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Considering Performance

Build Time

Forward Declare When Possible


// some header file
class MyClass;

void doSomething(const MyClass &);

instead of:

// some header file
#include "MyClass.hpp"

void doSomething(const MyClass &);

This applies to templates as well:

template<typename T> class MyTemplatedType;

This is a proactive approach to reduce compilation time and rebuilding dependencies.

Avoid Unnecessary Template Instantiations

Templates are not free to instantiate. Instantiating many templates, or templates with more code than necessary increases compiled code size and build time.

For more examples see this article.

Avoid Recursive Template Instantiations

Recursive template instantiations can result in a significant load on the compiler and more difficult to understand code.

Consider using variadic expansions and folds when possible instead.

Analyze the Build

The tool Templight can be used to analyze the build time of your project. It takes some effort to get built, but once you do, it's a drop in replacement for clang++.

After you build using Templight, you will need to analyze the results. The templight-tools project provides various methods. (Author's Note: I suggest using the callgrind converter and visualizing the results with kcachegrind).

Firewall Frequently Changing Header Files

Don't Unnecessarily Include Headers

The compiler has to do something with each include directive it sees. Even if it stops as soon as it seems the #ifndef include guard, it still had to open the file and begin processing it.

include-what-you-use is a tool that can help you identify which headers you need.

Reduce the load on the preprocessor

This is a general form of "Firewall Frequently Changing Header Files" and "Don't Unnecessarily Include Headers." Tools like BOOST_PP can be very helpful, but they also put a huge burden on the preprocessor.

Consider using precompiled headers

The usage of precompiled headers can considerably reduce the compile time in large projects. Selected headers are compiled to an intermediate form (PCH files) that can be faster processed by the compiler. It is recommended to define only frequently used header that changes rarely as precompiled header (e.g. system and library headers) to achieve the compile time reduction. But you have to keep in mind, that using precompiled headers has several disadvantages:

  • The usage of precompiled header is not portable.
  • The generated PCH files are machine dependent.
  • The generated PCH files can be quite large.
  • It can break your header dependencies. Because of the precompiled headers, every file has the possibility to include every header that is marked as a precompiled header. In result it can happen, that the build fails if you disable the precompiled headers. This can be an issue if you ship something like a library. Because of this it is highly recommend to build once with precompiled header enabled and a second time without them.

Precompiled headers is supported by the most common compiler, like GCC, Clang and Visual Studio. Tools like cotire (a plugin for cmake) can help you to add precompiled headers to your build system.

Consider Using Tools

These are not meant to supersede good design

Put tmp on Ramdisk

See this YouTube video for more details.

Use the gold linker

If on Linux, consider using the gold linker for GCC.


Analyze the Code!

There's no real way to know where your bottlenecks are without analyzing the code.

Simplify the Code

The cleaner, simpler, and easier to read the code is, the better chance the compiler has at implementing it well.

Use Initializer Lists

// This
std::vector<ModelObject> mos{mo1, mo2};

// -or-
auto mos = std::vector<ModelObject>{mo1, mo2};
// Don't do this
std::vector<ModelObject> mos;

Initializer lists are significantly more efficient; reducing object copies and resizing of containers.

Reduce Temporary Objects

// Instead of
auto mo1 = getSomeModelObject();
auto mo2 = getAnotherModelObject();

doSomething(mo1, mo2);
// consider:

doSomething(getSomeModelObject(), getAnotherModelObject());

This sort of code prevents the compiler from performing a move operation...

Enable move operations

Move operations are one of the most touted features of C++11. They allow the compiler to avoid extra copies by moving temporary objects instead of copying them in certain cases.

Certain coding choices we make (such as declaring our own destructor or assignment operator or copy constructor) prevents the compiler from generating a move constructor.

For most code, a simple

ModelObject(ModelObject &&) = default;

would suffice. However, MSVC2013 doesn't seem to like this code yet.

Kill shared_ptr Copies

shared_ptr objects are much more expensive to copy than you'd think they would be. This is because the reference count must be atomic and thread-safe. So this comment just re-enforces the note above: avoid temporaries and too many copies of objects. Just because we are using a pImpl it does not mean our copies are free.

Reduce Copies and Reassignments as Much as Possible

For more simple cases, the ternary operator can be used:

// Bad Idea
std::string somevalue;

if (caseA) {
  somevalue = "Value A";
} else {
  somevalue = "Value B";
// Better Idea
const std::string somevalue = caseA ? "Value A" : "Value B";

More complex cases can be facilitated with an immediately-invoked lambda.

