Bringing the speed of Static Dispatch to CLOS
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Bringing the speed of Static Dispatch to CLOS — Inlined-Generic-Function

Generic functions are convenient but slow. During the development we usually want the full dynamic feature of CLOS. However, when we really need a fast binary and do not need the dynamism, the dynamic dispatch in the generic functions should be statically compiled away.

We propose a MOP-based implementation of fast inlined generic functions dispatched in compile-time. The amount of work required to inline your generic function is minimal.

Empirical analysis showed that the resulting code is up to 10 times faster than the standard generic functions.

Tested on SBCL and CCL.


Thanks to the suggestion from @phmarek, I decided to add a feature called invalid-branch which uses impl-specific feature to enable a static type checking. Read the doc!


The example code here is in t/playground.lisp.

First, declare the generic function with inlined-generic-function metaclass. This metaclass is a subclass of standard-generic-function. Therefore, unless you use its special feature, it acts exactly the same as the normal generic functions.

(defgeneric plus (a b)
  (:generic-function-class inlined-generic-function))

Define the methods as usual.

(defmethod plus :around ((a number) (b number))
  (+ a b) ;; not a meaningful operation...

(defmethod plus ((a fixnum) (b fixnum))
  (+ a b))
(defmethod plus ((a float) (b float))
  (+ a b))

Define a function which uses it.

(defun func-using-plus (a b)
  (plus a b))

At this point the gf is not inlined.

; disassembly for FUNC-USING-PLUS
; Size: 24 bytes. Origin: #x100A75A165
; 65:       488BD1           MOV RDX, RCX                     ; no-arg-parsing entry point
; 68:       488BFB           MOV RDI, RBX
; 6B:       488B059EFFFFFF   MOV RAX, [RIP-98]                ; #<FDEFINITION for PLUS>
; 72:       B904000000       MOV ECX, 4
; 77:       FF7508           PUSH QWORD PTR [RBP+8]
; 7A:       FF6009           JMP QWORD PTR [RAX+9]

Now its time to inline the gf. There’s nothing different from inlining a normal function. In order to inline the generic function, just declare it inline when you use it.

(defun func-using-plus (a b)
  (declare (inline plus))
  (plus a b))
; disassembly for FUNC-USING-INLINED-PLUS
; Size: 323 bytes. Origin: #x1002C3BD45
; D45:       8D41F1           LEA EAX, [RCX-15]               ; no-arg-parsing entry point
; D48:       A80F             TEST AL, 15
; D4A:       755F             JNE L2
; .....

To see the actual compiler-macro expansion, use a function inline-generic-function.

(let ((*features* (cons :inline-generic-function *features*)))
  (print (inline-generic-function '(plus a b))))

;; Inlining a generic function PLUS

(LET ((#:A1734 (1+ A)) (#:B1735 (1- B)))
  (EMATCH* (#:A1734 #:B1735)
     (LET ((A #:A1734) (B #:B1735))
       (+ A B)
       (LET ((A #:A1734) (B #:B1735))
         (+ A B))))
     (LET ((A #:A1734) (B #:B1735))
       (+ A B)
       (LET ((A #:A1734) (B #:B1735))
         (+ A B))))))

Since ematch from Trivia pattern matcher expands into thoroughly typed dispatching code, a sufficiently smart compiler would compile + into machine assembly, which is the case at least in SBCL.

Automatic compile-time dispatching

If the code is inlined in a typed environment, smart compilers like sbcl can detect certain branches are not reachable, thus removing the checks and reducing the code size. This is equivalent to compile-time dispatch. In the example below, the code for dispatching FLOAT is removed.

(defun func-using-inlined-plus-and-type-added (a b)
; Size: 29 bytes. Origin: #x10031E7788
; 88:       4801F9           ADD RCX, RDI                     ; no-arg-parsing entry point
; 8B:       488BD1           MOV RDX, RCX
; 8E:       48D1E2           SHL RDX, 1
; 91:       710C             JNO L0
; 93:       488BD1           MOV RDX, RCX
; 96:       41BB70060020     MOV R11D, 536872560              ; ALLOC-SIGNED-BIGNUM-IN-RDX
; 9C:       41FFD3           CALL R11
; 9F: L0:   488BE5           MOV RSP, RBP
; A2:       F8               CLC
; A3:       5D               POP RBP
; A4:       C3               RET
  (declare (inline plus))
  (declare (optimize (speed 3) (safety 0)))
  (declare (type fixnum a b))
  (plus a b))

If the types does not match, errors are signalled by EMATCH, which is consistent with the behavior of standard generic functions.

