Re: alloca / _alloca / dynamic stack memory

=?Utf-8?B?TWljaGFlbCBDcmF3bGV5?= <>
Fri, 9 Mar 2007 12:01:41 -0800
<> explain lets go back to the prepended header. The header describes
where the memory came from. If we know where the parent class came from,
then it would be easy allocate another object on the same source. So if
object Foo is on my custom heap, then internal pointer field Bar can possibly
be allocated on Foo's memory source by calling something like
new(ObjectSource). So now we have Foo and its internal dynamic field Bar on
the same heap. Imaging allocating a custom heap that drafts from another
heap (ex. default heap, another custom heap, etc.). If I then start to
allocate objects that belong to say a tree structure or a XML classes to
represent an XML file, everything would be on the same heap. Once we have
done working with the set of classes, we should be able to deallocate the
custom heap without gracefully destroying every object. This of course
assumes that there are not any shared references by other sources nor system
handles that need to be properly cleaned up. So while allocating, we took
advantage of a lower contention heap that was exclusive to the routine and
deallocating is much faster because every destructor/delete operator is not
called explicitly. So this is fine for allocating on a specified heap. But
there is one major problem, how can we always be sure the reference to an
object has this header? If we allocated a local variable and have a pointer
reference it, we do not have our header. If we can resolve whether or not
the current object is on the stack (as a local variable) or not, we can
determine if it has the header or not. Unfortunately, there is no easy
solution to this problem. We can determine if the object is within range of
the base stack address and the stack size, but we would really need to do
that for each thread's stack, which would result in very slow allocation
overhead. If the compiler always cleaned the stack, then it should be easy
to determine if the header is there or not by using a field in the base class
that will be updated upon dynamic allocation if the header is emitted. But
this is currently not possible. So if we force the base object to have a
protected destructor, we inforce the object must be allocated dynamically,
which will prepend the header. problem...we cannot use the
stack....Since everything must be allocated via new, we need a
new(StackAlloc) when we want something on the stack and not on a heap if we
have a protected destructor. It will not allow internal values of an object
to be allocated on the stack within a constructor unless they are passed by
reference and stored instead of copied. This atleast cuts down on the number
of times a lock-based heap is called (assuming a lockless-thread-exclusive
heap does not exist).

The best thing to do will probably be to forgo the protected destructor and
make it public so local variables can be used. When we want to insure all
objects are on the same heap, we merely pass a reference to the heap as a
parameter to each method, contructor, etc. So the only use for
new[](StackAlloc) in this case would be for dynamic array allocation on the
stack. The operator new(StackAlloc) for a single object would be only
useful when the destructor is protected...therefore we might just get rid of
it. But then again, we might have two base classes for the two cases.

I hope in the mist of all of my rambling, your answer can be found.

"Doug Harrison [MVP]" wrote:

On Thu, 8 Mar 2007 22:24:00 -0800, Michael Crawley
<> wrote:

Lets assume we have a String class with an internal char* pointer and an
unsigned integer for the length. This class has a fixed size. Upon
constructing an instance of this type, we pass a variable-sized const char*
that will be copied and set to the internal char*. So if we used the default
new operator, we would be looking at two calls to malloc indirectly...which
means the thread had to compete for a shared lock defined within malloc

So, String looks like this:

class String : Object
   unsigned len;
   char* p;

Looks a lot like std::string, modulo the small-string optimization
introduced a couple of versions ago in VC++.

By allocating an instance of String class using new(StackAlloc)
operator, we only have to call malloc once when we perform an internal copy
of const char* to be stored in our internal char* pointer. This might allow
for a small perf gain by itself, but if done thousands of times, it can add
up. If a heap has been allocated on a per-thread basis, of course use the
that heap.

It seems like you can accomplish the same thing by using a local
std::string variable:

void f(const char* str)
   std::string s(str);

Why would I want to write this as:

void f(const char* str)
   String* s = new (StackAlloc) String(str);

You've stated that the copy of the data is going to be on the heap, just
like when you use a local variable. Because your approach adds a pointer
variable to hold the address of the String object on the stack, your
approach actually uses more of the stack than using a plain old local
variable. In addition, you have to worry about destroying the string, while
this is handled automatically when you use a local variable. I see only
disadvantages to what you're proposing. what about arrays. No problem... If we go "String* str =
new(StackAlloc) String[N]" we should get this array allocated on the stack
dynamically...for each item in the array, the default constructor is

This I recognize as a new capability. I'm not sure it would be useful,
since each String is going to have to go to the heap, so you will have
eliminated only one call to the heap manager.


The remainder was more exposition along the lines of what you posted
already. What I was looking for is the definition of the String class,
particularly the parts that use the Object facilities. For now, I'll just
assume Object does everything you want. How does String use it? Code such
as the following just reiterates what you've already shown concerning how
people use String:

String* str = new String("msdn"); // (sizeof(String) + 1byte header)

String* str1 = new(Heap) String("msdn"); // (sizeof(String) + 1byte header +
sizeof(void*) ref to heap)

String* str2 = new(StackAlloc) String("msdn"); // (sizeof(String) + 1byte

delete str; // Compiler emits destructor; Look in header; oh it's on the
default heap, free(str)

delete str1; // Compiler emits destructor; Look in header; oh it's on this
heap, heap->Deallocate(str)

delete str2; // Compiler emits destructor; Look in header; oh it's on the
stack, do nothing. deallocation happens when function returns

What I want to know is how String uses Object. Here's what I thought you
were trying to accomplish. You're trying to eliminate calls to the heap
manager, be it malloc or whatever. To that end, you want to create a class
that can be created only with new, yet it should allow allocation of all
its data on the stack, or on the heap, depending on how you write the
new-expression. I could imagine this being a sort of generalization of VC's
small-string optimization for std::string. But now I'm confused, because
you've described your String class as using the heap for its data, so it's
not what I thought. The array usage you described would be useful only for
simple types, so now it sounds like you're asking for dynamic arrays.

Doug Harrison
Visual C++ MVP

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