// Bad Idea
std::string somevalue;

if (caseA) {
  somevalue = "Value A";
} else if(caseB) {
  somevalue = "Value B";
} else {
  somevalue = "Value C";
// Better Idea
const std::string somevalue = [&](){
    if (caseA) {
      return "Value A";
    } else if (caseB) {
      return "Value B";
    } else {
      return "Value C";

Avoid Excess Exceptions

Exceptions which are thrown and captured internally during normal processing slow down the application execution. They also destroy the user experience from within a debugger, as debuggers monitor and report on each exception event. It is best to just avoid internal exception processing when possible.

Get rid of “new”

We already know that we should not be using raw memory access, so we are using unique_ptr and shared_ptr instead, right? Heap allocations are much more expensive than stack allocations, but sometimes we have to use them. To make matters worse, creating a shared_ptr actually requires 2 heap allocations.

However, the make_shared function reduces this down to just one.

std::shared_ptr<ModelObject_Impl>(new ModelObject_Impl());

// should become
std::make_shared<ModelObject_Impl>(); // (it's also more readable and concise)

Prefer unique_ptr to shared_ptr

If possible use unique_ptr instead of shared_ptr. The unique_ptr does not need to keep track of its copies because it is not copyable. Because of this it is more efficient than the shared_ptr. Equivalent to shared_ptr and make_shared you should use make_unique (C++14 or greater) to create the unique_ptr:


Current best practices suggest returning a unique_ptr from factory functions as well, then converting the unique_ptr to a shared_ptr if necessary.

std::unique_ptr<ModelObject_Impl> factory();

auto shared = std::shared_ptr<ModelObject_Impl>(factory());

Get rid of std::endl

std::endl implies a flush operation. It's equivalent to "\n" << std::flush.

Limit Variable Scope

Variables should be declared as late as possible, and ideally only when it's possible to initialize the object. Reduced variable scope results in less memory being used, more efficient code in general, and helps the compiler optimize the code further.

// Good Idea
for (int i = 0; i < 15; ++i)
  MyObject obj(i);
  // do something with obj

// Bad Idea
MyObject obj; // meaningless object initialization
for (int i = 0; i < 15; ++i)
  obj = MyObject(i); // unnecessary assignment operation
  // do something with obj
// obj is still taking up memory for no reason

This topic has an associated discussion thread.

Prefer double to float, But Test First

Depending on the situation and the compiler's ability to optimize, one may be faster over the other. Choosing float will result in lower precision and may be slower due to conversions. On vectorizable operations float may be faster if you are able to sacrifice precision.

double is the recomended default choice as it is the default type for floating point values in C++.

See this stackoverflow discussion for some more information.

Prefer ++i to i++

... when it is semantically correct. Pre-increment is faster than post-increment because it does not require a copy of the object to be made.

// Bad Idea
for (int i = 0; i < 15; i++)
  std::cout << i << '\n';

// Good Idea
for (int i = 0; i < 15; ++i)
  std::cout << i << '\n';

Even if many modern compilers will optimize these two loops to the same assembly code, it is still good practice to prefer ++i. There is absolutely no reason not to and you can never be certain that your code will not pass a compiler that does not optimize this. You should be also aware that the compiler will not be able optimize this only for integer types and not necessarily for all iterator or other user defined types.
The bottom line is that it is always easier and recommended to use the pre-increment operator if it is semantically identical to the post-increment operator.

Char is a char, string is a string

// Bad Idea
std::cout << someThing() << "\n";

// Good Idea
std::cout << someThing() << '\n';

This is very minor, but a "\n" has to be parsed by the compiler as a const char * which has to do a range check for \0 when writing it to the stream (or appending to a string). A '\n' is known to be a single character and avoids many CPU instructions.

If used inefficiently very many times it might have an impact on your performance, but more importantly thinking about these two usage cases gets you thinking more about what the compiler and runtime has to do to execute your code.

Never Use std::bind

std::bind is almost always way more overhead (both compile time and runtime) than you need. Instead simply use a lambda.

// Bad Idea
auto f = std::bind(&my_function, "hello", std::placeholders::_1);

// Good Idea
auto f = [](const std::string &s) { return my_function("hello", s); };

Know The Standard Library

Properly use the already highly optimized components of the vendor provided standard library.

in_place_t And Related

Be aware of how to use in_place_t and related tags for effecient creation of objects such as std::tuple, std::any and std::variant.