Enabling Inlining Globally

Inlining is not globally enabled by default. This is because the inlined code becomes obsoleted when the generic function definition changes, and therefore you generally do not want to make them inlined during the development.

It can be enabled globally by adding :inline-generic-function flag in *features*, which is useful when you build a standalone binary. When this feature is present, all inlinable generic functions are inlined unless it is declared notinline.

(push :inline-generic-function *features*)

Benchmark Setting

We tested two generic functions, one of which is a standard-generic-function, and another is an inlined-generic-function.

Both generic functions follow the definition below:

(defgeneric plus (a b)
  [(:generic-function-class inlined-generic-function)])
(defmethod plus :around ((a number) (b number))
  (+ a b)
(defmethod plus ((a fixnum) (b fixnum))
  (+ a b))
(defmethod plus ((a double-float) (b double-float))
  (+ a b))

We tested them with and without inline declaration, i.e.,

(defun func-using-plus (a b)
  (declare (optimize (speed 3) (safety 0)))
  (plus a b))

(defun func-using-inlined-plus (a b)
  (declare (inline plus))
  (declare (optimize (speed 3) (safety 0)))
  (plus a b))

Thus, we have 4 configurations in total. The experiment is run under AMD Phenom II X6 processor 2.8GHz with SBCL 1.3.1 (launched by Roswell). The benchmark function is shown below:

(defvar *input* (iter (repeat 1000)
                     (collect (cons (random 100.0d0) (random 100.0d0)))
                     (collect (cons (+ 20 (random 100)) (+ 20 (random 100))))))
(defun benchmark ()
  (time (iter (for (a . b) in *input*)
              (func-using-normal-plus a b)))
  (time (iter (for (a . b) in *input*)
              (func-using-normal-inlined-plus a b)))
  (time (iter (for (a . b) in *input*)
              (func-using-plus a b)))
  (time (iter (for (a . b) in *input*)
              (func-using-inlined-plus a b))))

We first run the benchmark function 1000 times in order to calibrate the CPU cache. We then run the gc and invoke the benchmark function once more. We use the result of this final run in order to make sure the machine state is stabilized.


Since the difference in the runtime is relatively small due to the small amount of computation, we consider the processor cycles only. We found that the cost of generic function invocation is considerably low when an inlined-generic-function is invoked with inline declaration.

metaclass and inline declarationprocessor cyclesconsing
standard-generic-function, not inlined742,2850
standard-generic-function, inlined726,0230
inlined-generic-function, not inlined7,865,080523,760
inlined-generic-function, inlined74,1200

Note that the third case, where the inlined-generic-function is not inlined, is slower than the normal generic function. This would be because we use the non-standard metaclass for representing the generic function and the normal optimization provided by the implementation is not performed. However, this is not a problem because we consider the third case only takes place during the development.


We showed that … well, anyway, this is not a paper. Enjoy!


This library is at least tested on implementation listed below:

  • SBCL 1.3.1 on X86-64 Linux 3.19.0-39-generic (author’s environment)

Also, it depends on the following libraries:

trivia by Masataro Asai
NON-optimized pattern matcher compatible with OPTIMA, with extensible optimizer interface and clean codebase
closer-mop by Pascal Costanza
Closer to MOP is a compatibility layer that rectifies many of the absent or incorrect CLOS MOP features across a broad range of Common Lisp implementations.
alexandria by
Alexandria is a collection of portable public domain utilities.
iterate by
Jonathan Amsterdam’s iterator/gatherer/accumulator facility


Quicklisp available.


  • Masataro Asai (


Copyright (c) 2015 Masataro Asai (


Licensed under the LLGPL License.