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Performance principles for rules and files to abide by when scanning repositories


The amount of time required for rules to run scales better than linearly when adding interfile rules, which are those with interfile: true in the options key. That is, doubling the number of interfile rules increases the runtime, but not by double. However, some rules run faster than others, and adding a slow rule when all the rest are fast can cause a significant slowdown.

Rules are slower if the sub-patterns, such as pattern: <... $X ...>, result in a greater number of matches. When writing rules, pay special attention to the problems raised by sub-pattern matches. The most important factor for runtime is the time spent adding to various lists or sets.

You can benchmark your rules by adding the --time flag to your semgrep scan command. When you use this flag, your results return with a timing summary; if your output format is JSON, you'll see times for each rule-target pair.


Generally, the time required to scan files scales linearly with the number of files scanned, but file size is still important. Overall, the time taken is time for setup work + time for matching. For setup work, files aren’t analyzed alone but in groups of mutually dependent files called strongly connected components (SCCs).

The time for setup work is number of SCCs * time for each SCC, where the time for each SCC grows, in the worst case, exponentially up to certain limits set by Semgrep. This means that making SCCs larger with more mutually dependent files affects scan time more negatively than adding more SCCs.

The time for matching is number of files * time to match each file. The time to check each file can also grow, in the worst case, exponentially, especially when a rule has a lot of matches in subpatterns. However, the default settings of --timeout 30 --timeout-threshold 3 means that a file times out if:

  • 30 seconds elapse without the match process completing
  • 3 rules time out

You can configure these flags to skip long files after a shorter timeout period or when a smaller number of rules timeout. Usually, Semgrep matches files pretty quickly, but minified Javascript files can cause significant performance issues.

Semgrep sets a limit of 1 MB for each file scanned, but you can modify this setting using the --max-target-bytes flag. For example, if your flag is --max-target-bytes=1500000, Semgrep ignores any larger file. You can get a full list of files Semgrep skips by including the --verbose flag and inspecting ci.log. This information helps you determine the feasibility of including those files and whether you should adjust the maximum file size limit to scan such files.

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