Re: Postfix is slower than postfix: how likely?

"Allan W" <>
17 May 2006 05:17:55 -0400
Seungbeom Kim wrote:

It has been said for a long time that we should prefer the prefix
increment/decrement operator to the postfix because the former is never
slower and sometimes it can be faster; e.g.:

Yes -- that's a "rule of thumb" that you can apply without thinking
about it,
and never get bitten.

Now I wonder: how likely are the cases where you suffer significant
performance loss because you use postfix instead of prefix?

I agree with your main point -- it's pretty rare that it makes a
in real code. Which isn't to say that there's anything wrong with the
rule, though!

Is there
any benchmark that tells postfix can be measurably slower than prefix?

I don't know if you can call this a "benchmark" or not... but here's
a subset of a real class with a real prefix increment, to which I have
added a postfix increment and written a test driver. Compiled with
Microsoft Visual Studio .Net 2003 with full optimization, run on a
Pentium 4 2.8Ghz with 1.00 Gb of RAM on Microsoft Windows
Server 2003 Standard Edition with Service Pack 1.

// BigInt.h:
#include <iostream>
#include <ostream>

class BigInt {
    // Assigns base * 10^exp;
    // i.e. if base=5 and exp=21, assigns
    // value of 25,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
    BigInt(long base=0, long exp=0);
    BigInt(const BigInt &);
    BigInt& operator=(const BigInt&);

    std::ostream &output(std::ostream &) const;

    BigInt& operator++(); // Prefix
    BigInt operator++(int); // Postfix -- added

    bool operator<(const BigInt &o) const
       { return compare(o)<0; }
    bool operator==(const BigInt &o) const
       { return compare(o)==0; }
    int compare(const BigInt &) const;
    enum { numdigits=100 };
    char digits[numdigits];

inline std::ostream& operator<<(
       const BigInt&s) {
    return s.output(o);

// BigInt.cpp
#include <cstdlib>

#include "BigInt.h"

BigInt::BigInt(long base /* =0 */, long exp /* =0 */) {
    int d=0;
    while (d<exp && d<numdigits)
       digits[d++] = 0;
    while (base && d<numdigits) {
       digits[d++] = static_cast<char>(base%10);
       // Ignoring negatives for now...
       base /= 10;
    while (d<numdigits)
       digits[d++] = 0;

BigInt::BigInt(const BigInt &o) {
    std::memcpy(digits, o.digits, numdigits);

BigInt &BigInt::operator=(const BigInt &o) {
    std::memcpy(digits, o.digits, numdigits);
    return *this;

std::ostream &BigInt::output(std::ostream &o) const {
    // Find first non-zero digit
    int d=0;
    for (int x=1; x<numdigits; ++x)
       if (digits[x]>0) d=x;

    // Write them out
    while (d>=0) {
       o << static_cast<int>(digits[d--]);
       if (d%3==2 && d>0)
          o << ',';
    return o;

BigInt& BigInt::operator++() {
    for (int d=0;d<numdigits;++d) {
       if (++digits[d]<=9) break;
    return *this;

BigInt BigInt::operator++(int) {
    // Postfix -- added for this test
    // Notice that the code is identical to prefix,
    // except for the return type...
    for (int d=0;d<numdigits;++d) {
       if (++digits[d]<=9) break;
    return *this;

int BigInt::compare(const BigInt &o) const {
    int result=0;
    for (int d=0; d<numdigits; ++d)
       if (digits[d]<o.digits[d]) result=-1;
       else if (digits[d]>o.digits[d]) result=1;
    return result;

// TestDriver.cpp
#include <ctime>

#include "BigInt.h"

int main() {
    const BigInt max(5,8); // 500,000,000
    time_t begin, end;

    BigInt a(0);
    std::cout << "Prefix: Count from " << a;
    begin = time(0);
    while (a<max)
    end = time(0);
    std::cout << " to " << a << ", elapsed: "
       << static_cast<long>(end-begin)
       << std::endl;

    std::cout << std::endl;

    BigInt b(0);
    std::cout << "Postfix: Count from " << b;
    begin = time(0);
    while (b<max)
    end = time(0);
    std::cout << " to " << b << ", elapsed: "
       << static_cast<long>(end-begin)
       << std::endl;

Typical results on my computer:
Prefix: Count from 0 to 500,000,000, elapsed: 427
Postfix: Count from 0 to 500,000,000, elapsed: 475

Your results will of course differ. On another compiler with an even
better optimizer, Prefix might not be any faster than Postfix... but as
the original tip said: it sure won't ever be slower!

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