Perl 6 Performance and Reliability Engineering grant report (Jonathan Worthington)

This report describes what I have accomplished in the latest 200 hours of my Perl 6 Performance and Reliability Engineering grant.

A new MoarVM specializer plugin mechanism

The most significant new optimizations developed in this grant period center around a new mechanism for helping the MoarVM specializer, which optimizes and JIT-compiles hot code, to understand a wider range of Perl 6 constructs. I used this mechanism to speed up:

  • Private method calls taking place within roles (6.5x faster)
  • Qualified method calls like $obj.Foo::meth (12x faster)
  • Duck dispatches like $obj.?foo (2.5x faster if there is usually only one type really seen at the callsite in a particular program, and 1.5x faster otherwise)

This mechanism was also used in a re-work of Scalar containers, discussed a little later in this report.

MoarVM specializer usage analysis improvements

Various optimizations depend on having good information on what values are used and where they are used in the program. Previously, we maintained a simple usage count, and incremented that number to account for places where the value would be needed if the code was deoptimized (that is, returning to the interpreter if a speculative optimization turned out to be wrong).

First, I introduced use chains, which allow easy finding of instructions that use the result of an operation. Along with this, I implemented a debug checker that makes sure the usage information is maintained correctly as optimizations are performed. This uncovered a number of usage bugs, all of which I fixed.

I used these chains to improve the elimination of useless set instructions (which assign the contents of one register in the VM into another). Various optimizations reduce other instructions to those, so it is an important cleanup step that saves wasteful work in the optimized code. The previous implementation of this optimization followed a number of adhoc rules, didn't rewrite the graph in a way that upheld the SSA invariants, and still left behind a number of set instructions that looked very possible to eliminate. The new algorithm using the use chains deletes more useless set instructions and performs just two different transformations, which between them cover what the adhoc rules did beforehand and more.

I also used the chains to implement box/unbox pair analysis, discovering places where we box a value into an object and then unbox it later. If that case we can simply use the original unboxed value and potentially eliminate the box operation and the memory allocation that goes with it. This optimization works, however it is not yet very effective since it doesn't allow for elimination of a box that took place in an inlined operation and unboxed outside of it.

The immediate reason that elimination of a box instruction in inlined code could not take place is because we don't yet have a way to delete guard instructions that we can prove are no longer needed, and the inlining code has a guard on the return value type. However, even if we could do that, we didn't have enough information to understand that deoptimization could no longer happen at that point, and so we'd still retain the box that we'd really like to get rid of.

In the course of this grant period, I took on the second part of the problem, which is the more difficult of the two. This involved designing a new algorithm to build more detailed information about what computations have to be retained for the sake of surviving a deoptimization. Then, if we prove that such a deoptimization can never happen, we may delete the instructions we retained just in case.

Taken together, this work has given the optimizer far more detailed usage information to work with, has already aided some optimizations, and will play an important part in future optimizations too. Along the way, the optimizer debug output was augmented to include this new information, which helps those working on the optimizer to better understand why instructions are being retained.

More inlining

Inlining is an important optimization that sees the code of small callees being incorporated into the caller, so they can be analyzed and optimized as a single unit. It also eliminates the overhead of making the call. For Perl 6, inlining is really important, because even basic operators like + are a multiple-dispatch subroutine call.

Previously, we would only inline calls where we had already optimized the callee. This usually worked out well, but in some cases this strategy did not work out and the inlining opportunity would be missed. With the latest changes, it will now be able to do inlining in such a case anyway.

Further, I enabled speculative inlining of void context calls. Previously that had not mattered much, as we didn't generate very many of them. However, I implemented a code-generation improvement in NQP that led to many more void invoke instructions being generated. This got rid of a wasteful throwaway boxing operation when the last instruction of a loop block produced a natively typed value.

Scalar improvements

Scalar containers are one of the most used, and most allocated, types in most Perl 6 programs. For this reason, much of the code to deal with the most common operations on Scalar containers was originally written in C. This made sense when MoarVM lacked sophisticated optimization infrastructure. Today, however, that C code is an opaque blob that the optimizer cannot see into. We'd like to implement optimizations that will in some cases be able to completely eliminate the allocation of short-lived Scalar containers, but the optimizer not being able to see inside of them blocks this.

To enable all of that to happen, it was necessary to revisit Scalar. A further problem was that auto-vivification was also done in a way that was hard to optimize. I worked out a way to solve that problem and at the same time make Scalar one attribute smaller, meaning we save 8 bytes (assuming a 64-bit environment) off every Scalar container.

