Archive for April 2nd, 2012

In the comments on last week’s interview, MichaelTK asked:

@Herb: You mentioned two things I don’t fully understand in your talk.

1) Why would C++ be a better choice for very large scale applications than NET/Java? I mean the zero abstraction penalty (which is more a JIT compiler issue and not intrinsically hardwired into C#) , okay, but besides that?

2) C++ really only has a few language features which actually let you write faster code in theory. In practice, JIT compilers are just not good enough, yet, to fully optimize on C++ pace and that’s one of the main reasons why C++ excels at efficiency.

No, the reasons go deeper than that. I’m actually giving a talk at Lang.NEXT on Wednesday which focuses exactly on the managed/native divide. I’ll post a link next week.

In the meantime, short answer: C++ and managed languages make different fundamental tradeoffs that opt for either performance or productivity when they are in tension.

Why does Microsoft not put effort into a static C++ like compiler for C#/NET, say in manner of NGen, so that C# actually has even the slightest chance of being competitive with C++?

Actually, Microsoft has been actively investing in that for over a decade. So have Java vendors. I expect those efforts to continue.

Otherwise, saying C++ is more efficient than C# is not a theoretical issue, but caused by bad JIT compilers.

This is a 199x/200x meme that’s hard to kill – “just wait for the next generation of (JIT or static) compilers and then managed languages will be as efficient.” Yes, I fully expect C# and Java compilers to keep improving – both JIT and NGEN-like static compilers. But no, they won’t erase the efficiency difference with native code, for two reasons.

First, JIT compilation isn’t the main issue. The root cause is much more fundamental: Managed languages made deliberate design tradeoffs to optimize for programmer productivity even when that was fundamentally in tension with, and at the expense of, performance efficiency. (This is the opposite of C++, which has added a lot of productivity-oriented features like auto and lambdas in the latest standard, but never at the expense of performance efficiency.) In particular, managed languages chose to incur costs even for programs that don’t need or use a given feature; the major examples are assumption/reliance on always-on or default-on garbage collection, a virtual machine runtime, and metadata. But there are other examples; for instance, managed apps are built around virtual functions as the default, whereas C++ apps are built around inlined functions as the default, and an ounce of inlining prevention is worth a pound of devirtualization optimization cure.

Second, even if JIT were the only big issue, a JIT can never be as good as a regular optimizing compiler because a JIT compiler is in the business of being fast, not in the business of generating optimal code. Yes, JITters can target the user’s actual hardware and theoretically take advantage of a specific instruction set and such, but at best that’s a theoretical advantage of NGEN approaches (specifically, installation-time compilation), not JIT, because a JIT has no time to take much advantage of that knowledge, or do much of anything besides translation and code gen.

More in the talk on Wednesday (for those who are at the conference) which will go live online next week… I’ll blog about it when it’s up.

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Referring to C++ AMP, a reader emailed me to ask:

Are you going to replace restrict keyword with new C++11 attribute feature [[]] ?

No, because restrict is a language feature and [[attributes]] are specifically designed to be ignorable and shouldn’t be used for things having language semantic meaning. During the ISO C++11 process, I was heavily involved in a long battle to try to prevent keywords dressed in [[attributes]] clothing from sneaking into the standard; for example, C++11 final and override used to be [[final]] and [[override]] in pre-final* drafts and I led the charge against that, and with the help of likeminded people it was overturned.


* pun intended

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