This last week I’ve been busy with a lot of bug fixes, stability enhancements and finishing half implemented features. One of the big problems that I had was that the function which, for all intended purposes is the core of Visual Haskell, the module discovery code was very very slow. On average it ran in 1.2secs and a stdDev of 0.1sec.

This might not seem all that bad at first glance, but consider this, every 500ms after your last key press, a call is made to this function to validate your changes. If the file had errors this would show up right away and you would be informed of type errors etc immediately, but when type checking actually succeeds, getting all the information we desire from a module takes a 1.2seconds on average as stated above. To the user this would total a 1.7second delay for any changes (at least for the average Haskell file).

This is absolutely too slow, as features get added, it’s increasingly important to get this part right. My first thought was to optimize my use of Lists. I made changes so that cons is used as much as possible instead of the concatenation operator ++ , since cons runs in constant time.

This shaved off about 0.1seconds on average. which Is not bad, but still not what I was hoping to gain. So the second thought was that the lists themselves was slow. I assumed this to be a reasonable explanation since a lot of list operations took place.

My second change was to add strictness annotation to the datatypes (they’re being send over FFI anyway, so they’ll always be evaluated at one point, might as well do it sooner rather than later) and changed from Lists to a Vector from the "vector” package on Hackage.

Unfortunately the change to Vectors has the opposite effect of what I wanted, (yes I did enable optimizations). Execution time now became on average 1.8secs and StdDev 0.3secs. Clearly not the right direction.

So I removed the Vectors and decided to run some profiling, the results were interesting and certainly not hat I was expecting:

    Sun Jul 11 20:13 2010 Time and Allocation Profiling Report  (Final)

       Main.exe +RTS -p -RTS

    total time  =        1.22 secs   (61 ticks @ 20 ms)
    total alloc = 262,102,440 bytes  (excludes profiling overheads)

COST CENTRE                           MODULE             %time %alloc

Typecheck-Rename                   HscMain                41.0    42.5
CAF:loadWithLogger_r8fG        VsxParser             37.7    15.2
SimplTopBinds                           SimplCore               9.8    14.7
Parser                                           HscMain                   3.3      7.6
Simplify                                         SimplCore               1.6      0.1
OccAnal                                        SimplCore               1.6       3.6
bin_tycldecls                                BinIface                    1.6      4.9
occAnalBind.scc                         OccurAnal                 1.6      0.4
getModInfo                                  VsxParser               1.6      3.2
CoreTidy                                       HscMain                   0.0      2.0
CorePrep                                     HscMain                    0.0      2.3
CAF                                               Packages                  0.0      1.5

According to these results only 1.6% was spend actually processing the file by my function, the rest were spend by the ghc api mostly in loading and type checking. To see how well this presents itself as we scale, I ran the getModInfo function 47 times. The results were:

Sun Jul 11 21:17 2010 Time and Allocation Profiling Report  (Final)

   Main.exe +RTS -p -RTS

total time  =      44.22 secs   (2211 ticks @ 20 ms)
total alloc = 12,456,963,764 bytes  (excludes profiling overheads)

But getModInfo now takes up 14.3% of the execution time, but the rest of time is still largely spend in the ghc api.

On every call GHC has to load the module and any interfaces for any imports that module uses. This is the slowest part, which is also I/O bound. So what if we can prevent this.

Session information is stored in a type called HscEnv , this can be read and set using the methods setSession and getSession respectively. By restoring this session every time we can prevent GHC from reloading things it doesn’t need to. Since we already know that in between calls only the head modules could have changed we can safely do this.

The next question is then, how do we preserve this value in between calls. Since the method always terminates and we want to be able to keep track of multiple HscEnv (one for every document currently open in the IDE)

This is where StablePtr comes in (thanks to lispy from #Haskell for the suggestion), it offers us an opaque reference to a Haskell value and since it has a Storable instance I can pass it to and from C#. The ideal solution.

There was only one problem, the api for StablePtr provided no mechanism to update, but there was one to dereference it. The solution is to store a mutable value inside the StablePtr then, in this case an IORef.

Take a look at this example:

module Main where

import Foreign.StablePtr
import Data.IORef

type Context a = StablePtr (IORef a)
type Env       = Context [Int]

initEnv :: IO Env
initEnv = newStablePtr =<< newIORef []

freeEnv :: Env -> IO ()
freeEnv = freeStablePtr

add :: Env -> Int -> IO ()
add env val
  = do env_value <- deRefStablePtr env
       modifyIORef env_value ((val:) $!)
sum’ :: Env -> IO Int
sum’ env
  = do env_value <- deRefStablePtr env
       current   <- readIORef env_value
       return $ sum current
main :: IO Int
= do env <- initEnv
      add env 1
      add env 1
      add env 1
      add env 1
      val <- sum’ env
      freeEnv env
      return val

This shows how we can pass a simple state (Env) around during different invocations. The idea is that, the calls to InitEnv, add, sum’ and freeEnv are done over FFI, which is why it’s important to have the value Storable and stable (as in the GC won’t touch it).

