Multitime: a small utility to measure your program’s runtime

Linux comes with a built-in utility called time that you can use to measure your program’s runtime. However, this utility is really basic. This is where multitime comes into play. The utility is available in the repositories of (probably) all Linux distributions.

Measure time

Multitime measures your program’s runtime, but not only that. Its magic is about being able to execute the same command several times, and getting information about average runtime, standard deviation, minimum and maximum. Here is an example of running a command ten times and getting average runtimes with multitime:

$ multitime -n 10 ./my_command --arg1 val1 --arg2 val2
===> multitime results
1: ./my_command --arg1 val1 --arg2 val2
            Mean        Std.Dev.    Min         Median      Max
real        48.908      1.415       47.082      48.751      50.861
user        43.931      1.186       42.359      43.812      45.594
sys         4.652       0.210       4.375       4.594       5.000

Multitime measures average runtime (mean), standard deviation (Std.Dev.), minimum, median and maximum values. It also measures the overall spent time (real), how much time it spent doing useful work (user) and how much time it spent waiting for a service from the operating system (sys).

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Measure resource usage

Another great feature of this tool is that it can measure resource usage. Here is an example:

$  multitime -f rusage -n 5 ./my_command --arg1 val1 --arg2 val2
===> multitime results
1: ./my_command --arg1 val1 --arg2 val2
            Mean        Std.Dev.    Min         Median      Max
real        54.327      5.719       49.561      52.084      65.580
user        48.650      4.592       44.812      46.891      57.688
sys         5.150       0.309       4.641       5.156       5.531
maxrss      4820324     179         4820120     4820276     4820576
minflt      1209712     46          1209661     1209698     1209778
majflt      0           0           0           0           0
nswap       0           0           0           0           0
inblock     0           0           0           0           0
oublock     0           0           0           0           0
msgsnd      0           0           0           0           0
msgrcv      0           0           0           0           0
nsignals    0           0           0           0           0
nvcsw       0           0           0           0           0
nivcsw      0           0           0           0           0

Apart from measuring the runtimes, switch -f rusage also measures the resource usage and other parameters of the execution. It displays mean value, standard deviation etc, in the same way it displays those parameters for runtimes. The names of the parameters are somewhat cryptic, but they correspond to the names returned by getrusage() call on Linux and you can look them up online1.

Additional Options

Multitime offers a few additional options that can be useful from occasionally.

  • It can silence the program’s output because programs that print out too much data can be slow because of the limit in terminal’s output speed.
  • It can call the same command several times with different parameters.
  • It can pass a customized standard input to the command.
  • Sleep between repeating the command.

Final Words

I like multitime. Ever since I discover it, I use it to measure and statistically process my programs’ runtimes. It is simple to grasp and use for everyone, but if you are a performance engineer, multitime will surely become an indispensable part of your toolbox.

  1. In above case maxrss stands for maximum resident set size, which tells you how much memory your system has requested from the operating system (in kB). This is a peak value, meeaning your operating system needs to have at least this amount to run the program without paging. Parameter minflt stands for minor faults. This tells you the how many times did your program access a memory page which is not mapped, but easily available (meaning that the OS didn’t have to go to read it from the hard drive) []

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