After one of my latest updates to SwoopSrch.com, all the sudden requests were taking up to 11 seconds. Swoop works by making a set of all the apartments that meet at least one criteria the user types in (usually thousands), applying a weighting algorithm, sorting them, and returning the top 100 values for display. Through some performance tuning, I was able to get the requests down to about 1 second on average by applying some simple techniques.
Your app is slow. But why? Which functions? Is a function getting called too many times? Is one function way too slow? You won't know until you profile it. In your views.py, you can add a profile decorator that will print out all your queries and a lot of data about functions (how many times they are called, cumulative time taken, time per call, module/line number, etc). Look for the highest cumulative time, ones being called more than the length of your QuerySets, etc. Also check that you aren't making too many queries to your database. I currently make about 7 after optimization. I could get this down to about 3 with some clever reworking, but none of the calls take very much time (less than 0.001 seconds), so I left them as they are. At one point, it was making over 1000. That is a problem.
To install and use Django Profiler and start profiling views:
If you just want to see your queries, Django gives you an easier way to check them.
You can also print the .query attribute of any QuerySet to see what queries created it.
You need to understand when Querysets are executed. For example, intersecting QuerySets with the '|' operator does not execute a search, but accessing the values does. If you then add more filters later, you'll execute another search. Organizing your data flow is hugely important. To get a better understanding, read When QuerySets Are Evaluated and Database Access Optimization in the Django documentation. A big one is using ManyToMany fields properly. If used improperly, you can get thousands of database calls, and horrifying performance. Reconfiguring our database to not require access to ManyToMany fields for normal queries shaved off about 5 seconds on its own. That was kind of shocking.
In my case, I needed all 100 of the Apartment objects to be a dictionary before passing them back to the frontend as JSON. At first, I tried using modeltodict() on the complete object just before returning them. At first, I was converting all of the objects to dicts with modeltodict(), but that was causing about a 0.3 second slow down. Even after moving it, I was still getting a slow down of about 1/10 of that, which isn't unbearable. Instead, I switched to calling .values() at the end of my query.
You need to be careful with this. If you have model functions, they will be unavailable after you run .values(). For Swoop, Apartment objects have a .address() function, combining the various address parts (house number, street, etc) into a standard looking address for display. I moved this function into a utility function, and experienced no more slow downs. Good.
Using defer() is great if you have fields that are very large or ManyToMany fields, you can defer them from getting retreived from the database by listing them in defer() at the end of your query. A subtle note is that the Django ORM tries to fill up its QuerySet cache, and part of that is using select_related(). select_related() prevents you from needing to hit the database again if you follow a ForeignKey, but if you have too many objects, this can massively slow down your queries. This accounted for about half of the time.
As a user on reddit pointed out, you can also use only() if you only need a couple columns. Instead of excluding columns listed in defer, it only grabs the ones you specify. In my case, there were about 12 columns I need for every object, so defer made more sense. Your mileage may vary.
I originally stored the number of beds and baths as a DecimalField in the database. When pulling them out of the database, they have to be converted by the decimal module. According to this StackOverflow article, decimal is about 100 times slower than the float builtin. I changed the fields in models.py to FloatFields, and issued an alter table to the database, "alter table TABLE modify COLUMN double precision;". If you need Decimals, you can instead try to defer out those fields when not needed. A minor change, but it saved about 0.2 seconds. Nice.
Running a datetime conversion when bringing objects out of a database is slow when run a couple thousand times. Our database keeps track of when apartments are available for rent (sometimes needed for searches), when they were added to the database, and the last time they were updated (to prioritize updates). The added and updated fields never need to be shown to a user, so they are automatically added to the defer list. If the available date isn't required, it is also deferred. This saved around 0.1 second again. Yay!
Some of our semi-expensive operations, include some map preprocessing and other backend preprocessing, were being applied before we trimmed down the Queryset. Simply moving the trimming to 100 to much earlier saved about 0.1 second. Awesome.
We are running on Amazon servers, with our MySQL database on a separate server than our app servers. In development, we use sqlite3 for our database, and it is local. Also, the Amazon servers use slower, using 2007 Opterons, where my laptop has a quad core Ivy Bridge. Obviously, everything is going to act much faster on my laptop, and this initially lulled me into believing the app would perform much better when deployed. This is very hard to account for, but that is why you use development and staging servers that mirror your production environment as close as possible.
One thing I have not implemented yet is a Memcache server. From what I read, it is great for improving performance, but since Swoop uses a custom weighting system for each search, I don't know that many queries will be improved. Your app might be different, and Memcache might be the first place to look for performance increases.
I hope these tips help you improve your app. This is not an exhaustive list by any means. If you have more tips, add them in the comments and I'll add them to the main article. Also, if you have any corrections, please note them in the comments!