Benchmark compare Highlight.js vs. Prism

19 May 2020   0 comments   Node, JavaScript

tl;dr; I wanted to see which is fastest, in Node, Highlight.js or Prism. The result is; they're both plenty fast but Prism is 9% faster.

The context is all the thousands of little snippets of CSS, HTML, and JavaScript code on MDN.
I first wrote a script that stored almost 9,000 snippets of code. 60% is Javascript and 22% is CSS and rest is HTML.
The mean snippet size was 400 bytes and the median 300 bytes. All ASCII.

Then I wrote three functions:

  1. f1 - opens the snippet, extracts the payload, and saves it in a different place. This measures the baseline for how long the disk I/O read and the disk I/O write takes.
  2. f2 - same as f1 but uses const html = Prism.highlight(payload, Prism.languages[name], name); before saving.
  3. f3 - same as f1 but uses const html = hljs.highlight(name, payload).value; before saving.

The experiment

You can see the hacky benchmark code here:


The results are (after running each 12 times each):

f1 0.947s   fastest
f2 1.361s   43.6% slower
f3 1.494s   57.7% slower


In terms of memory usage, Prism maxes heap memory at 60MB (the f1 baseline was 18MB), and Highlight.js maxes heap memory at 60MB too.

Disk space in HTML

Each library produces different HTML. Examples:


<span class="token selector">.item::after</span> <span class="token punctuation">{</span>
    <span class="token property">content</span><span class="token punctuation">:</span> <span class="token string">"This is my content."</span><span class="token punctuation">;</span>
<span class="token punctuation">}</span>


<span class="hljs-selector-class">.item</span><span class="hljs-selector-pseudo">::after</span> {
    <span class="hljs-attribute">content</span>: <span class="hljs-string">"This is my content."</span>;

Yes, not only does it mean they look different, they use up a different amount of disk space when saved. That matters for web performance and also has an impact on build resources.


Prism is plenty fast for Node. If you're already using Prism, don't worry about having to switch to Highlight.js for added performance.

RAM memory consumption is about the same.

Final HTML from Prism is 30% larger than Highlight.js but when the rendered HTML is included in a full HTML page, the HTML compresses very well because of all the repetition so this is not a good comparison. Or rather, not a lot to worry about.

Well, speed is just one dimension. The features differ too. MDN already uses Prism but does so in the browser. The ultimate context for this blog post is; the speed if we were to do all the syntax highlighting in the server as a build step.


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