Using this same approach we can write a helper class for the GHC api:

module GhcSession where

import HscTypes
import Data.IORef
import Foreign.StablePtr

import GHC
import GHC.Paths ( libdir )

type Context      = StablePtr (IORef HscEnv)

createContext :: IO Context
createContext =
  runGhc (Just libdir) $
     do env <- getSession
        liftIO $ newStablePtr =<< newIORef env
freeContext :: Context -> IO ()
freeContext = freeStablePtr

updateContext :: Context -> HscEnv -> IO ()
updateContext env val
  = do env_value <- deRefStablePtr env
       writeIORef env_value $! val
       — modifyIORef env_value ((const val) $!)
readContext :: Context -> IO HscEnv
readContext = (readIORef =<<) . deRefStablePtr
pushSession :: GhcMonad m => Context -> m ()
pushSession = (setSession =<<) . liftIO . readContext

pullSession :: GhcMonad m => Context -> m ()
pullSession = (getSession >>=) . (liftIO .) . updateContext


The only thing left to do now is this call push- and pullSession in the getModInfo function to set and update the state. Having done so it was time to run benchmarking again. The results were impressive, a speedup of over 500%.

    Mon Jul 12 01:57 2010 Time and Allocation Profiling Report  (Final)

       Main.exe +RTS -p -RTS

    total time  =        8.54 secs   (427 ticks @ 20 ms)
    total alloc = 2,128,219,560 bytes  (excludes profiling overheads)

This means that any one invocation should run in ~0.18s which should be pretty much unnoticeable to an end user. The added bonus is also less memory usage, since the biggest structure is pretty much reused. Because of the timestamps, even if other modules changed in between two calls, only the changed ones will get reloaded.

File vs In-Memory buffer type checking

I’ve recently been looking into how to make the type checking part faster. The type checker part consists of two parts just like most of the code in Visual Haskell 2010, A Haskell side and a C# side.

This post is about optimizations on the C# side.

the setup currently is as follows:

Every 500ms after the user has finished typing, a call is made to typecheck() which does a few  things,

  • Finds the current module information (cached)
  • Generates a temporary file which has the same content of the In-Memory buffer
  • Makes a call to the Haskell world
  • Interprets the results

The part I thought I could optimize is that I didn’t want to have to write the buffer out to a file only to have GHC read it back in. Under normal circumstances the files will probably be in disk cache and not even written out to begin with, but we would still have to make a couple of kernel calls (about 6).

It’s not like the new approach wouldn’t have drawbacks, for one thing you’d have the serialization drawback, you suddenly have to serialize large strings from and to the Haskell world, but above that the GHC Api doesn’t even support type checking of In-Memory buffers.

So the first part is to edit the GHC Api and add this functionality.

Modifying GHC

I won’t explain this in detail, but I’ll just outline the “gist” of it.

Whenever you want to tell GHC want to inspect, It does so by inspecting all the “Targets” you’ve specified. An example of this would be

target <- guessTarget file Nothing
addTarget target

which means, we first ask it to guess what the string is (a module, or filename) and it’ll construct the appropriate Target for us. In order to support In-Memory buffers I added a new TargetId

| TargetVirtualFile StringBuffer FilePath (Maybe Phase)
  — ^ This entry loads the data from the provided buffer but acts like
  –   it was loaded from a file. The path is then used to inform GHC where
  –   to look for things like Interface files.
  –   This Target is useful when you want to prevent a client to write it’s
  –   in-memory buffer out to a file just to have GHC read it back in.

This takes the string buffer, and the original filename, the filename is only used to discover properties about the buffer (the most important of which is what type of input it is, hspp, hsc, hs or lhs)  and along with this a new function was create the facilitate the create of a virtual target.

— | Create a new virtual Target that will be used instead of reading the module from disk.
–   However object generation will be set to False. Since the File on disk would could
–   and is most likely not the same as the content passed to the function
virtualTarget :: GhcMonad m => StringBuffer -> FilePath -> m Target
virtualTarget content file
   = return (Target (TargetVirtualFile content file Nothing) False Nothing)

so for it’s all pretty straight forward, the rest I won’t explain since they have no bearing on how to use this new code, but what I’ve done was basically trace the workings of the load2 function, and where appropriate added some new code to instead of reading a file into a buffer, to just use the buffer passed on to virtualTarget.

