The Making of PersistentOpenStruct

So I built this thing…

The Challenge

Here’s the problem we were having at work. We have a bunch of microservices which communicate with each other via HTTP. Since they’re passing around raw data, and the shape often changes, we decided quite some time ago to use classes inheriting from OpenStruct, that magical schema-free class, as a data container.

The problem is, OpenStruct is also ridiculously slow…

[1] pry(main)> require 'ostruct'
=> true
[2] pry(main)> require 'benchmark/ips'
=> true
[3] pry(main)> Benchmark.ips do |x|
[3] pry(main)*   class RegularClass
[3] pry(main)*     attr_accessor :foo
[3] pry(main)*   end
[3] pry(main)*
[3] pry(main)*   class OpenStructClass < OpenStruct
[3] pry(main)*   end
[3] pry(main)*
[3] pry(main)*'regular class') do
[3] pry(main)*     r =
[3] pry(main)* = :bar
[3] pry(main)*
[3] pry(main)*   end
[3] pry(main)*
[3] pry(main)*'OpenStruct class') do
[3] pry(main)*     o =
[3] pry(main)* = :bar
[3] pry(main)*
[3] pry(main)*   end
[3] pry(main)* end
Calculating -------------------------------------
       regular class   114.702k i/100ms
    OpenStruct class    14.400k i/100ms
       regular class      3.901M (± 4.0%) i/s -     19.499M
    OpenStruct class    158.799k (± 7.1%) i/s -    792.000k

From that benchmark, it seems like OpenStruct is 4% the speed of a regular class – not particularly helpful when performance is a significant concern.

In our case, profiling with StackProf showed that OpenStruct was taking up 13% of CPU time in many cases; in short, it was one of our worst offenders, performance-wise.

However, we really wanted to stick with OpenStruct because of the flexibility it provides. How could we bridge that gap?

Attempt 1: OpenFastStruct

I had read about a gem called open_fast_struct recently, which provides a different implementation of OpenStruct, with its own performance quirks. In most use cases, it outperforms OpenStruct by a factor of 4. It achieves this by skipping a step that OpenStruct does.

Internally, every time I call a new method on and OpenStruct instance, it defines a new method for next time. This is much more efficient if I’m going to be calling that method hundreds of times. However, if I’m just calling it a few times, it’s not worth it to define the method, and instead what I should really do is continue to rely on #method_missing.

That idea is at the core of OpenFastStruct. It just maintains an internal hash containing the data you insert, and any call to #method_missing interacts with that hash. In contrast, OpenStruct also maintains an internal hash, but defines methods on-the-fly to interact with that hash.

However, OpenFastStruct doesn’t maintain the entire public interface of OpenStruct, and it became clear we would need to monkey-patch it quite a bit to get it to work for us.

Additionally, I realized that we didn’t really need all the flexibility of OpenStruct. Instead, our needs would be best served by something that would define the shape of the class on-the-fly and then stick with it.

Attempt 2: PersistentOpenStruct

So I decided to build a new gem. PersistentOpenStruct, as the name suggests, allows the construction of a class on-the-fly. The major difference from OpenStruct is that it defines methods on the class, rather than defining singleton methods on the object. This means that if I create 1,000 objects with the same 8 properties, OpenStruct will define 8,000 methods, and PersistentOpenStruct will define 8.

To make sure I obeyed the entire public interface, I decided to put this together by subclassing OpenStruct and redefining the methods which would otherwise define singleton methods. This has the nice benefit that the entire significant code in the gem is around 15 lines. The downside is, of course, that PersistentOpenStruct can only be understood in the context of OpenStruct and depends on the internals of OpenStruct. Still, I think the tradeoffs are in favor of keeping things simple for now, and letting things develop over time as needed.

The other thing I did was literally copy over the tests that are used to test the original OpenStruct class. The only changes I made were adjustments which made sense in this case (unlike OpenStruct, what happens to one object affects the #respond_to? answer of another), and adding some additional tests.

Enough of my chitchat, though, it’s time for the results!

PersistentOpenStruct Revealed

Here’s some code which demonstrates how PersistentOpenStruct works.

class MyDataStructure < PersistentOpenStruct

datum1 = :bar)

datum2 =
datum2.respond_to?(:baz) #=> false
datum2.respond_to?(:foo) #=> true

Since datum1 used foo as a key, every instance of MyDataStructure will now have a foo method. Again, this happens because MyDataStructure has the #foo= and foo methods defined on the class as soon as any instance gets a foo property.

As for performance? You can download the gem and run the benchmarks yourself. Various actions (key/value assignment on initialization, key/value assignment after initialization, value access) have different comparisons, but generally speaking, PersistentOpenStruct is about 25%-99% as fast as a regular class.

You can see the results I got on my Mac at the gem’s homepage.

The Bottom Line

By simply dropping in PersistentOpenStruct in place of OpenStruct, we saw a 10% reduction in response time for Sidekiq jobs that relied heavily on OpenStructs.

Sound interesting? Check out the gem’s homepage and give it a whirl. Drop me a line – leave a comment or submit a GitHub issue – let me know what happens!