When I first started programming I started to get the hang of for-loops and I basically applied them to everything that was iterable. Upon learning more about efficient coding for data science, I learned about vectorization (mostly through R and pySpark), so I wanted to showcase a simple case study as to when vectorization reigns supreme over for-loops.

Although I will state that for-loops do allow the user to be a little more intimate with the function call and I do encourage everyone to become efficient at loops :)

Load Packages

First we will load the appropriate packages, in this case we will be using numpy, matplotlib and timeit. I will provide a requirements.txt file for people utilizing virtualenv but if you’re using anaconda the packages should already come pre-installed.

  • numpy - used to showcase the standard library for data enthusiast in python
  • matplotlib - plotting library to showcase differences in methods
  • timeit - package we will use to showcase difference in loops and vectorization through benchmarking
import numpy as np
import timeit
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
# For ggplot2 style plots

# Set random seed for reproducibility

Notice how I set the random seed here, this will be important in order for this walkthrough to be reproducibile. Although experimenting with different random seeds might produce different results!

Define Looping Function

First I copy-pasted the function David created so that I can use it in this script. It is a simple function that produces the summation of an array. This is the way many people are taught when first learning python and programming.

def vector_sum(vector):
    # takes vector and returns the sum of its elements
    s = 0
    for i in vector:
        s = s + i
    return s

Define vectorization

The operation that we are going to be vectorization doesn’t need to be defined as a function since it utilizes two ufunc functions from numpy.

ufunc functions

This is an important concept especially when utilizing numpy for data analysis (so all the time!). But many of these built-in operations are vectorized to perform fast and efficient processes.

You can read more here.

But if I were to give a TLDR; if you need to do an operation on data that doesn’t require too many conditional statements use vectorized operations.

The operation is written as such:


NOTE: Note upon further reading if the array has dimensions WxL where W is greater than 1, than np.sum() is a more appropriate function to use for our desired outcome.

Check to see if both operations are equal

I’m going to create an array of length 100 with random values, and show that the vector_sum and numpy ufunc operations produce the same result.

my_array = np.random.rand(100)

Let’s check the array size first, this will be important to understand in a later section discussing benchmarking.


Here I’ll be utilizing the function on my_array and printing out the output with 5 significant values.

print('{0: .5f}'.format(vector_sum(my_array)))

Dope! Now I will use the ufunc operations and hopefully the results will be the same.

print('{0: .5f}'.format(np.add.reduce(my_array)))

As we can see we got the same results!

The important aspect of this blog post is the time it takes to produce our results. For a data set with 100 values optimizing will most likely not be important, but when you start playing with larger data sets this will be important to produce fast and succinct data analysis.

Benchmark with timeit

Now I will be using the timeit function where I will include the two operations as strings and include the parameter globals = globals(). This will recognize my current python environment (otherwise I would have to recreate everything within the function call which would be pretty tedious).

I will tell it the number of iterations to do (in this case we will do 1000).

    # Include function call in timeit
    # Include global environment 
    globals = globals(), 
    # Number of iterations
    number = 1000))

Now the ufunc operation:

    globals = globals(), 
    number = 1000))

Bootstrapping Benchmarking Methods

Its already pretty obvious that the numpy operations performs significantly better than the vector_sum function, but to drive the point home I will do a loop that will do these operations on randomly generated arrays. The arrays will vary in size starting with an array of size 100 and ending with an array of size 10000.

Then I will input the indices and the time it took to execute the operations into a dictionary which I will then plot to see the difference in time for the varying arrays.

Note that the arrays generated at each loop are different since the random generator is being using on each operation seperately. In future iterations I would like to have the same arrays to give a more concrete comparison.

vector_dict = {'vectorized': [], 
              'for_loop': [],
              'index': []}

Ironically I will be using a for-loop to append each respective key in the dictionary. Since they are being appended in a list inside a dictionary, the order will be kept. When iterating over a dictionary be careful because it will output in random order (Until Python 3.7 from what I’ve heard).

for i in range(100, 10000, 200):
    # Create index 
    # Create the array that will contain all time values for numpy operations
        globals = globals(), 
        number = 1000))
    # Create the array that will contain all time values for `for-loop` function
        globals = globals(), 
        number = 1000))

So each key will have the values in a list from the first value (100) to the last (10000) in increments of 200 so 50 values overall.


Next we will visualize the difference by ploting our index as our x-axis and y-axis containing the time it took to calculate that n-dimension array.

fig, ax = plt.subplots()

plt.plot(vector_dict['index'], vector_dict['vectorized'], 'r')
plt.plot(vector_dict['index'], vector_dict['for_loop'], 'g')
plt.legend(('Vectorized Operation', 'For Loop'))
plt.xlabel('Length of Randomly Created Arrays')
plt.ylabel('Time for operation (1000 iterations for each array)')

Now we can notice the huge difference in operations and the time it took to calculate them over different sized arrays. That cray-cray!


I wanted to create this blog post because I’ll often see beginners being taught a certain way of writing code, and its important to learn these methods. But we have to remember that there are other methods and operations that will significantly improve the run time of your code.

The benefits of vectorization are evident when utilizing tools like R and pySpark, and might not be as clear when learning python. For most of my python experience learning data science, I didn’t read too much documentation going over vectorization although it did feel like it was implied.

So for a beginner like myself being able to see the differences in performance of methodologies can help reduce running time, but also understanding of more succinct data science practices.

If you have any questions, suggestions or corrections reach out to me!