While working for various clients that needed fast binary
serialization, we had discovered that the `binary`

and `cereal`

packages are both inefficient and so we created the `store`

package.

In the high-frequency trading sector, we had to decode and
encode a binary protocol into Haskell data structures for analysis.
During this process it was made apparent to us that while we had
been attentive to micro-benchmark with the venerable `criterion`

package, we hadn't put a lot of work into ensuring that memory
usage was well studied. Bringing down allocations (and thus work,
and garbage collection) was key to achieving reasonable speed.

In response, let's measure space more, in an automatic way.

The currently available way to do this is by compiling with
profiling enabled and adding call centers and then running our
program with RTS options. For example, we write a program with an
`SCC`

call center, like this:

main :: IO () main = do let !_ = {-# SCC myfunction_10 #-} myfunction 10 return ()

Then compile with profiling enabled with `-p`

and run
with `+RTS -P`

and we get an output like this:

`COST CENTRE MODULE no. entries ... bytes`

`MAIN MAIN 43 0 ... 760 CAF:main1 Main 85 0 ... 0 main Main 86 1 ... 0 myfunction_10 Main 87 1 ... 160`

(Information omitted with `...`

to save space.)

That's great, exactly the kind of information we'd like to get. But we want it in a more concise, programmatic fashion. On a test suite level.

`weigh`

To serve this purpose, I've written the `weigh`

package,
which seeks to automate the measuring of memory usage of programs,
in the same way that `criterion`

does for timing of
programs.

It doesn't promise perfect measurement and comes with a grain of
salt, but it's reproducible. Unlike timing, allocation is generally
reliable provided you use something like `stack`

to pin the GHC
version and packages, so you can also make a test suite out of
it.

There is a simple DSL, like `hspec`

, for writing out
your tests. It looks like this:

import Weigh main = mainWith (do func "integers count 0" count 0 func "integers count 1" count 1 func "integers count 2" count 2 func "integers count 3" count 3 func "integers count 10" count 10 func "integers count 100" count 100) where count :: Integer -> () count 0 = () count a = count (a - 1)

This example weighs the function `count`

, which
counts down to zero. We want to measure the bytes allocated to
perform the action. The output is:

```
Case Bytes GCs Check
integers count 0 0 0 OK
integers count 1 32 0 OK
integers count 2 64 0 OK
integers count 3 96 0 OK
integers count 10 320 0 OK
integers count 100 3,200 0 OK
```

Weee! We can now go around weighing everything! I encourage you to do that. Even Haskell newbies can make use of this to get a vague idea of how costly their code (or libraries they're using) is.

`store`

I wrote a few tests, while developing `weigh`

, for
the `store`

package: encoding of lists, vectors and
storable vectors. Here's the `criterion`

result for
encoding a regular `Vector`

type:

`benchmarking encode/1kb normal (Vector Int32)/store time 3.454 μs (3.418 μs .. 3.484 μs) benchmarking encode/1kb normal (Vector Int32)/cereal time 19.56 μs (19.34 μs .. 19.79 μs)`

`benchmarking encode/10kb normal (Vector Int32)/store time 33.09 μs (32.73 μs .. 33.57 μs) benchmarking encode/10kb normal (Vector Int32)/cereal time 202.7 μs (201.2 μs .. 204.6 μs)`

`store`

is **6x** faster than `cereal`

at encoding Int32 vectors. Great! Our job is done, we've overcome
previous limitations of binary encoding speed. Let's take a look at
how heavy this process is. Weighing the program on 1 million and 10
million elements yields:

`1,000,000 Boxed Vector Int Encode: Store 88,008,584 140 OK 1,000,000 Boxed Vector Int Encode: Cereal 600,238,200 1,118 OK`

`10,000,000 Boxed Vector Int Encode: Store 880,078,896 1,384 OK 10,000,000 Boxed Vector Int Encode: Cereal 6,002,099,680 11,168 OK`

`store`

is 6.8x more memory efficient than
`cereal`

. Excellent. But is our job really finished?
Take a look at those allocations. To simply allocate a vector of
that size, it's:

`1,000,000 Boxed Vector Int Allocate 8,007,936 1 OK`

`10,000,000 Boxed Vector Int Allocate 80,078,248 1 OK`

While `store`

is more efficient than
`cereal`

, how are we allocating 11x the amount of space
necessary? We looked into this in the codebase, it turned out more
inlining was needed. After comprehensively applying the
`INLINE`

pragma to key methods and functions, the memory
was brought down to:

`1,000,000 Boxed Vector Int Allocate 8,007,936 1 OK 1,000,000 Boxed Vector Int Encode: Store 16,008,568 2 OK 1,000,000 Boxed Vector Int Encode: Cereal 600,238,200 1,118 OK`

`10,000,000 Boxed Vector Int Allocate 80,078,248 1 OK 10,000,000 Boxed Vector Int Encode: Store 160,078,880 2 OK 10,000,000 Boxed Vector Int Encode: Cereal 6,002,099,680 11,168 OK`

