Can compression slow down network transfers ?

Note: this post is mostly relevant to local links or very fast internet links. The task was to transfer a backup from my notebook to my desktop machine using an ethernet connection. After googling a little about rsync I ended up with the following discussion.

An interesting finding: using modern compression tools degrades transfer performance, because their compression speeds are lower than the disk speeds (and don’t compensate with data compression). For example, gzip compression is about 11MiB/s, while lzmash is 0,5MiB/s, or 22 times slower (2005 data). Expected compression is 2,7 times for gzip and 3,7 times for lzmash (when compressing openoffice):


This also means that gzip efficiency is limited to a network of 11MiB/s (92,3 Mbps). If a faster network is available, removing gzip will increase transfer rate. Ex: 100 Mbps.

  • File: 1GiB
  • raw transfer time: 85,9s
  • gzip time: 93,1s

Best cases described for gzip varied (in 2005) from 18MiB/s to 24MiB/s in fast mode. A more recent benchmark describes gzip at 54,8MiB/s at its best configuration, compressing source code:

This raises network break even speed to 460 Mbps.

This updated benchmark describes 2 compressors much faster than gzip: lz4 and lzop. lz4 achieved 341,9MiB/s and lzop 277,8MiB/s. Network break-even jumps to 2.868,2 Mbps, but in this case, transfer would be limited by disk speed (or network). Expected compression is 2,8 times (for source code), versus 3,7 for gzip. Reviewing the transfer example:

  • File: 1GiB
  • raw transfer time: 85,9s
  • gzip time: 18,7s
  • lz4 time: 3,0s
  • gzip transfer time: 276,8MiB @ 23,2s
  • lz4 transfer time: 365,7MiB @ 30,7s
  • gzip decompression: 3,5s
  • lz4 decompression: 0,4s
  • gzip total time: ~26,7s (+latency)
  • lz4 total time: ~31,1s (+latency)

In this case gzip won, since the transfer is limited by the 100 Mbps link, so the best compression won. The improved gzip compression speed to more than 50MiB/s also made a lot of difference (however I’m currently unable to explain this speedup, since a quick and dirty gzip execution in my machine resulted in 17MiB/s).

Selecting the proper compressor, then is a matter of considering the transfer speed of the disk, the compressor and the network together, since each of them may impose a specific upper limit on each step of the transfer.

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