Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Micro-optimization: the surprising inefficiency of readonly fields


Recently I've been optimizing the heck out of Noda Time. Most of the time this has been a case of the normal measurement, find bottlenecks, carefully analyse them, lather, rinse, repeat. Yesterday I had a hunch about a particular cost, and decided to experiment... leading to a surprising optimization.

Noda Time's core types are mostly value types - date/time values are naturally value types, just as DateTime and DateTimeOffset are in the BCL. Noda Time's types are a bit bigger than most value types, however - the largest being ZonedDateTime, weighing in at 40 bytes in an x64 CLR at the moment. (I can shrink it down to 32 bytes with a bit of messing around, although it's not terribly pleasant to do so.) The main reason for the bulk is that we have two reference types involved (the time zone and the calendar system), and in Noda Time 2.0 we're going to have nanosecond resolution instead of tick resolution (so we need 12 bytes just to store a point in time). While this goes against the Class Library Design Guidelines, it would be odd for the smaller types (LocalDate, LocalTime) to be value types and the larger ones to be reference types. Overall, these still feel like value types.

A lot of these value types are logically composed of each other:

  • A LocalDate is a YearMonthDay and a CalendarSystem reference
  • A LocalDateTime is a LocalDate and a LocalTime
  • An OffsetDateTime is a LocalDateTime and an Offset
  • A ZonedDateTime is an OffsetDateTime and a DateTimeZone reference

This leads to a lot of delegation, potentially - asking a ZonedDateTime for its Year could mean asking the OffsetDateTime, which would ask the LocalDateTime, which would ask the LocalDate, which would ask the YearMonthDay. Very nice from a code reuse point of view, but potentially inefficient due to copying data.

Why would there be data copying involved? Well, that's where this blog post comes in.

Behaviour of value type member invocations

When an instance member (method or property) belonging to a value type is invoked, the exact behaviour depends on the kind of expression it is called on. From the C# 5 spec, section 7.5.5 (where E is the expression the member M is invoked on, and the type declaring M is a value type):

If E is not classified as a variable, then a temporary local variable of E’s type is created and the value of E is assigned to that variable. E is then reclassified as a reference to that temporary local variable. The temporary variable is accessible as this within M, but not in any other way. Thus, only when E is a true variable is it possible for the caller to observe the changes that M makes to this.

So when is a variable not a variable? When it's readonly... from section 7.6.4 (emphasis mine) :

If T is a struct-type and I identifies an instance field of that class-type:

  • If E is a value, or if the field is readonly and the reference occurs outside an instance constructor of the struct in which the field is declared, then the result is a value, namely the value of the field I in the struct instance given by E.

(There's a very similar bullet for T being a class-type; the important part is that the field type is a value type

The upshot is that if you have a method call of:

int result = someField.Foo();

then it's effectively converted into this:

var tmp = someField;
int result = tmp.Foo();

Now if the type of the field is quite a large value type, but Foo() doesn't modify the value (which it never does within my value types), that's performing a copy completely unnecessarily.

To see this in action outside Noda Time, I've built a little sample app.

Show me the code!

Our example is a simple 256-bit type, composed of 4 Int64 values. The type itself doesn't do anything useful - it just holds the four values, and exposes them via properties. We then measure how long it takes to sum the four properties lots of times.

using System;
using System.Diagnostics;

public struct Int256
    private readonly long bits0;
    private readonly long bits1;
    private readonly long bits2;
    private readonly long bits3;
    public Int256(long bits0, long bits1, long bits2, long bits3)
        this.bits0 = bits0;
        this.bits1 = bits1;
        this.bits2 = bits2;
        this.bits3 = bits3;
    public long Bits0 { get { return bits0; } }
    public long Bits1 { get { return bits1; } }
    public long Bits2 { get { return bits2; } }
    public long Bits3 { get { return bits3; } }

class Test
    private readonly Int256 value;

    public Test()
        value = new Int256(1L, 5L, 10L, 100L);
    public long TotalValue 
            return value.Bits0 + value.Bits1 + value.Bits2 + value.Bits3; 
    public void RunTest()
        // Just make sure it's JITted...
        var sample = TotalValue;
        Stopwatch sw = Stopwatch.StartNew();
        long total = 0;
        for (int i = 0; i < 1000000000; i++)
            total += TotalValue;
        Console.WriteLine("Total time: {0}ms", sw.ElapsedMilliseconds);
    static void Main()
        new Test().RunTest();