Now, `store`

takes an additional 8MB to encode an 8MB
vector, 80MB for an 80MB buffer. That's perfect 1:1 memory usage!
Let's check out the new speed without these allocations:

`benchmarking encode/1kb normal (Vector Int32)/store time 848.4 ns (831.6 ns .. 868.6 ns) benchmarking encode/1kb normal (Vector Int32)/cereal time 20.80 μs (20.33 μs .. 21.20 μs)`

`benchmarking encode/10kb normal (Vector Int32)/store time 7.708 μs (7.606 μs .. 7.822 μs) benchmarking encode/10kb normal (Vector Int32)/cereal time 207.4 μs (204.9 μs .. 210.3 μs)`

`store`

is 4x faster than previously!
`store`

is also now 20x faster than `cereal`

at encoding a vector of ints.

Another quick example, the Map structures from the two
containers packages. Let's weigh how heavy `fromList`

is
on 1 million elements. For fun, the keys are randomly generated
rather than ordered. We force the list completely ahead of time,
because we just want to see the allocations by the library, not our
input list.

fromlists :: Weigh () fromlists = do let !elems = force (zip (randoms (mkStdGen 0) :: [Int]) [1 :: Int .. 1000000]) func "Data.Map.Strict.fromList (1 million)" Data.Map.Strict.fromList elems func "Data.Map.Lazy.fromList (1 million)" Data.Map.Lazy.fromList elems func "Data.IntMap.Strict.fromList (1 million)" Data.IntMap.Strict.fromList elems func "Data.IntMap.Lazy.fromList (1 million)" Data.IntMap.Lazy.fromList elems func "Data.HashMap.Strict.fromList (1 million)" Data.HashMap.Strict.fromList elems func "Data.HashMap.Lazy.fromList (1 million)" Data.HashMap.Lazy.fromList elems

We clearly see that `IntMap`

from
`containers`

is about 1.3x more memory efficient than
the generic `Ord`

-based `Map`

. However,
`HashMap`

wipes the floor with both of them (for
`Int`

, at least), using 6.3x less memory than
`Map`

and 4.8x less memory than `IntMap`

:

```
Data.Map.Strict.fromList (1 million) 1,016,187,152 1,942 OK
Data.Map.Lazy.fromList (1 million) 1,016,187,152 1,942 OK
Data.IntMap.Strict.fromList (1 million) 776,852,648 1,489 OK
Data.IntMap.Lazy.fromList (1 million) 776,852,648 1,489 OK
Data.HashMap.Strict.fromList (1 million) 161,155,384 314 OK
Data.HashMap.Lazy.fromList (1 million) 161,155,384 314 OK
```

This is just a trivial few lines of code to generate this result, as you see above.

But beware: it's not going to be obvious exactly where allocations are coming from in the computation (if you need to know that, use the profiler). It's better to consider a computation holistically: this is how much was allocated to produce this result.

Analysis at finer granularity is likely to be guess-work (beyond even what's available in profiling). For the brave, let's study some examples of that.

`Integer`

Notice that in the table we generated, there is a rather odd increase of allocations:

```
Case Bytes GCs Check
integers count 0 0 0 OK
integers count 1 32 0 OK
integers count 2 64 0 OK
integers count 3 96 0 OK
integers count 10 320 0 OK
integers count 100 3,200 0 OK
```

What's the explanation for those bytes in each iteration?

Refreshing our memory: The space taken up by a "small" Integer
is two machine
words. On 64-bit that's 16 bytes. `Integer`

is
defined like this:

data Integer = S# Int# -- small integers | J# Int# ByteArray# -- large integers

For the rest, we'd expect only 16 bytes per iteration, but we're
seeing more than that. **Why?** Let's look at the
Core for `count`

:

Main.main48 = __integer 0 Main.main41 = __integer 1 Rec { Main.main_count [Occ=LoopBreaker] :: Integer -> () [GblId, Arity=1, Str=DmdType <S,U>] Main.main_count = \ (ds_d4Am :: Integer) -> case eqInteger# ds_d4Am Main.main48 of wild_a4Fq { __DEFAULT -> case ghc-prim-0.4.0.0:GHC.Prim.tagToEnum# @ Bool wild_a4Fq of _ [Occ=Dead] { False -> Main.main_count (minusInteger ds_d4Am Main.main41); True -> ghc-prim-0.4.0.0:GHC.Tuple.() } } end Rec }

The `eqInteger#`

function is
a pretend-primop, which apparently combines with
`tagToEnum#`

and is optimized away at the code generation
phase. This should lead to an unboxed comparison of something
like `Int#`

, which should not allocate. This leaves only
the addition operation, which should allocate one new 16-byte
`Integer`

.

