Sieve of Eratosthenes with Elixir

Feb 17 2018

The sieve of Eratosthenes is a simple algorithm for finding all prime numbers up to any given limit. From wikipedia -

Works by iteratively marking as composite (i.e., not prime) the multiples of each prime, starting with the first prime number, 2. The multiples of a given prime are generated as a sequence of numbers starting from that prime, with constant difference between them that is equal to that prime. This is the sieve's key distinction from using trial division to sequentially test each candidate number for divisibility by each prime.

In JavaScript this is simple enough -

// sieve.js
const num = 100000
const sqrt = Math.floor(Math.sqrt(num))

const state = Array(num - 1)
  .map((_e, i) => i + 2)
  .reduce((h, e) => {
    h[e] = true
    return h
  }, {})

const nonPrimes = Array(sqrt)
  .map((_e, i) => i + 2)
  .forEach((idx) => {
    if (state[`${idx}`]) {
      let count = 0
      while (true) {
        let n = Math.pow(idx, 2) + (idx * count)
        if (n <= num) {
          state[`${n}`] = false
        } else {
        count = count + 1

console.log(Object.keys(state).filter((k) => state[k]))

However, in the code above we are manipulating state even as we iterate over it. In a concurrent / functional world this is a big red flag. So to write this code in Elixir we need to isolate the state. Agents provide simple state isolation but we can build on the nicer API provided by GenServer. So the code looks like -


defmodule PrimeState do
  use GenServer

  # Client side
  def start_link(num) do
    state = 2..num
      |> Enum.reduce(%{}, fn (x, acc) -> Map.put(acc, x, true) end)

    GenServer.start_link(__MODULE__, state, name: __MODULE__)

  def get_state(pid) do, :get_state)

  def update_state(pid, e) do
    GenServer.cast(pid, {:update_state, e})

  # Server side
  def init(state), do: {:ok, state}

  def handle_call(:get_state, _from, state) do
    {:reply, state, state}

  def handle_cast({:update_state, e}, state) do
    {:noreply, Map.put(state, trunc(e), false)}


defmodule Primes do

  defp filter_non_primes(x, num, pid, no_check \\ false, count \\ 0) do
    if no_check || Map.fetch(PrimeState.get_state(pid), x) == {:ok, true} do
      n = :math.pow(x, 2) + (x * count)
      if n <= num do
        PrimeState.update_state(pid, trunc(n))
        filter_non_primes(x, num, pid, true, count + 1)

  # the main function
  def prime_sieve(num) do
    {:ok, pid} = PrimeState.start_link(num)

    2..trunc(Float.ceil :math.sqrt num)
      |> -> trunc(e) end)
      |> Enum.each(fn (e) -> filter_non_primes(e, num, pid) end)

    new_state = PrimeState.get_state pid

      |> Enum.filter(fn (k) -> Map.fetch(new_state, k) == {:ok, true}  end)
      |> Enum.sort



Wrapping with a GenServer not only provides nicer state isolation but also a clean API (almost like working with a Map). Surprisingly, even though the code does not use many processes to parallelize the calculations the performance is pretty fast.