Building this from the command line with /o+ /debug- and running (in a 64-bit CLR, but no RyuJIT) this takes about 20 seconds to run on my laptop. We can make it much faster with just one small change:

class Test
    private Int256 value;

    // Code as before

The same test now takes about 4 seconds - a 5-fold speed improvement, just by making a field non-readonly. If we look at the IL for the TotalValue property, the copying becomes obvious. Here it is when the field is readonly:

.method public hidebysig specialname instance int64 
        get_TotalValue() cil managed
  // Code size       60 (0x3c)
  .maxstack  2
  .locals init (valuetype Int256 V_0,
           valuetype Int256 V_1,
           valuetype Int256 V_2,
           valuetype Int256 V_3)
  IL_0000:  ldarg.0
  IL_0001:  ldfld      valuetype Int256 Test::'value'
  IL_0006:  stloc.0
  IL_0007:  ldloca.s   V_0
  IL_0009:  call       instance int64 Int256::get_Bits0()
  IL_000e:  ldarg.0
  IL_000f:  ldfld      valuetype Int256 Test::'value'
  IL_0014:  stloc.1
  IL_0015:  ldloca.s   V_1
  IL_0017:  call       instance int64 Int256::get_Bits1()
  IL_001c:  add
  IL_001d:  ldarg.0
  IL_001e:  ldfld      valuetype Int256 Test::'value'
  IL_0023:  stloc.2
  IL_0024:  ldloca.s   V_2
  IL_0026:  call       instance int64 Int256::get_Bits2()
  IL_002b:  add
  IL_002c:  ldarg.0
  IL_002d:  ldfld      valuetype Int256 Test::'value'
  IL_0032:  stloc.3
  IL_0033:  ldloca.s   V_3
  IL_0035:  call       instance int64 Int256::get_Bits3()
  IL_003a:  add
  IL_003b:  ret
} // end of method Test::get_TotalValue

And here it is when the field's not readonly:

.method public hidebysig specialname instance int64 
        get_TotalValue() cil managed
  // Code size       48 (0x30)
  .maxstack  8
  IL_0000:  ldarg.0
  IL_0001:  ldflda     valuetype Int256 Test::'value'
  IL_0006:  call       instance int64 Int256::get_Bits0()
  IL_000b:  ldarg.0
  IL_000c:  ldflda     valuetype Int256 Test::'value'
  IL_0011:  call       instance int64 Int256::get_Bits1()
  IL_0016:  add
  IL_0017:  ldarg.0
  IL_0018:  ldflda     valuetype Int256 Test::'value'
  IL_001d:  call       instance int64 Int256::get_Bits2()
  IL_0022:  add
  IL_0023:  ldarg.0
  IL_0024:  ldflda     valuetype Int256 Test::'value'
  IL_0029:  call       instance int64 Int256::get_Bits3()
  IL_002e:  add
  IL_002f:  ret
} // end of method Test::get_TotalValue

Note that it's still loading the field address (ldflda) four times. You might expect that copying the field onto the stack once via a temporary variable would be faster, but that ends up at about 6.5 seconds on my machine.

There is an optimization which is even faster - moving the totalling property into Int256. That way (with the non-readonly field, still) the total time is less than a second - twenty times faster than the original code!


This isn't an optimization I'd recommend in general. Most code really doesn't need to be micro-optimized this hard, and most code doesn't deal with large value types like the ones in Noda Time. However, I regard Noda Time as a sort of "system level" library, and I don't ever want someone to decide not to use it on  performance grounds. My benchmarks show that for potentially-frequently-called operations (such as the properties on ZonedDateTime) it really does make a difference, so I'm going to go for it.

I intend to apply a custom attribute to each of these "would normally be readonly" fields to document the intended behaviour of the field - and then when Roslyn is fully released, I'll probably write a test to validate that all of these fields would still compile if the field were made readonly (e.g. that they're never assigned to outside the constructor).

Aside from anything else, I find the subtle difference in behaviour between a readonly field and a read/write field fascinating... it's something I'd been vaguely aware of in the past, but this is the first time that it's had a practical impact on me. Maybe it'll never make any difference to your code... but it's probably worth being aware of anyway.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Noda Time v1.3.0 released

Noda Time 1.3.0 came out today, bringing a healthy mix of new features and bug fixes for all your date and time handling needs. Unlike with previous releases, the improvements in Noda Time 1.3 don’t really have a single theme: they add a handful of features and tidy up some loose ends on the road to 2.0 (on which more below).

