PHPBench Expression Language

In September 2020 I was on holiday and I made a decided effort to start working on PHPBench again, and I wrote a blog post about it.

Iterations 1 and 2 (September 2020)

One of the main features was a new assertion engine - and I wrote a simple parser. The first implementation used Parsica.

It looked something like:

 * @Assert("variant.mode < baseline.mode +/- 5%")
public function benchFoobar(): void
    // ...

Parsica provided a great POC and would be a great fit but it required PHP 7.4 and at the time PHPBench still had a minimum requirement of PHP 7.2 and as the parser was quite simple I decided to rewrite it based on the Doctrine Lexer.

This worked quite well, but it was lacking in some ways, but it had the following features which would be carried forward:

  • Time and memory unit specification.
  • Ability to compare within a tolerance range (e.g. 2ms <= 1ms +/- 1 ms)
  • Support for throughput 1ops/second > 0.5ops/second

But it didn’t allow other features you have expected, e.g. arithmetic and logical operators - but more importantly the way the data was provided to the assertion engine was very limited.

PHPBench provides access to any number of metrics which can be provided by custom extensions, but the assertion engine used hardcoded and pre-calculated values (e.g. variant.mode where variant is basically an array of pre-calculated statistics: min, max, mean etc).

It would be much better to pass the underlying data and have functions to operate on them (e.g. mode(result.time.samples) where is an array of samples).

But my new parser knowledge made me think of doing something completely diferent…

DOCDoc Parser (late December)

My other project is phpactor and it needed a new Docbloc parser. Although a very good parser exists (the phpstan phpdoc parser it didn’t meet Phpactor’s requirements in a couple respects:

  1. It was 4-10x slower than the very basic parser which Phpactor currently uses.
  2. It didn’t provide the node positions (important for renaming operations).

I thought it would be interesting to write a new one. The parser was (perhaps unsurprisingly) not much faster than the PHPStan one (I think the marginal speed improvement was due to the Lexer implementation), but I was happy with the API (which is heavily influenced by the microsoft tolerant PHP parser.

  • It is lossless and can be transformed back to the original Docblock.
  • It byte offsets for all tokens and nodes.
  • The AST is fully traversable.

It’s still not as fast as I would like for Phpactor (where it is used for realtime completion etc) but I think more optimisations could be made to the lexer.

But I stopped working on that and switched back to PHPBench.

Iteration 3 (early February)

After writing the Docblock parser I had a new understanding and wrote the PHPBench parser from scratch. I abandoned the Doctrine Lexer in favor of a custom one influenced by the work on the Docblock parser. The parser was written again (this time I knew it was a Recursive Descent Parser). The parser was a bit tidier, but fundamentally it hadn’t changed.

I quickly had a new working expression language - but it was only a tidier version of the 2nd iteration - there was one vital piece of the puzzle missing

  • operator precedence.

The parser worked fine for simple comparisons 2 ms < 4 ms +/- 2ms, and for arithmetic 2ms < 1ms + 1ms but it required parenthesis for more complicated expressions.

Iteration 4 (late February)

I couldn’t figure out how to solve the “order of operations” problem on my own, so I did some googling.

“Operator Precedence Parsing” yielded this Wikipedia Article and from here I found a great article on writing a Pratt Parser,

And the rest is history. The new expression language is the 4th rewrite but I think finally it has arrived.


The original assertion processor was intended for, well, assertions. But a full expression language can have many benefits for PHPBench and can solve some parts of it which I’m quite unhappy with - the reporting engine and the progress loggers.

The reporting engine, like the first expression parser, isn’t very dynamic and processes known values, providing very limited scope for customization.

For example the typical aggregate report for PHPBench is defined like this:

return [
    'aggregate' => [
        'generator' => 'table',
        'cols' => ['benchmark', 'subject', 'set', 'revs', 'its', 'mem_peak', 'best', 'mean', 'mode', 'worst', 'stdev', 'rstdev', 'diff'],

Those are the only columns you can use!! They are pre-defined and eagerly calculated.

With the expression lanaguage this could be written as:

return [
    'expression-report' => [
        'generator' => 'expressive-table',
        'cols' => [
            'benchmark' => ''
            'subject' => '',
            'best' => 'min(variant.result.time.samples)',
            'mean' => 'mean(variant.result.time.samples)',
            'mode' => 'mode(variant.result.time.samples)',
            'worst' => 'max(variant.result.time.samples)',
            'stdev' => 'stdev(variant.result.time.samples)'

This would allow much more flexibility and allow combining expressions and results from previous benchmarks.