Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Inline is useful

As I was looking for ways yesterday to claw back some of the cost of switching to a recursive descent parser for json, I was interested to see I could get a small but quite observable improvement simply by declaring a few hotspot functions as "inline". This means that the compiler will expand calls to them rather than generating a function call, thus saving the overhead of setting up a stack frame and doing a procedure call. The benefits of doing this vary depending on the compiler and the architecture, but it can be substantial.

Not everything is a candidate for inlining - external functions can't be inlined because the call sites aren't available when they are compiled, and recursive functions can't either because it could cause infinite regress.

One downside is that it can make debugging harder, so it's often best to leave inlining to late in the development process.

Anyway, I'll probably pay rather more attention to it in future.

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