@w3.org>
Cc: "'Ray Whitmer'" <ray@imall.com>
Ray Whitmer wrote,
> Miles Sabin wrote:
> > The increase is in complexity in the big-oh sense 
> > ... that is, fixups (and even notifications of 
> > invalidation) have serious performance consequences, 
> > either for next/prevNode(), for tree mutation 
> > operations, or both. For those of us wanting to use 
> > the DOM on the server- side this is a serious issue, 
> > and would probably rule out the use of iterators in 
> > the same way that it now rules out the use of 
> > NodeLists. Worse still, it could also rule out the 
> > use of current or future APIs that are specified in 
> > terms of NodeIterators.
> I currently use NodeLists in very high demand server 
> code.  It all depends upon the efficiency of the DOM 
> implementation and the specific use cases.

I'm afraid I don't really understand this ... Maybe we
don't understand the word 'efficency' in quite the same
way: there's an ambiguity here, between the efficency
of an _algorithm_ (or a data structure which supports
an algorithm), and the efficiency of an _implementation_
of an algorithm (or data structure). The former is
usually characterized in big-oh terms; the latter in
terms of the constant factors between run times (or
memory usage or whatever) and some normalized, ideal run 

Anyhow, the upshot is that an implementation of an
O(log n) algorithm (no matter how efficient) will always
be slower than an implementation of an O(1) algorithm
(no matter how _inefficiently_ implemented) for some
suitably large value of n.

I suspect that the drafters have underestimated the 
extent to which the iterator requirements would have
an impact on performance, partly because I think it's
possible that they believe that iterators could be
adequately defined in terms of the NodeLists we already 
have. Those have been deemed (however grudgingly) 
acceptable, hence NodeIterators will be too, eventually.

Unfortunately this isn't the case: the differences 
between the semantics of NodeLists and NodeIterators are 
such that the timestamp based mechanism for NodeList 
maintenance (which gets you O(log depth-of-node) for 
node insertions and deletions) isn't sufficent. An 
implementation of iterators in terms of NodeLists using 
timestamps would result in O(number-of-iterators-on-
subtree * depth-of-subtree-from-root) for insert and 
delete. Given that, in Java at least, both NodeLists and 
NodeIterators can hang around long after they're 
finished with from the programmers point of view (due to
the vagaries of GC, Java2 weak refs notwithstanding) 
this additional multiplier would be significant if 
iterators were heavily used on large trees.

Here's an illustration of fixup which is a bit more
realistic than the one given in the draft (which 
only discusses sequences of siblings!!!),

                 /   \
              B         G
            /   \     /   \
           C     D   H     I
               /   \        
              E     F

Let's create a tree iterator rooted on A. The sequence
this iterator generates, in document order, is,


We advance the iterator to node E,

Now we delete node B from the tree. I would assume that 
the intended behaviour would be that the sequence and
iterator position become,

So what has to go on behind the scenes for this to 
happen? Well, when B is deleted all iterators positioned 
on B or on nodes in the subtree under B have to be 
relocated to the document-order predecessor of B. To do 
this we must be able to identify all the iterators 
active on the subtree under B. There are a number of
ways of doing that,

1. We maintain a list of all iterators active on the
   the tree. When a node is inserted or deleted we scan 
   that list searching for and fixing up any iterators 
   active on the subtree. 

2. For each node we maintain a list of all iterators
   that are currently active in its subtree. When a
   node is inserted or deleted we run through all the
   iterators on that list and fix them up. On this
   model iterator next/prevNode are very expensive.

3. For each node we maintain a list of all iterators
   that are pointing to it. When a node is inserted or 
   deleted we visit all the nodes in the subtree and 
   then run through all the iterators on the lists 
   maintained at each of those nodes.

I sat down to do an analysis of these options but (ahem)
it's a bit hard ;-) My guesstimate is that none of these
come out any better than iterators implemented in terms
of NodeLists, and at least one is much worse.

> I tend to use NodeLists mostly in documents which 
> don't mutate until after I stop using the NodeList.  

But what are you saying here? You're saying that you
don't mix NodeLists with tree mutation! And quite right 
too! Do you really want NodeIterators to turn out
the same way?

Ray Whitmer wrote,
> Miles Sabin wrote:
> > The spec should be amended to allow for more 
> > lightweight implementations (currently it can only 
> > be read as requiring that any and every
> > NodeIterator implementation support fixup), even if 
> > the default implementation behaves as currently 
> > described for hand-holding purposes (however 
> > spurious).
> Although I once advocated this, I now believe that 
> implementations which behave differently from the 
> stated spec should implement a proprietary interface, 
> not a w3c dom interface.
> It doesn't achieve much if you say at the end of the 
> day, "well, isn't it great that I used the DOM APIs 
> everywhere".  But then you try plugging in another DOM 
> and the iterator behaviors are all different so that 
> all the users of iterators get unexpected behaviors.  

But this is *not* the point at issue. The point is 
whether the _draft_ should be _revised_ to allow more 
flexibility, so the DOM can be applicable across a 
broader range of applications than currently appears to 
be envisaged. I accept that there is cost: the draft
would have to make slightly weaker guarantees on
iterator behaviour. The question is, is that cost worth
the gain? I maintain that it is.

Where are new DOM implementations coming on stream at
the moment? In interactive browsers and document 
processors, certainly, but also in XML parsers, XSL 
processors, and database interfaces used by heavily
stressed server-side applications. These implementations
have different requirements, both in terms of the sort 
of operations on a DOM tree that they are likely to 
perform (ie. lots of tree construction and modification) 
and in terms of the size of documents that they are 
likely to be dealing with. Performance issues which might 
have no noticeable impact in an interactive application 
will be greatly magnified in these environments.

> It should be a proprietary interface to start with so 
> that at least it is clear up front that the two 
> iterators are not interchangable even if the method
> signatures happen to be the same.

At one time or another a number of contributors to this 
list have proposed forking a server-side DOM-style API. 
I, like many others took the view that this was ill-
advised, and it saddens me to hear a contributor to the 
current draft expressing an opinion which can only
encourage that.



Miles Sabin                          Cromwell Media
Internet Systems Architect           5/6 Glenthorne Mews
+44 (0)181 410 2230                  London, W6 0LJ
msabin@cromwellmedia.co.uk           England
Received on Friday, 5 March 1999 10:34:36 UTC

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