Document Number: P0342R2
Date: 2023-04-11
Reply to: Gonzalo Brito Gadeschi <gonzalob _at_>
Authors: Gonzalo Brito Gadeschi, Mike Spertus
Audience: Concurrency, Library Evolution


This proposal adds an identity function, std::pessimize_hint, that hints the implementation to be maximally pessimistic in terms of the assumptions about what this function could do, i.e., to assume that it could do anything that well-defined C++ may do. It is useful for writing portable micro-benchmarks and teaching performance-related aspects of C++, which is quite valuable given how core performance is to C++'s value proposition as a programming language.


Consider demonstrating the poor performance of the Fibonnacci sequence as a teaching exercise:

#include<chrono> #include<iostream> using clk_t = std::chrono::steady_clock; using dur_t = std::chrono::duration<double>; size_t fib(size_t n) { if (n == 0) return n; if (n == 1) return 1; return fib(n - 1) + fib(n - 2); } int main() { auto start = clk_t::now(); auto result = fib(42); auto elapsed = dur_t(clk_t::now() - start).count(); std::cout << "Elapsed time is " << elapsed << " s" << std::endl; return 0; }

Performance discussions should include data obtained by compiling with optimizations enabled, but it often requires a lot of trickery to produce “the right amount” of optimizations, which gets in the way of teaching C++. In this example, the compiler has fully optimized our micro-benchmark (godbolt):

call std::chrono::_V2::steady_clock::now()@PLT mov rbx, rax call std::chrono::_V2::steady_clock::now()@PLT

The std::pessimize_hint API enables the programmer to hint the implementation their desire for the implementation to be maximally pessimistic when optimizing expressions consuming and producing certain values:

auto result = std::pessimize_hint(fib(std::pessimize_hint(42)));

Providing a simpler low-overhead way of achieving the desired pedagogical effect (godbolt):

call std::chrono::_V2::steady_clock::now()@PLT mov rbx, rax mov dword ptr [rsp + 4], 42 lea rax, [rsp + 4] movsxd rdi, dword ptr [rsp + 4] call fib(unsigned long) mov qword ptr [rsp + 16], rax lea rax, [rsp + 16] call std::chrono::_V2::steady_clock::now()@PLT

A quality implementation will assume that the expr being pessimized, i.e., the call to fib, might do anything that well-defined C++ could do. Well-defined C++ could call steady_clock::now(), and therefore a quality implementation will ensure that it is sequenced before the second call steady_clock::now().

This API has enabled us to construct a micro-benchmark for fibonnacci implementations, that we can now include as part of our application’s benchmarking suite, before starting to optimize the code.

For this purpose, micro-benchmarking libraries like Google Benchmark provides a DoNotOptimize (similar to pessimize_hint). Programming languages with built-in language support for micro-benchmarking, like Rust, include APIs with similar semantics in its standard library (core::hint::black_box). Many examples showing how this API is used in actual Rust programs are available here.


At the 2016 Oulo meeting, Evolution Working Group reviewed R0 that proposed a solution to transparently provide correct behavior for clocks and provide standard library barriers for analogous problems. Due to implementability concerns, the sentiment was to not pursue that solution strategy further.

At the 2023 Issaqah meeting, SG1 reviewed R1 of the paper and suggested the author to pursue standardizing standard practice to solve the micro-benchmarking problem in an analogous way to the Prior Art covered below.

Proposed wording

Add this new function template to the General Utilities library (<utility>).

Add the following to [utility.syn]:

namespace std {
  // [utility.pessimize_hint]:
  template <typename T> T&       pessimize_hint(T& t      ) noexcept;
  template <typename T> T const& pessimize_hint(T const& t) noexcept;

Then add a new [utility.pessimize_hint] sub-section containing:

template <typename T> T&       pessimize_hint(T& t      ) noexcept;
template <typename T> T const& pessimize_hint(T const& t) noexcept;

Discussion / FAQ