[Mono-dev] Generic sharing: Good news, bad news, how to win big

Mark Probst mark.probst at gmail.com
Mon Apr 14 08:33:46 EDT 2008

Hi everybody!

Last week we hit an important milestone in implementing sharing of
generic code: We can finally share every opcode.  That means that we
can now always share all (non-generic) methods of instantiations of
generic classes with certain properties.  If all of the type arguments
of an instantiation of a generic class are reference types and the
type arguments have no constraints, we can share all (non-generic)
methods of that instantiation with all other instantiations which also
satisfy those properties.  Unfortunately some of that code is still
only in my private branch, but we're working on committing it piece by

Now for some interesting statistics.  Apart from the runtime's test
suite I've used three other test suites/benchmarks, namely IronPython
(running pystone), Nemerle (compiling its own compiler) and FSharp
(compiling and running a Hello World program).  Here are the
Good-News-statistics.  The numbers given are "no sharing / sharing"
and have been collected on a 32 bit system:

  Methods compiled: 3614 / 3368
  native code space used: 719k / 691k

  Method compiled: 7210 / 6302
  native code space used: 2001k / 1943k

  Methods compiled: 15529 / 11431
  native code space used: 2193k / 2062k

Here are the Bad-News-statistics:

  Memory allocated for runtime generic contexts: 0k / 10k

  Memory allocated for runtime generic contexts: 0k / 230k

  Memory allocated for runtime generic contexts: 0k / 600k

We are clearly using way too much memory for runtime generic contexts.
 If you're curious what the RGCTX is, why we need it, and what's in
it, then you can read up on it on my blog:


There are two main reasons why we use so much memory for RGCTXs:

* We allocate one for every class which might potentially need it at
some point, even though it might not.

* We put a lot of type information in there which might never get
used.  For example, we put three pointers for every superclass and the
class itself and three pointers for every type argument of the class
in there, as well as three pointers for the extensible part.

I investigated a bit to see how many classes actually do need a RGCTX
and how much information they require from it.

  Total RGCTXs allocated: 124
  Number of RGCTXs ever used: 51
  Number of different slots queried: 224

  Total RGCTXs allocated: 1506
  Number of RGCTXs ever used: 163
  Number of different slots queried: 589

  Total RGCTXs allocated: 6100
  Number of RGCTXs ever used: 651
  Number of different slots queried: 1467

It seems that only a small number of RGCTXs is ever used, and the ones
that are used could make do with 2 to 5 slots on average.  For FSharp,
for instance, if we used an optimal allocation strategy (i.e. only
allocate RGCTXs if needed, only allocate as many slots as needed and
don't use any meta-data) we could get the 600k down to about 6k, which
would be more than acceptable.

There is a problem with allocating a RGCTX lazily, though.  Allocating
a RGCTX requires some information.  Specifically, it requires the
MonoVTable* for the class for which to allocate the RGCTX.  This is
not an issue for non-static methods because the vtable is accessible
through the "this" argument.  Static methods don't have that argument,
though.  In fact, the RGCTX must contain a pointer to the vtable
because we need it in static methods for some purposes, like exception
handling.  So I think we'll need to switch to passing not the RGCTX,
but the vtable to static methods, since the latter contains a pointer
to the RGCTX anyway, which, for lazy allocation, could be NULL.  This
would give us the additional advantage of not having to store the
vtable in the RGCTX, saving us 4/8 bytes per RGCTX.

As for how to arrange the RGCTX itself I have the following proposal:
Let's get rid of all the superclass and type argument type information
and just concentrate on the extensible part.  I'd like to implement
two different kinds of RGCTX - small ones and large ones.  Small
RGCTXs would have space for up to some constant number of slots,
preferably 3 or 7.  The layout would look like this on a 32-bit

struct small_rgctx {
  guint8 size;
  guint8 slot_numbers[3];
  gpointer slots[0];

size would be the number of slots in the RGCTX.  slot_numbers would
identify the type information stored in the slots array.

To fetch an item out of the RGCTX we'd have to search through the
slot_numbers array to find the required type information and then
fetch the corresponding pointer from the slots array.  If the type
information is not found we'd jump into unmanaged code and extend the
RGCTX by allocating a new one with space for one more slot or, if the
maximum number of slots is reached, upgrading to a large RGCTX.
Another reason for using a large RGCTX would be if the values of the
slot numbers exceeded 255, which should be very unlikely, though.

We could keep free lists per domain of the RGCTXs we've thrown away.
It might be necessary to use hazard pointers for access to the RGCTX
so as to avoid reusing memory of a thrown-away RGCTX if another thread
is still accessing it.

A large RGCTX could be some kind of small hash table.

With such data structures we could also do another optimization.
Right now every class that is either a generic class or is a direct or
indirect subclass of a generic class has its own RGCTX.  Non-generic
classes can never give rise to the need for another piece of type
information in a RGCTX, so they could share the RGCTXs of their
generic superclasses.

Does this sound like a sensible plan?  Am I missing something crucial?
 Does anybody have any suggestions or better ideas?


Mark Probst

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