C# – What’s the fastest way to read a text file line-by-line

.netc++file-ioperformancetext-files

I want to read a text file line by line. I wanted to know if I'm doing it as efficiently as possible within the .NET C# scope of things.

This is what I'm trying so far:

var filestream = new System.IO.FileStream(textFilePath,
                                          System.IO.FileMode.Open,
                                          System.IO.FileAccess.Read,
                                          System.IO.FileShare.ReadWrite);
var file = new System.IO.StreamReader(filestream, System.Text.Encoding.UTF8, true, 128);

while ((lineOfText = file.ReadLine()) != null)
{
    //Do something with the lineOfText
}

Best Solution

To find the fastest way to read a file line by line you will have to do some benchmarking. I have done some small tests on my computer but you cannot expect that my results apply to your environment.

Using StreamReader.ReadLine

This is basically your method. For some reason you set the buffer size to the smallest possible value (128). Increasing this will in general increase performance. The default size is 1,024 and other good choices are 512 (the sector size in Windows) or 4,096 (the cluster size in NTFS). You will have to run a benchmark to determine an optimal buffer size. A bigger buffer is - if not faster - at least not slower than a smaller buffer.

const Int32 BufferSize = 128;
using (var fileStream = File.OpenRead(fileName))
  using (var streamReader = new StreamReader(fileStream, Encoding.UTF8, true, BufferSize)) {
    String line;
    while ((line = streamReader.ReadLine()) != null)
      // Process line
  }

The FileStream constructor allows you to specify FileOptions. For example, if you are reading a large file sequentially from beginning to end, you may benefit from FileOptions.SequentialScan. Again, benchmarking is the best thing you can do.

Using File.ReadLines

This is very much like your own solution except that it is implemented using a StreamReader with a fixed buffer size of 1,024. On my computer this results in slightly better performance compared to your code with the buffer size of 128. However, you can get the same performance increase by using a larger buffer size. This method is implemented using an iterator block and does not consume memory for all lines.

var lines = File.ReadLines(fileName);
foreach (var line in lines)
  // Process line

Using File.ReadAllLines

This is very much like the previous method except that this method grows a list of strings used to create the returned array of lines so the memory requirements are higher. However, it returns String[] and not an IEnumerable<String> allowing you to randomly access the lines.

var lines = File.ReadAllLines(fileName);
for (var i = 0; i < lines.Length; i += 1) {
  var line = lines[i];
  // Process line
}

Using String.Split

This method is considerably slower, at least on big files (tested on a 511 KB file), probably due to how String.Split is implemented. It also allocates an array for all the lines increasing the memory required compared to your solution.

using (var streamReader = File.OpenText(fileName)) {
  var lines = streamReader.ReadToEnd().Split("\r\n".ToCharArray(), StringSplitOptions.RemoveEmptyEntries);
  foreach (var line in lines)
    // Process line
}

My suggestion is to use File.ReadLines because it is clean and efficient. If you require special sharing options (for example you use FileShare.ReadWrite), you can use your own code but you should increase the buffer size.