javascript in 2011

15 May 2011 5:53 PM (javascript | compilers | profiling | igalia)

Good evening tubes,

This hacklog needs an update, and how! I meant to write some stuff about Guile, which recently got some pretty great performance improvements, but instead bits on JavaScript were what trickled out of my fingers onto this Emacs. So here we go!

kung fu

I took a fairly deep dive into the world of JavaScript implementations recently, and man, what a world: a rotated-double-space punboxed jaeger-lithium crankshafted nitro-assembling trace stack of bit-froth. Yow! Now that's a fat value!

That probably makes no sense, right, but you have to understand that I've been jacked into this matrix for like three weeks now, and they speak a different language out there. If I were to draw some preliminary conclusions about the state of the art in JavaScript implementations, they would be these:

  • Trace looked fun, but it seems that it's possible to get trace-level performance with more traditional compilation techniques. (The trick appears to be to treat tagging, untagging and type checks as nodes in your control-flow graph.) V8 already has an SSA-based intermediate language, JavaScriptCore (the WebKit JavaScript implementation) is moving to one, and the above bug is from the Mozilla folk.

  • As a correlary to the previous point, data representation matters. It seems to me that JavaScriptCore's solid improvements have all been centered on cleanliness: keeping it simple, direct, and clean leads to speed. Right now JSC is trailing the pack again, but with a good SSA compiler, they could reach V8 again. Inner loops are important, but that's not where big applications spend most of their time.

  • The JS benchmarks are terrible, but everyone is using them to optimize their implementations. There's a serious danger of garbage-in, garbage-out here.

    To my eye the V8 ones are the best general-purpose benchmarks: the ones that represent not just the inner loops, but bigger programs. But hey, maybe that's just the Schemer in me amused at seeing cross-compiled Lisp benchmarks in their suite.

  • Tool support is terrible.

    All of these projects have to implement their own profilers, disassemblers, debuggers, etc, and for all platforms, in theory. In practice, yuck. GDB just got support for JIT-generated code, and it's terrible: you have to generate whole object files (ELF on ELF architectures, presumably mach-O or whatever on Darwin, and who knows on windows!), and if you want debugging information, you have to generate DWARF.

    Of course oprofile couldn't use the same format, it has its own thing, and it's not the same as the lovely but ungooglable perf, which appears to only support map files generated by some JVM no one has heard of, but has no support for garbage-collecting executable code or for line numbers. Aaargh!!!

    Incidentally, my colleague Xan appears to have run into these issues independently.

I've been joking recently that I've been coming up like Neo, in the training sequence, eyes open, drawn breath: "whoa: I know kung-funun-boxing."

All in all JavaScript in mid-2011 is looking much better than JavaScript in mid-2010 -- humbling, even -- and I look forward to hacking more on it. Actually, simply "hacking on it", as I have been taking uncomfortably long to get up to speed on things. (No one has yet said "Really? Show me." Ha ha.)

I suspect that tools is where I'll start. It sure would be nice to have line-level profiling interleaved with disassembly for JavaScript, somehow. (I hope it would be perf, but they seem an opinionated bunch. I hope you don't have to be Peter Zijlstra to get something into it.)

forward-looking statements

I try not to make promises about the future, so consider it simply a prediction, that the next entry will feature more parentheses than this one. Until then, happy hacking!

One response

  1. Tom Tromey says:

    The GDB JIT stuff came from Unladen Swallow.
    I agree it is kind of gross; but it is pretty unlikely for anything better to come out of the GDB community -- it has to be driven by the JIT writers.

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