I was reviewing Ras Bodik’s slides on parallel browsers and noticed in the section on parallel parsing that chart parsers like CYK and Earley are theoretically O(n^3) in time, but in practice it’s more like O(n^1.2).

I wondered: wait, what does O(n^1.2) mean for practical input sizes? Obviously for large enough n, any exponential will be worse than, say, O(n log n), but what’s the cutoff? So, I turned to the handy Online Function Grapher and saw this:

n^1.2 vs n lg n

That is, for n less than 5 million, n^1.2 < n lg n, and they remain close up to about n = 9 million. So if Bodik’s estimate holds, chart parsing could indeed be a viable parsing strategy for documents of up to several megabytes. Happily, this limit size matches the current and expected sizes of web pages to a T.

The blue line at the bottom shows linear growth. It’s all too easy to think of linearithmic growth as being “almost as good” as linear growth. To quote Jason Evans discussing how replacing his memory allocator’s log-time red-black tree operations with  constant-time replacements yielded appreciable speedups:

“In essence, my initial failure was to disregard the difference between a O(1) algorithm and a O(lg n) algorithm. Intuitively, I think of logarithmic-time algorithms as fast, but constant factors and large n can conspire to make logarthmic time not nearly good enough.”


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