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PROPELLER: Profile Guided Optimizing Large Scale LLVM-based Relinker
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clang-bolt-experiment Update commands Oct 17, 2019

Propeller: Profile Guided Optimizing Large Scale LLVM-based Relinker


We recently evaluated Facebook’s BOLT, a Post Link Optimizer framework, on large google benchmarks and noticed that it improves key performance metrics of these benchmarks by 2% to 6%, which is pretty impressive as this is over and above a baseline binary already heavily optimized with ThinLTO + PGO. Furthermore, BOLT is also able to improve the performance of binaries optimized via Context-Sensitive PGO. While ThinLTO + PGO is also profile guided and does very aggressive performance optimizations, there is more room for performance improvements due to profile approximations while applying the transformations. BOLT uses exact profiles from the final binary and is able to fill the gaps left by ThinLTO + PGO. The performance improvements due to BOLT come from basic block layout, function reordering and function splitting.

While BOLT does an excellent job of squeezing extra performance from highly optimized binaries with optimizations such as code layout, it has these major issues:

  1. It does not take advantage of distributed build systems.

  2. It has scalability issues and to rewrite a binary with a ~300M text segment size:

    • Memory foot-print is 70G.

    • It takes more than 10 minutes to rewrite the binary.

Similar to Full LTO, BOLT’s design is monolithic as it disassembles the original binary, optimizes and rewrites the final binary in one process. This limits the scalability of BOLT and the memory and time overhead shoots up quickly for large binaries.

Inspired by the performance gains and to address the scalability issue of BOLT, we went about designing a scalable infrastructure that can perform BOLT-like post-link optimizations. In this RFC, we discuss our system, “Propeller”, which can perform profile guided link time binary optimizations in a scalable way and is friendly to distributed build systems. Our system leverages the existing capabilities of the compiler tool-chain and is not a stand alone tool. Like BOLT, our system boosts the performance of optimized binaries via link-time optimizations using accurate profiles of the binary. We discuss the Propeller system and show how to do the whole program basic block layout using Propeller.

Propeller does whole program basic block layout at link time via basic block sections. We have added support for having each basic block in its own section which allows the linker to do arbitrary reorderings of basic blocks to achieve any desired fine-grain code layout which includes block layout, function splitting and function reordering. Our experiments on large real-world applications and SPEC with code layout show that Propeller can optimize as effectively as BOLT, with just 20% of its memory footprint and time overhead.

An LLVM branch with propeller patches is available in the git repository here: We will upload patches for review for the various elements

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