I used the new specializer plugin mechanism as part of my changes to Scalar containers. This means that there is now the possibility to eliminate the assignment type check and the Nil assignment special case when the optimizer already knows the type that is being assigned.

This work fixed a number of shortcomings in the original container handling code. One of those fixes (to Proxy handling in return) has been temporarily removed again, since a number of ecosystem modules were relying on the bug. A further more subtle precompilation related issue - again, an improvement on the surface, but that has an interesting interaction with an ecosystem module - is still under investigation.

These issues aside, I completed the Scalar overhaul, putting us in a good place for the next round of interesting optimizations.

Working on inlining, lookup, and context introspection problems

Inlining is essential for Perl 6 performance, however some features are quite difficult to provide in combination with it. As inlining has become more and more capable, these problems have been exposed. I spent some time on addressing them, and implemented a solution for most cases.

The problem shows up in operations that want to walk caller and outer chains. Inlining eliminates caller structure. Therefore, this has to be "reassembled" sufficiently to answer the lookup or introspection in question. That's tricky, but was being done in, for example, dynamic variable lookup. Other kinds of lookup could not handle it, however.

I introduced a new abstraction - the frame walker - that exposes an iterator over frames as they would exist had inlining not taken place. This allowed for a great simplification to the dynamic variable lookup code, followed by fixing a number of other forms of lookup.

This made things a great deal better. Remaining is to deal with some of the most late-bound uses pseudo-packages like CALLERS, where they are stored away rather than used for an immediate lookup. This is, thankfully, rarely done, but still needs a fix.

Regex compilation and evaluation improvements

I made a number of improvements to regex compilation and evaluation. The most significant improvement helped with deciding which protoregex or alternation branch to pick in the case that there was a huge number of different literal prefixes. This was the case for parsing the infix category in the Perl 6 grammar, where there are a huge number of choices; the issue also shows up for terms. The search for literal prefixes now has logarithmic rather than linear complexity. In the compilation of the Rakudo CORE.setting, this led to a 13% reduction in the time spent performing Longest Token Matching, and took around 1% off the overall compilation time (which involves much more than just parsing, though parsing is a significant part of it). User grammars which also involve alternations or protoregexes with a large set of literal prefixes will also benefit, since they use the same engine as we use to parse Perl 6 source code.

I also worked to reduce some of the boilerplate code that is emitted when compiling regexes, by analyzing whether it was needed. For example, the capture stack handling code need not be generated if we can see that nothing is captured.

Finally, I made calling of action methods a little cheaper by providing a way to avoid a can/findmethod sequence of instructions; this required two lookups in the method cache, whereas now only one is needed.

Assorted additional performance improvements

  • Fixed a performance bug in the thread pool scheduler where some sequences of operations would lead to an ever-growing call stack, thanks to mis-handling of continuations
  • Reduced the number of allocations in some Rat operations
  • Reduced the number of allocations in adverbed hash indexing operations, as well as other code using coercion types
  • Specialization of isnull and tryfindmeth

Assorted other fixes

  • Fixed a memory leak when a hot loop repeatedly forced GC
  • Fixed a memory leak involving
  • Added missing functionality to get the process ID of a spawned asynchronous process
  • Fixed a bug involving incorrect caching of type variable lookups
  • Marked a routine using samewith as not being elligible for inlining, fixing a problem that could occur if that happened
  • Fixed missing GC marking of contexts held by a serialization context, which showed up as an occasional segfault in some longer-running Perl 6 programs
  • Fixed a bug involving lazy deserialization and vivification of lexicals in combination with inlining
  • Marked getaddrinfo as blocking, so it taking a long time would not block GC and thus progress on other threads
  • Fixed an IO::Socket::Async resource leak, and also a regression introduced by work to provide the host/port of a connection
  • Fixed a bug where the results of callframe would become unpredictable if an onlystar proto was inlined
  • Fixed a Rakudo code-gen bug for C-style loops, whereby if it were the last statement in that sub, it would try to return a null, not a Nil like other loop constructs
  • Corrected an off-by-one uninlining bug that could occur when an instruction at the very end of an inline was deleted
  • Fixed return handlers of calls made in void context not getting the return value

Enabling others

I also took the time to write detailed replies on a number of Rakudo tickets to explain various issues, especially performance ones, such that others may be able to look in to them.


I wrote 5 blog posts:

I also gave a talk at the German Perl Workshop about the MoarVM optimization infrastructure.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Matthias Bloch published on July 27, 2018 12:50 PM.

Perl 5 Core Grants Updates - Approval etc was the previous entry in this blog.

Grant Extension Request: Perl 6 Performance and Reliability Engineering (Jonathan Worthington) is the next entry in this blog.

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