yoy.be "Why-o-Why"

Local variables don't cost nothing!

2019-03-08 22:45  nocostvar  coding computers delphi werk  [permalink]

O my god. I can't believe I have to keep explaining this. To a years-long colleague with some more years on the counter than me, the other day. He repeated a function call with the same arguments a few times in a few adjacent lines of code, with a guarantee in place that this will result the same value every time.

I asked him why. It couldn't be to have less typing: the extra var a:integer; would replace far much more code it took for the repeated function calls. It couldn't be performance: even if the function would just be getting a value from a memory location, the call and return, building a stack frame and tearing it down it again, would end up in a multiple of the instructions the processor needs to work through.

I don't know who launched the idea the compiler should be smart enough to pick things like this out — what I read about Rust and other modern languages, I know research is actively looking at things like that — but as we currently have it, our good old trusted compiler doesn't. What is does do, and typically really well if we work a little with it, is mapping local variables onto the available registers of the CPU. In the best case no memory whatsoever is allocated for local variables.

Even if in theory some local variables get a temporary address on the stack, modern CPU's have multiple levels of cache so that the values don't even reach your DRAM silicon before you're function call completes. We're supposed to keep all functions and methods as short as possible, but even if we don't, the compiler knows if a local variable is only used for a short section of the code. So in some cases it's even better to have an extra local variable instead of re-using a local variable somewhere up front and then later near the end of a larger block, and still not pay with any performance of memory consumption...

So when in doubt, take an extra local var. It's what they're there for. It helps the compiler do better analysis. It helps you, now and later. All I need to do now is name them a little better. I know I have the nasty habit of things like var a,b,c,d,e,f,g:integer; but I think I'm improving... Slowly...

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