HyperLogLog - StreamLib vs Java-HLL

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A while ago, I was looking at cardinality estimators for use in a distributed setting – given a data set spread over a set of nodes, we want to compute the total number of unique keys without having to transfer all keys or a global bit signature. Counting sketches such as HyperLogLog (see here, here and here for an introduction) have superior memory usage and cpu performance when cardinality can be estimated with a small error margin. In the following, I summarize a comparison between the two Java libraries, StreamLib and Java-HLL, I did back in February 2014.


StreamLib implements several methods:

  • Linear counting (lincnt) - hashes values into positions in a bit vector and then estimates the number of items based on the number of unset bits.

  • LogLog (ll) - uses hashing to add an element to one of the m different estimators, and updates the maximum observed rank updateRegister(h >>> (Integer.SIZE - k), Integer.numberOfLeadingZeros((h << k) | (1 << (k - 1))) + 1)), where k = log2(m). The cardinality is estimated as Math.pow(2, Ravg) * a, where Ravg is the average maximum observed rank across the m registers and a is the a correction function for the given m (see the paper for details).

  • HyperLogLog (hll) - improves the LogLog algorithm by several aspects, for example by using harmonic mean.

  • HyperLogLog++ (hlp) - Google’s take on HLL that improves memory usage and accuracy for small cardinalities

Java-HLL (hlx) on the other hand provides a set of tweaks to HyperLogLog, mainly exploring the idea that a chunk of data, say 1280 bytes, can be used to fully represent a short sorted list, a sparse/lazy map of non-empty register, or a full register set (see the project page for details).

Performance comparison

I used two relatively small real-world data sets, similar to what was intended to be used in production. For hashing I used StreamLib’s MurmurHash.hash64, which for some reason did it better than Guava’s on the test data (I haven’t investigated the reason though). The latency times given below are cold-start numbers, measured with no respect to JIT and other issues. In other words, these are not scientific results.

Dataset A

The first data set has the following characteristics:

  • 3765844 tokens
  • 587913 unique keys (inserting into a Sets.newHashSet(): 977ms)
  • 587913 unique hashed keys (Sets.newHashSet(): 2520ms)

First lets compare the StreamLib methods tuned for 1% error with 10 mil keys. The collected data includes the name of the method, relative error, total estimator size, total elapsed time. The number behind ll, hll, hlp denotes the log2(m) parameter:

name error size time
lincnt 0.0017 137073B 1217ms
ll__14 0.0135 16384B 963ms
hll_13 0.0181 5472B 1000ms
hlp13 -0.0081 5473B 863ms

Here HLP performs best, with only 0.81% error and using only 5KB memory.

Now, lets compare StreamLib and Java-HLL. The parameter behind hlp is log2(m), while the parameters behind hlx are log2(m), register width (5 seems like the only one that works), promotion threshold (-1 denotes the auto mode) and the initial representation type.

name error size time
hlp10 0.0323 693B 818ms
hlp11 0.0153 1377B 967ms
hlp12 0.0132 2741B 790ms
hlp13 -0.0081 5473B 731ms
hlp14 -0.0081 10933B 697ms
hlx_105-1_FULL -0.0212 643B 723ms
hlx_105-1_SPARSE -0.0212 643B 680ms
hlx_115-1_FULL -0.0202 1283B 670ms
hlx_115-1_SPARSE -0.0202 1283B 710ms
hlx_125-1_FULL -0.0069 2563B 673ms
hlx_125-1_SPARSE -0.0069 2563B 699ms
hlx_135-1_FULL 0.0046 5123B 702ms
hlx_135-1_SPARSE 0.0046 5123B 672ms
hlx_145-1_FULL 0.0013 10243B 693ms
hlx_145-1_SPARSE 0.0013 10243B 678ms

Here Java-HLL is both more accurate and faster.

Dataset B

The second data set has the following characteristics:

  • 3765844 tokens
  • 2074012 unque keys (Sets.newHashSet(): 1195ms)
  • 2074012 unique hashed keys (Sets.newHashSet(): 2885ms)

StreamLib methods tuned for 1% error with 10 mil keys:

name error size time
lincnt 0.0005 137073B 663ms
ll__14 -0.0080 16384B 578ms
hll_13 0.0131 5472B 515ms
hlp13 -0.0118 5473B 566ms

And StreamLib vs Java-HLL:

name error size time
hlp10 0.0483 693B 560ms
hlp11 0.0336 1377B 489ms
hlp12 -0.0059 2741B 560ms
hlp13 -0.0118 5473B 567ms
hlp14 -0.0025 10933B 495ms
hlx_105-1_FULL -0.0227 643B 575ms
hlx_105-1_SPARSE -0.0227 643B 570ms
hlx_115-1_FULL -0.0194 1283B 505ms
hlx_115-1_SPARSE -0.0194 1283B 573ms
hlx_125-1_FULL -0.0076 2563B 500ms
hlx_125-1_SPARSE -0.0076 2563B 570ms
hlx_135-1_FULL -0.0099 5123B 576ms
hlx_135-1_SPARSE -0.0099 5123B 501ms
hlx_145-1_FULL 0.0015 10243B 572ms
hlx_145-1_SPARSE 0.0015 10243B 500ms

So the results are similar to those with Dataset A.


This comparison was done more than two years ago and I was quite skeptical to both frameworks. I found many strange thins in the StreamLib (both the reported issues and more), while Java-HLL did not work with other regsizes either. I settled for Java-HLL since it had a better implementation and gave better results. However, things change fast and StreamLib might have been improved a lot since then. I still want to look more at the code in both frameworks, and perhaps the frameworks that were published since then.

Nevertheless, HLL is clearly a method to use. A really nice feature of HLL is that you can have multiple counters and you can add (union) them together without loss. Intersection, however, can be tricky.

Open question

The register width in LogLog methods is the number of bits needed to represent the position maximum position of the first 1 bit. There are m = (beta / se)^2 such registers, where beta is a method-related constant and se is desired standard error, say 0.01. I guess this comes from StdErr = StdDev / sqrt(N) for a sample mean of a population (ref. wikipedia), but my knowledge of statistics is a bit too rusty to really understand this. Consequently, my understanding of the papers is that LogLog has beta = 1.30, HLL has beta = 1.106 and HLL++ has beta = 1.04, but I might be wrong. After all StreamLib code used these three numbers completely randomly in methods and tests. When I asked what was correct, they asked me back. Honestly, I don’t know :)

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