Turn off Windows Defender on your builds

I've spent some time this evening profiling a Python application on Windows, trying to find out why it was so much slower than on Mac or Linux. The application is an in-house build tool which reads a number of config files, then writes some output files.

Using the RunSnakeRun Python profile viewer on Windows, two things immediately leapt out at me: we were running os.stat a lot and file.close was really expensive.

A quick test convinced me that we were stat-ing the same files over and over. It was a combination of explicit checks and implicit code, like os.walk calling os.path.isdir. I wrote a little cache that memoizes the results, which brought the cost of the os.stats down from 1.5 seconds to 0.6.

Figuring out why closing files was so expensive was harder. I was writing 77 files, totaling just over 1MB, and it was taking 3.5 seconds. It turned out that it wasn't the UTF-8 codec or newline translation. It was simply that closing those files took far longer than it should have.

I decided to try a different profiler, hoping to learn more. I downloaded the Windows Performance Toolkit. I recorded a couple of traces of my application running, then I looked at them in the Windows Performance Analyzer, whereupon I saw that in each case, the CPU spike of my app was followed by a CPU spike in MsMpEng.exe.

What's MsMpEng.exe? It's Microsoft's antimalware engine, at the heart of Windows Defender. I added my build tree to the list of excluded locations, and my runtime halved. The 3.5 seconds of file closing dropped to 60 milliseconds, a 98% reduction.

The moral of this story is: don't let your virus checker run on your builds.

Windows Defender: Exclude directory for scanning


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