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Efficient C++: Performance Programming Techniques Paperback – Nov 3 1999

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; 1 edition (Nov. 3 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201379503
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201379501
  • Product Dimensions: 18 x 2.3 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 621 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #915,055 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From the Inside Flap

If you conducted an informal survey of software developers on the issue of C++ performance, you would undoubtedly find that the vast majority of them view performance issues as the Achilles' heel of an otherwise fine language. We have heard it repeatedly ever since C++ burst on the corporate scene: C++ is a poor choice for implementing performance-critical applications. In the mind of developers, this particular application domain was ruled by plain C and, occasionally, even assembly language.

As part of that software community we had the opportunity to watch that myth develop and gather steam. Years ago, we participated in the wave that embraced C++ with enthusiasm. All around us, many development projects plunged in headfirst. Some time later, software solutions implemented in C++ began rolling out. Their performance was typically less than optimal, to put it gently. Enthusiasm over C++ in performance-critical domains has cooled. We were in the business of supplying networking software whose execution speed was not up for negotiation--speed was top priority. Since networking software is pretty low on the software food-chain, its performance is crucial. Large numbers of applications were going to sit on top of it and depend on it. Poor performance in the low levels ripples all the way up to higher level applications.

Our experience was not unique. All around, early adopters of C++ had difficulties with the resulting performance of their C++ code. Instead of attributing the difficulties to the steep learning curve of the new object-oriented software development paradigm, we blamed it on C++, the dominant language for the expression of the paradigm. Even though C++ compilers were still essentially in their infancy, the language was branded as inherently slow. This belief spread quickly and is now widely accepted as fact. Software organizations that passed on C++ frequently pointed to performance as their key concern. That concern was rooted in the perception that C++ cannot match the performance delivered by its C counterpart. Consequently, C++ has had little success penetrating software domains that view performance as top priority: operating system kernels, device drivers, networking systems (routers, gateways, protocol stacks), and more.

We have spent years dissecting large systems of C and C++ code trying to squeeze every ounce of performance out of them. It is through our experience of slugging it out in the trenches that we have come to appreciate the potential of C++ to produce highly efficient programs. We've seen it done in practice. This book is our attempt to share that experience and document the many lessons we have learned in our own pursuit of C++ efficiency. Writing efficient C++ is not trivial, nor is it rocket science. It takes the understanding of some performance principles, as well as information on C++ performance traps and pitfalls.

The 80-20 rule is an important principle in the world of software construction. We adopt it in the writing of this book as well: 20% of all performance bugs will show up 80% of the time. We therefore chose to concentrate our efforts where it counts the most. We are interested in those performance issues that arise frequently in industrial code and have significant impact. This book is not an exhaustive discussion of the set of all possible performance bugs and their solutions; hence, we will not cover what we consider esoteric and rare performance pitfalls.

Our point of view is undoubtedly biased by our practical experience as programmers of server-side, performance-critical communications software. This bias impacts the book in several ways:

The profile of performance issues that we encounter in practice may be slightly different in nature than those found in scientific computing, database applications, and other domains. That's not a problem. Generic performance principles transcend distinct domains, and apply equally well in domains other than networking software. At times, we invented contrived examples to drive a point home, although we tried to minimize this. We have made enough coding mistakes in the past to have a sizable collection of samples taken from real production-level code that we have worked on. Our expertise was earned the hard way--by learning from our own mistakes as well as those of our colleagues. As much as possible, we illustrated our points with real code samples. We do not delve into the asymptotic complexity of algorithms, data structures, and the latest and greatest techniques for accessing, sorting, searching, and compressing data. These are important topics, but they have been extensively covered elsewhere Knu73, BR95, KP74. Instead, we focus on simple, practical, everyday coding and design principles that yield large performance improvements. We point out common design and coding practices that lead to poor performance, whether it be through the unwitting use of language features that carry high hidden costs or through violating any number of subtle (and not so subtle) performance principles.

So how do we separate myth from reality? Is C++ performance truly inferior to that of C? It is our contention that the common perception of inferior C++ performance is invalid. We concede that in general, when comparing a C program to a C++ version of what appears to be the same thing, the C program is generally faster. However, we also claim that the apparent similarity of the two programs typically is based on their data handling functionality, not their correctness, robustness, or ease of maintenance. Our contention is that when C programs are brought up to the level of C++ programs in these regards, the speed differences disappear, or the C++ versions are faster.

Thus C++ is inherently neither slower nor faster. It could be either, depending on how it is used and what is required from it. It's the way it is used that matters: If used properly, C++ can yield software systems exhibiting not just acceptable performance, but yield superior software performance.

We would like to thank the many people who contributed to this work. The toughest part was getting started and it was our editor, Marina Lang, who was instrumental in getting this project off the ground. Julia Sime made a significant contribution to the early draft and Yomtov Meged contributed many valuable suggestions as well. He also was the one who pointed out to us the subtle difference between our opinions and the absolute truth. Although those two notions may coincide at times, they are still distinct.

Many thanks to the reviewers hired by Addison-Wesley; their feedback was extremely valuable.

Thanks also to our friends and colleagues who reviewed portions of the manuscript. They are, in no particular order, Cyndy Ross, Art Francis, Scott Snyder, Tricia York, Michael Fraenkel, Carol Jones, Heather Kreger, Kathryn Britton, Ruth Willenborg, David Wisler, Bala Rajaraman, Don "Spike" Washburn, and Nils Brubaker.