So in no particular order…
  • Noda Time 1.3 adds support for the Persian (Solar Hijri) calendar, and experimental support for the Hebrew calender. Support for the latter is “experimental” because we are not entirely convinced that calculations around leap years work as people would expect, and because there is currently no support for parsing and formatting month names. See the calendars page in the user guide for more details.
  • Speaking of parsing and formatting, both should be significantly faster in 1.3.0. Parse failures should also be much easier to diagnose, as errors now indicate which part of the input failed to match the relevant part of the pattern.
  • The desktop build of Noda Time should now be usable from partially-trusted contexts (such as ASP.NET shared hosting), as it is now marked with the AllowPartiallyTrustedCallers attribute.
  • Finally, we also fixed a small number of minor bugs, added annotations for ReSharper users, and added a few more convenience methods — ZonedDateTime.IsDaylightSavingTime() and OffsetDateTime.WithOffset(), for example — in response to user requests. There’s also a new option to make the JSON serializer use a string representation for Interval.
Again, see the User Guide and 1.3.0 release notes for more information about all of the above.

You can get Noda Time 1.3.0 from the NuGet repository as usual (core, testing, JSON support packages), or from the links on the Noda Time home page.

Onward to 2.0

Meanwhile, development has started on Noda Time 2.0. Noda Time 2.0 will not be binary-compatible with Noda Time 1.x, but it will be mostly source-compatible: we don’t plan to make completely gratuitous changes.

Among other things, Noda Time 2.0 is likely to contain:
  • Significant changes to internal representations, with consequences for overall performance (some good, some — hopefully for less-important cases — less good). To take one example: we expect to change the granularity of Instant and Duration from ticks to nanoseconds.
  • A better definition of the range of values that are supported for various types and calendars, and a defined behaviour for when those ranges are exceeded. In a similar vein, we plan to revisit how ordering and equality are implemented (mostly for edge cases).
  • A unified API for changing dates and times similar to the Java 8 “adjuster” concept. (This may replace some methods that are currently on concrete types.)
  • Removal of everything marked as obsolete in 1.x.
We don’t expect to have a release of Noda Time 2.0 until next year, so we may well make some additional releases in the 1.3.x series between now and then, but in general we’ll be focussing on 2.0. If you’re interested in helping out, come and talk to us on the mailing list.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Hebrew calendar cheat sheet

This post is largely for my own benefit, but I figured it might be interesting to others too, in terms of what you need to think about when coding against the Hebrew calendar. Currently I'm trying to work out what it means to add a year to a date in the Hebrew calendar, at which point it's useful to have some reference tables.

Month names

There are two month numbering systems, which Noda Time calls Civil and Scriptural. In leap years, the number/name mapping in the civil numbering system is offset for the second half of the year, due to Adar being split into Adar I and Adar II.

Number Scriptural Civil (non-leap) Civil (leap)
1 Nisan Tishri Tishri
2 Iyar Heshvan Heshvan
3 Sivan Kislev Kislev
4 Tamuz Tevet Tevet
5 Av Shevat Shevat
6 Elul Adar Adar I
7 Tishri Nisan Adar II
8 Heshvan Iyar Nisan
9 Kislev Sivan Iyar
10 Tevet Tamuz Sivan
11 Shevat Av Tamuz
12 Adar / Adar I Elul Av
13 Adar II   Elul

(Heshvan is sometimes lengthened to Marcheshvan; it's also called Cheshvan. Heshvan is the version in CLDR, which is why I've used it here. Other month names have similar variations, e.g. Tishri vs Tishrei. These are only English versions of Hebrew names, of course.)

Sample years

In unit tests it's useful to have some sample data for specific situations. Here's the data for a complete leap cycle of 19 years. (This period maps to years 1639 to 1659 in the Gregorian calendar.)

Year Leap? Days in Cheshvan Days in Kislev
5400 No 29 30
5401 No 29 29
5402 Yes 30 30
5403 No 29 30
5404 Yes 29 29
5405 No 30 30
5406 No 29 30
5407 Yes 30 30
5408 No 29 29
5409 No 30 30
5410 Yes 29 30
5411 No 30 30
5412 No 29 29
5413 Yes 29 30
5414 No 30 30
5415 Yes 30 30
5416 No 29 29
5417 No 29 30
5418 Yes 30 30
5419 No 30 30