So where are those additional 16 bytes from?
The implementation of `minusInteger`

for
`Integer`

types is actually implemented as ```
x +
-y
```

:

-- TODO -- | Subtract two 'Integer's from each other. minusInteger :: Integer -> Integer -> Integer minusInteger x y = inline plusInteger x (inline negateInteger y)

This means we're allocating **one more Integer**. That
explains the additional 16 bytes!

There's a `TODO`

there. I guess someone implemented
`negateInteger`

and `plusInteger`

(which is
non-trivial) and had enough.

If we implement a second function `count'`

that takes
this into account,

import Weigh main :: IO () main = mainWith (do func "integers count 0" count 0 func "integers count 1" count 1 func "integers count 2" count 2 func "integers count 3" count 3 func "integers count' 0" count' 0 func "integers count' 1" count' 1 func "integers count' 2" count' 2 func "integers count' 3" count' 3) where count :: Integer -> () count 0 = () count a = count (a - 1) count' :: Integer -> () count' 0 = () count' a = count' (a + (-1))

we get more reasonable allocations:

`Case Bytes GCs Check integers count 0 0 0 OK integers count 1 32 0 OK integers count 2 64 0 OK integers count 3 96 0 OK`

`integers count' 0 0 0 OK integers count' 1 16 0 OK integers count' 2 32 0 OK integers count' 3 48 0 OK`

It turns out that `count'`

is 20% faster (from
`criterion`

benchmarks), but realistically, if speed
matters, we'd be using `Int`

, which is practically 1000x
faster.

What did we learn? Even something as simple as
`Integer`

subtraction doesn't behave as you would
naively expect.

`Int`

Comparatively, let's look at `Int`

:

import Weigh main = mainWith (do func "int count 0" count 0 func "int count 1" count 1 func "int count 10" count 10 func "int count 100" count 100) where count :: Int -> () count 0 = () count a = count (a - 1)

The output is:

```
Case Bytes GCs Check
ints count 1 0 0 OK
ints count 10 0 0 OK
ints count 1000000 0 0 OK
```

It allocates zero bytes. Why? Let's take a look at the Core:

Rec { Main.$wcount1 [InlPrag=[0], Occ=LoopBreaker] :: ghc-prim-0.4.0.0:GHC.Prim.Int# -> () [GblId, Arity=1, Caf=NoCafRefs, Str=DmdType <S,1*U>] Main.$wcount1 = \ (ww_s57C :: ghc-prim-0.4.0.0:GHC.Prim.Int#) -> case ww_s57C of ds_X4Gu { __DEFAULT -> Main.$wcount1 (ghc-prim-0.4.0.0:GHC.Prim.-# ds_X4Gu 1); 0 -> ghc-prim-0.4.0.0:GHC.Tuple.() } end Rec }

It's clear that GHC is able to optimize this tight loop, and
unbox the `Int`

into an `Int#`

, which can be
put into a register rather than being allocated by the GHC runtime
allocator to be freed later.

The lesson is not to take for granted that everything has a 1:1 memory mapping at runtime with your source, and to take each case in context.

Finally, from our contrived examples we can take a look at user-defined data types and observe some of the optimizations that GHC does for memory.

Let's demonstrate that unpacking a data structure yields less
memory. Here is a data type that contains an `Int`

:

data HasInt = HasInt !Int deriving (Generic) instance NFData HasInt

Here are two identical data types which use `HasInt`

,
but the first simply uses `HasInt`

, and the latter
unpacks it.

data HasPacked = HasPacked HasInt deriving (Generic) instance NFData HasPackeddata HasUnpacked = HasUnpacked {-# UNPACK #-} !HasInt deriving (Generic) instance NFData HasUnpacked

We can measure the difference by weighing them like this:

-- | Weigh: packing vs no packing. packing :: Weigh () packing = do func "\\x -> HasInt x" (\x -> HasInt x) 5 func "\\x -> HasPacked (HasInt x)" (\x -> HasPacked (HasInt x)) 5 func "\\x -> HasUnpacked (HasInt x)" (\x -> HasUnpacked (HasInt x)) 5

The output is:

\x -> HasInt x 16 0 OK \x -> HasPacked (HasInt x) 32 0 OK \x -> HasUnpacked (HasInt x) 16 0 OK

Voilà! Here we've demonstrated that:

`HasInt x`

consists of the 8 byte header for the constructor, and 8 bytes for the Int.`HasPacked`

has 8 bytes for the constructor, 8 bytes for the first slot, then another 8 bytes for the`HasInt`

constructor, finally 8 bytes for the`Int`

itself.`HasUnpacked`

only allocates 8 bytes for the header, and 8 bytes for the`Int`

.

GHC did what we wanted!

We've looked at:

- What lead to this package.
- Propose that we start measuring our functions more, especially libraries.
- How to use this package.
- Some of our use-cases at FP Complete.
- Caveats.
- Some contrived examples do not lead to obvious explanations.

Now I encourage you to try it out!

Subscribe to our blog via email

Email subscriptions come from our Atom feed and are handled by Blogtrottr. You will only receive notifications of blog posts, and can unsubscribe any time.

Do you like this blog post and need help with Next Generation Software Engineering, Platform Engineering or Blockchain & Smart Contracts? Contact us.