The problem is, in runPhase a system process is called to deLit a Literate Haskell file which is a bit of a problem since it means that I would have to have the file on disk anyway. I decided not to worry about that for now but instead to focus on implementing the change for normal Haskell files first so I can run some benchmarking code.


Now for the actual testing

I created a new DLL file which contains the compiled code from two Haskell functions

getModInfo :: Bool -> String -> String -> String -> IO (ApiResults ModuleInfo)


getModStringInfo :: Bool -> String -> String -> String -> String -> IO (ApiResults ModuleInfo)

They both do the same amount of work, only the latter passes along as a target a VirtualTarget instead of a normal File target. But first it’s time to see if the changes actually did something.

This first test just asks for all the information it can get from a file named “VsxParser.hs”

Phyx@PHYX-PC /c/Users/Phyx/Documents/VisualHaskell2010/Parser
$ ghcii.sh VsxParser
GHCi, version 6.13.20100521: http://www.haskell.org/ghc/
Ok, modules loaded: VsxParser.
Prelude VsxParser> getModInfo True "VsxParser.hs" "VsxParser" ""
Success: ModuleInfo {functions = (70,[FunType {_Tspan = VsxParser.hs:256:1-8, _Tname = "showPpr’", _type = Just "Bool -> a -> String", _inline = (0,[])},FunType {_Tspan = VsxParser.hs:252:1-7, _Tname = "mkSized", _type = Just "[a] -> (Int,[a])", _inline = (0,[])},FunType {_Tspan = VsxParser.hs:244:1-17, _Tname = "configureDynFlags", _type = Just "DynFlags -> DynFlags", _inline = (0,[])},FunType {_Tspan = VsxParser.hs:237:1-19, _Tname = "createLocatedErrors", _type = Just "ErrMsg -> [ErrorMessage]", _inline = (0,[])},FunType {_Tspan = VsxParser.hs:230:1-13, _Tname = "processErrors", _type = Just "SourceError -> IO (ApiResults a)", _inline = (0,[])},FunType {_Tspan = VsxParser.hs:69:1-4, _Tname = "main", _type =
(content goes on and on and on)

the content will go on for many more pages so I won’t post that

now, We call getModStringInfo asking for information about the same file, but this time we pass along a much smaller and completely different buffer than the one of the file on disk. namely a module with just 1 function “foo = 5”

Prelude VsxParser> getModStringInfo True "module VsxParser where\nfoo = 5\n" "VsxParser.hs" "VsxParser" ""
Success: ModuleInfo {functions = (1,[FunType {_Tspan = VsxParser.hs:2:1-3, _Tname = "foo", _type = Just "Integer", _inline = (0,[])}]), imports = (1,[Import {_Ispan = Implicit import declaration, _Iname = "Prelude", _pkg = Nothing, _source= False, _qual = False, _as = Nothing, _hiding = (0,[])}]), types = (0,[]), warnings = (0,[])}

As can be seen it used the content of the buffer and not the file to perform the analysis. So far so good. The new virtualTarget seems to be working just fine. Now comes the part you’ve all been waiting for, the numbers!


First the setup, The two methods above as already mentioned were compiled to a static DLL. The tests are written in C# and the full code for it is as follows (you can skip this if it doesn’t interest you). Also my laptop harddrive is just 5400rpm so please keep this in mind 🙂

 static void Main(string[] args)
            Console.WriteLine("Running Benchmarks....");

            int length = 500;
            List<Double> stringB = new List<double>();
            List<Double> fileB = new List<double>();
            string content = File.ReadAllText("VsxParser.hs");

            Console.Write("Press [enter] to start In-Memory buffer test");

            Console.WriteLine("Running String tests...");
                for (int i = 0; i < length; i++)
                    DateTime start = DateTime.Now;
                    WinDll.Parser.getModInfoByString(true, content, "VsxParser.hs", "VsxParser", "");

            Console.Write("Press [enter] to start File based test");

            Console.WriteLine("Running File tests...");
                for (int i = 0; i < length; i++)
                    DateTime start = DateTime.Now;
                    string path = Path.ChangeExtension(System.IO.Path.GetTempFileName(), Path.GetExtension("VsxParser.hs"));
                    File.WriteAllText(path, content);
                    WinDll.Parser.getModuleInfoByPath(true, "VsxParser.hs", "VsxParser", "");
            Console.WriteLine("Writing results...");

            StreamWriter fs1 = File.CreateText("stringB.csv");
            for (int i = 0; i < length; i++)
                if (i < length - 1)
                    fs1.Write(", ");

            fs1 = File.CreateText("fileB.csv");
            for (int i = 0; i < length; i++)
                if (i < length - 1)
                    fs1.Write(", ");



Aside from this, I’ve also used the Windows performance monitor to monitor haddrive activity. Both methods are ran 500times and all the times are measured in the milliseconds range.


first off, the intuition was right, Windows observed a 100% disk cache hit for the duration of the test. So the files were always in cache. So the expected difference shouldn’t be that big (or should it?)