Last but not least, we would like to thank our wives, Cynthia Powers Bulka and Ruth Washington Mayhew.


From the Back Cover

Far too many programmers and software designers consider efficient C++ to be an oxymoron. They regard C++ as inherently slow and inappropriate for performance-critical applications. Consequently, C++ has had little success penetrating domains such as networking, operating system kernels, device drivers, and others.

Efficient C++ explodes that myth. Written by two authors with first-hand experience wringing the last ounce of performance from commercial C++ applications, this book demonstrates the potential of C++ to produce highly efficient programs. The book reveals practical, everyday object-oriented design principles and C++ coding techniques that can yield large performance improvements. It points out common pitfalls in both design and code that generate hidden operating costs.

This book focuses on combining C++'s power and flexibility with high performance and scalability, resulting in the best of both worlds. Specific topics include temporary objects, memory management, templates, inheritance, virtual functions, inlining, reference-counting, STL, and much more.

With this book, you will have a valuable compendium of the best performance techniques at your fingertips.


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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I don't know about every topic in the book but for those where I have good information the book was wrong. As a rule of thumb I assume the things I don't have special knowledge about are about as good or bad as the things I can check.
It discussed Reference counting in depth. I'm a garbage collection professional and have all the details. Reference counting is a very poor method, it triggers paging by touching the dead, traversals do work.
It discussed caching and again I have professional knowledge. Things are very different from machine to machine. Cache synonyms are crucial. So on one machine you will want to have objects a power of two size to keep them in cache lines and on another avoid power of two sizes to avoid cache synonyms. In the end if you care you have to measure.
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Format: Paperback
The book title suggested to me that the book would follow the Effective C++ series format where advices are given in small items. This is not the case. This book has a more conservative format where topics are presented in chapters. This is not a problem per se but I just wanted to say it to potential readers that could have the same impression that I had by seeing the title. That being said, the topics covered are the usual areas where you can usually gain some performance such as temporaries, memory allocation and inlines. I cannot say that I have learned a lot of things because writing performant C++ code has been a topic of interest to me for a very long time.

The chapter about inlines is mixed bag of very good information and useless information. What I did appreciate less is that several pages are dedicated for describing what could be possible to do with inlines if very smart compilers were available. It was interesting to read but nothing applicable immediatly. Maybe this section is a wish list intended to be read by compiler implementers. However at the same time, it is the chapter that gave me the most new tricks that I did not already knew. This is the book that presents how to efficiently use inlines in the best way that I have seen in books.

Finally, if I abstract the fact that I did not learn a lot of new things, I must say that it is very well written. It is interesting to read. The authors give reference to actual cases from their work experience and this book would probably be very beneficial to read for someone that has never yet spent a lot of time doing code optimization.
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Bulka and Mayhew's "Efficient C++" is an enjoyable and useful book, filled with helpful information that can be immediately applied to C++ programming. Its coverage of techniques for inlining, achieving the return value optimization, and avoiding temporary object creation is quite good. I also found the second chapter, which presents a case study about writing a tracer class, to be informative and a tidy overview of efficiency methods. There are also chapters discussing virtual functions, memory pooling, STL, and efficiency at the implementation and design levels. One helpful feature of this book is its presentation of a number of bar graphs illustrating the runtimes of actual test code. This helps to hammer home just how efficient or costly various techniques actually are.
Unfortunately, there are a number of topics which are not discussed or are only briefly discussed. The chapter on the STL, while accurate, is very incomplete. I would recommend bolstering this information with Meyers' "Effective STL". Also, different compilers implement different optimizations. It would have been nice to see a discussion of the optimizations provided by the most popular compilers, as well as tips on how to use these features effectively. The C++ standard allows compiler implementers to ignore certain keywords (register and inline) and to provide optimizations such as the return value optimization. I would have liked to have seen a discussion of the optimizations actually provided by various compilers as well as how they relate to the C++ standard. In addition, there are some advanced techniques, such as the Barton-Nackman trick, for avoiding the cost of virtual functions. Unfortunately, this and other comparable methods are not discussed.
On the whole, this book provides a lot of valuable information, but it could have been much more complete.
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Few C++ books talk about such important aspects of programming like design and development for performance, as well as performance tuning. Even smaller number of them support their arguments with the actual test numbers. This book is different: on many occasions the authors show quantitative difference between techniques, which is very useful for understanding the trade-offs and is much more convincing than simply referring to common sense or authors' past experience.
This book is a well-written overview of the C++ performance programming techniques. It looks into a broad spectrum of the issues, some of them are examined in a great detail, like C++ inlining. Most often there is no free lunch in software development, and the book does a good job of showing the trade-offs of performance techniques, keeps a good balance of not advocating extra efforts simply for the sake of having faster programs.
The book has many coding examples that show "side-by-side" performance of different code snippets trying to achieve the same computational goal. The examples are very simple and are independent off each other, so one does not have to read all the previous chapters to understand a point made in the middle of the book.
Elegance usually goes hand-in-hand with good performance, so if you are just a beginner in C++, this book will help you to polish the patterns of your programming style. I think that this book will be helpful to any C++ programmer, especially to one who is writing real-time or performance intensive applications. I wish the management could read and understand it too: hopefully then it wouldn't assume that "performance profiling" is just an afterthought and is not a necessary entry in the schedule for every serious product.
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