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Posted on Fri 20 August 2021 under File and Data Management

Faster Compression with Snappy's S2 Extension

Compression algorithms are designed to make trade-offs in order to optimise for certain applications at the expense of others. The four major points of measurement are (1) compression time (2) compression ratio (3) decompression time and (4) RAM consumption.

If you're releasing a large software patch, optimising the compression ratio and decompression time would be more in the users' interest. But, if the payload is already encrypted or wrapped in a digital rights management container, compression is unlikely to achieve a strong compression ratio so decompression time should be the primary goal.

S2 is an extension of Snappy, a compression library Google first released back in 2011. Snappy originally made the trade-off going for faster compression and decompression times at the expense of higher compression ratios. Snappy has been popular in the data world with containers and tools like ORC, Parquet, ClickHouse, BigQuery, Redshift, MariaDB, Cassandra, MongoDB, Lucene and bcolz all offering support. S2 aims to further improve throughput with concurrent compression for larger payloads.

S2 is also smart enough to save CPU cycles on content that is unlikely to achieve a strong compression ratio. Encrypted, random and data that is already compressed are examples that will often cause compressors to waste CPU cycles with little to show for their efforts.

S2 can be a drop-in replacement for Snappy but for top performance, it shouldn't compress using the backward compatibility mode.

S2 Up & Running

Klaus Post, a staffer at MinIO, has authored a number of GoLang compression packages. Among them are a compressor and decompressor for S2 made out of 14K lines of Assembly and 8,600 lines of GoLang.

I'll first install GoLang. The following will run on Ubuntu 20.04 LTS.

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:longsleep/golang-backports
$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt install golang-go

If you're using macOS, you can install GoLang via Homebrew.

$ brew install go

Regardless of the platform, the following will install pre-compiled binaries for S2.

$ go install github.com/klauspost/compress/s2/cmd/s2c@latest
$ go install github.com/klauspost/compress/s2/cmd/s2d@latest

The above were install to /Users/mark/go/bin on my MacBook Pro. I made sure GoLang's binary folder was in my PATH environment variable so I could address the binaries without a path.

$ grep PATH ~/.bashrc
export PATH=$PATH:/Users/mark/go/bin
$ source ~/.bashrc

Faster Throughput

Wikipedia produces a dump of their site's contents every few days. I'll pull down one of the dump's 239 MB, bzip2-compressed segments. I'll also install lbzip2, a multi-threaded bzip2 compression utility.

On Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, run the following.

$ sudo apt-install lbzip2

On macOS, run the following.

$ brew install lbzip2

The following will fetch the archive from Wikipedia.

$ wget -c https://dumps.wikimedia.org/enwiki/20210801/enwiki-20210801-pages-articles1.xml-p1p41242.bz2

I'll decompress the 879 MB XML file within the bzip2 archive.

$ lbunzip2 --keep enwiki-20210801-pages-articles1.xml-p1p41242.bz2

The following compressed at a rate of 237.9 MB/s. The resulting contents are 43.67% the size of the original decompressed XML.

$ s2c enwiki-20210801-pages-articles1.xml-p1p41242

The throughput speed is about half of my Thunderbolt-connected SSD's potential and I could see all 8 CPU cores of my MacBook Pro being utilised during the above operation. The compression ratio trade-off is very prominent with the bzip2 archive at 239 MB while the new S2 archive is 384 MB. If the archive were to only travel across local networks this could be ignorable but for anything distributed to the wider world, this ratio would be hard to justify.

Compressing the already bzip2-compressed archive reduces it by 490 bytes and at a rate of 188.8MB/s. The throughput rate for re-compression was only 1.26x slower than compressing the original material instead. This is great as compressors could waste a lot of time looking for patterns in data where there are few.

$ s2c enwiki-20210801-pages-articles1.xml-p1p41242.bz2

Given the lack of any significant throughput penalty, one could consider forgoing entropy tests when picking compressor settings on diverse workloads.

Decompression times are very much in favour of S2. The bzip2 archive took 8.24 seconds to decompress and have its bytes counted. This was at a rate of 29 MB/s on its 239 MB of source data.

$ lbunzip2 --keep --stdout enwiki-20210801-pages-articles1.xml-p1p41242.bz2 | wc -c

The s2d utility managed to do the same in 3.86 seconds, a 2.13x speed-up and a throughput rate of 99.5 MB/s on its 384 MB of source data.

$ s2d enwiki-20210801-pages-articles1.xml-p1p41242.s2 | wc -c

Google's Snappy Bindings

Google provides Snappy bindings for several languages, including Python. Below I'll install these alongside Python 3 on my MacBook Pro.

$ brew install \
    snappy \
$ virtualenv ~/.snappy
$ source ~/.snappy/bin/activate
$ python3 -m pip install \

The above installed, among 481 lines of Python-based helper functions, a 130 KB binary compiled from C code that's used for Snappy compression and decompression operations.

$ ls -alht ~/.snappy/lib/python3.9/site-packages/snappy/*.so
-rwxr-xr-x  1 mark  staff   130K Aug 20 14:11 /Users/mark/.snappy/lib/python3.9/site-packages/snappy/_snappy.cpython-39-darwin.so

The following compressed at a rate of 56.38 MB/s, 4.2x slower than S2 did out of the box. The resulting file is 466 MB in size, about 1.2x larger than what S2 produced.

$ python3 -m snappy -c \
    enwiki-20210801-pages-articles1.xml-p1p41242 \

The following decompressed and had its bytes counted at a rate of 58.62 MB/s. This is ~1.7x slower throughput-wise than what was seen with S2.

$ python3 -m snappy -d \
    enwiki-20210801-pages-articles1.xml-p1p41242.snappy | wc -c
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I offer both consulting and hands-on development services to clients in North America and Europe. If you'd like to discuss how my offerings can help your business please contact me via LinkedIn.

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