  String buffer File Buffer
Overview Results_Normal_s1 Results_Normal_s2
Performance clustering Results_Normal_b1 Results_Normal_b2
Geometric mean 636.594594942071087ms 666.617770612978724ms
Variance 1436.0ms 1336.56ms
Mean Deviation 26.6618ms 27.1434ms

The two charts reveal that they both performed in about the same ranges on average with no real noticeable difference. You have to remember that these numbers are in milliseconds (ms). The difference in Geometric means is almost negligible 30.02317567090764ms


Viewing both charts together we see a significant overlap which means on average the one doesn’t perform all that better from the other on normal disk usage.

But what happens when we have abnormal disk usage? What if the drive was so busy that the disk cache starts missing. Would the File based approach still perform “good enough” ?

To simulate high disk usage I used a Microsoft tool called SQLIO, it’ official use is to find disk performance capacity, but it does so by stressing the drive, so it works fine for us. (get it at http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=9a8b005b-84e4-4f24-8d65-cb53442d9e19)

This is ran from a batch file in two modes read and write for about 36sec per mode. which should cover the length of 1 test. The batch file used is

sqlio -kW -s10 -frandom -o8 -b8 -LS -Fparam.txt
sqlio -kW -s36 -frandom -o8 -b64 -LS -Fparam.txt
sqlio -kW -s36 -frandom -o8 -b128 -LS -Fparam.txt
sqlio -kW -s36 -frandom -o8 -b256 -LS -Fparam.txt

sqlio -kW -s36 -fsequential -o8 -b8 -LS -Fparam.txt
sqlio -kW -s36 -fsequential -o8 -b64 -LS -Fparam.txt
sqlio -kW -s36 -fsequential -o8 -b128 -LS -Fparam.txt
sqlio -kW -s36 -fsequential -o8 -b256 -LS -Fparam.txt

sqlio -kR -s36 -frandom -o8 -b8 -LS -Fparam.txt
sqlio -kR -s36 -frandom -o8 -b64 -LS -Fparam.txt
sqlio -kR -s36 -frandom -o8 -b128 -LS -Fparam.txt
sqlio -kR -s36 -frandom -o8 -b256 -LS -Fparam.txt

sqlio -kR -s36 -fsequential -o8 -b8 -LS -Fparam.txt
sqlio -kR -s36 -fsequential -o8 -b64 -LS -Fparam.txt
sqlio -kR -s36 -fsequential -o8 -b128 -LS -Fparam.txt
sqlio -kR -s36 -fsequential -o8 -b256 -LS -Fparam.txt

Running SQLIO and the benchmarks again the first thing that catches my eyes is that

disk cache performance has dropped from 100% to


Looking at the dataset I see a lot of completely missed caches. Also remember that the SQLIO is also reading data,

so the disk cache activity also represents it’s reads and not just those of the benchmark as before. So let’s analyze the numbers like before

  String buffer File Buffer
Overview Results_Normal_s1x Results_Normal_s2x
Performance clustering Results_Normal_b1x Results_Normal_b2x
Geometric mean 883.339857882210200ms 904.505721026752581ms
Variance 2.26107*10^6ms 3.81543*10^6ms
Mean Deviation 449.206ms 611.77ms

These results are quite surprising since the difference in mean now is just 21.16586314454238ms. So under heavy load they start to converge to the same performance level.


So while both have some significant outliers,  both perform on average in the same category. It’s sad and hard to admit, but Unless I made a mistake when implementing the VirtualFile (which very well might be true) having a String vs File buffer doesn’t really make a big difference mostly due to the OS’s management of I/O and the disk caching going on.

In fact under heavy loads Windows started to use more and more “Fast Reads” and “Fast Writes” These require much less kernel and user mode calls than a full I/O call, so even that advantage was negated somewhat under heavy load, while the overhead of marshalling the string hasn’t changed, which might explain the smaller difference in Geometric mean in the second benchmark.

So the conclusion of the story is is, for now, there’s nothing to gain from the calls on the C# side, but maybe there is in the processing of the result but that’s saved for another time :). Up next, optimizing the Haskell Code to gather more complete module information and do it faster!.