Switch translation, part 2

Brian Goetz brian.goetz at oracle.com
Mon Dec 11 21:37:57 UTC 2017

# Switch Translation, Part 2 -- type test patterns and guards
#### Maurizio Cimadamore and Brian Goetz
#### December 2017

This document examines possible translation of `switch` constructs 
involving `case` labels that include type-test patterns, potentially 
with guards.  Part 3 will address translation of destructuring patterns, 
nested patterns, and OR patterns.

## Type-test patterns

Type-test patterns are notable because their applicability predicate is 
purely based on the type system, meaning that the compiler can directly 
reason about it both statically (using flow analysis, optimizing away 
dynamic type tests) and dynamically (with `instanceof`.)  A switch 
involving type-tests:

     switch (x) {
         case String s: ...
         case Integer i: ...
         case Long l: ...

can (among other strategies) be translated into a chain of `if-else` 
using `instanceof` and casts:

     if (x instanceof String) { String s = (String) x; ... }
     else if (x instanceof Integer) { Integer i = (Integer) x; ... }
     else if (x instanceof Long) { Long l = (Long) x; ... }

#### Guards

The `if-else` desugaring can also naturally handle guards:

     switch (x) {
         case String s
             where (s.length() > 0): ...
         case Integer i
             where (i > 0): ...
         case Long l
             where (l > 0L): ...

can be translated to:

     if (x instanceof String
         && ((String) x).length() > 0) { String s = (String) x; ... }
     else if (x instanceof Integer
              && ((Integer) x) > 0) { Integer i = (Integer) x; ... }
     else if (x instanceof Long
              && ((Long) x) > 0L) { Long l = (Long) x; ... }

#### Performance concerns

The translation to `if-else` chains is simple (for switches without 
fallthrough), but is harder for the VM to optimize, because we've used a 
more general control flow mechanism.  If the target is an empty 
`String`, which means we'd pass the first `instanceof` but fail the 
guard, class-hierarchy analysis could tell us that it can't possibly be 
an `Integer` or a `Long`, and so there's no need to perform those tests. 
But generating code that takes advantage of this information is more 

In the extreme case, where a switch consists entirely of type test 
patterns for final classes, this could be performed as an O(1) operation 
by hashing.  And this is a common case involving switches over 
alternatives in a sum (sealed) type. (We probably shouldn't rely on 
finality at compile time, as this can change between compile and run 
time, but we would like to take advantage of this at run time if we can.)

Finally, the straightforward static translation may miss opportunities 
for optimization.  For example:

     switch (x) {
         case Point p
             where p.x > 0 && p.y > 0: A
         case Point p
             where p.x > 0 && p.y == 0: B

Here, not only would we potentially test the target twice to see if it 
is a `Point`, but we then further extract the `x` component twice and 
perform the `p.x > 0` test twice.

#### Optimization opportunities

The compiler can eliminate some redundant calculations through 
straightforward techniques.  The previous switch can be transformed to:

     switch (x) {
         case Point p:
             if (((Point) p).x > 0 && ((Point) p).y > 0) { A }
             else if (((Point) p).x > 0 && ((Point) p).y > 0) { B }

to eliminate the redundant `instanceof` (and could be further 
transformed to eliminate the downstream redundant computations.)

#### Clause reordering

The above example was easy to transform because the two `case Point` 
clauses were adjacent.  But what if they are not?  In some cases, it is 
safe to reorder them.  For types `T` and `U`, it is safe to reorder 
`case T` and `case U` if the two types have no intersection; that there 
can be no types that are subtypes of them both.  This is true when `T` 
and `U` are classes and neither extends the other, or when one is a 
final class and the other is an interface that the class does not 

The compiler could then reorder case clauses so that all the ones whose 
first test is `case Point` are adjacent, and then coalesce them all into 
a single arm of the `if-else` chain.

A possible spoiler here is fallthrough; if case A falls into case B, 
then cases A and B have to be moved as a group.  (This is another reason 
to consider limiting fallthrough.)

#### Summary of if-else translation

While the if-else translation at first looks pretty bad, we are able to 
extract a fair amount of redundancy through well-understood compiler 
transformations.  If an N-way switch has only M distinct types in it, in 
most cases we can reduce the cost from _O(N)_ to _O(M)_.  Sometimes _M 
== N_, so this doesn't help, but sometimes _M << N_ (and sometimes `N` 
is small, in which case _O(N)_ is fine.)

Reordering clauses involves some risk; specifically, that the class 
hierarchy will change between compile and run time.  It seems eminently 
safe to reorder `String` and `Integer`, but more questionable to reorder 
an arbitrary class `Foo` with `Runnable`, even if `Foo` doesn't 
implement `Runnable` now, because it might easily be changed to do so 
later.  Ideally we'd like to perform class-hierarchy optimizations using 
the runtime hierarchy, not the compile-time hierarchy.

## Type classifiers

The technique outlined in _Part 1_, where we lower the complex switch to 
a dense `int` switch, and use an indy-based classifier to select an 
index, is applicable here as well.  First let's consider a switch 
consisting only of unguarded type-test patterns (and optionally a 
default clause.)

We'll start with an `indy` bootstrap whose static argument are `Class` 
constants corresponding to each arm of the switch, whose dynamic 
argument is the switch target, and whose return value is a case number 
(or distinguished sentinels for "no match" and `null`.) We can easily 
implement such a bootstrap with a linear search, but can also do better; 
if some subset of the classes are `final`, we can choose between these 
more quickly (such as via binary search on `hashCode()`, hash function, 
or hash table), and we need perform only a single operation to test all 
of those at once. Dynamic techniques (such as a building a hash map of 
previously seen target types), which `indy` is well-suited to, can 
asymptotically approach _O(1)_ even when the classes involved are not 

So we can lower:

     switch (x) {
         case T t: A
         case U u: B
         case V v: C


     int y = indy[bootstrap=typeSwitch(T.class, U.class, V.class)](x)
     switch (y) {
         case 0: A
         case 1: B
         case 2: C

This has the advantages that the generated code is very similar to the 
source code, we can (in some cases) get _O(1)_ dispatch performance, and 
we can handle fallthrough with no additional complexity.

#### Guards

There are two approaches we could take to add support for guards into 
the process; we could try to teach the bootstrap about guards (and would 
have to pass locals that appear in guard expressions as additional 
arguments to the classifier), or we could leave guards to the generated 
bytecode.  The latter seems far more attractive, but requires some 
tweaks to the bootstrap arguments and to the shape of the generated code.

If the classifier says "you have matched case #3", but then we fail the 
guard for #3, we want to go back into the classifier and start again at 
#4.  Additionally, we'd like for the classifier to use this information 
("start over at #4") to optimize away unnecessary tests.

We add a second argument (where to start) to the classifier invocation 
signature, and wrap the switch in a loop, lowering:

     switch (x) {
         case T t where (e1): A
         case T t where (e2): B
         case U u where (e3): C


     int y = -1; // start at the top
     while (true) {
         y = indy[...](x, y)
         switch (y) {
             case 0: if (!e1) continue; A
             case 1: if (!e2) continue; B
             case 2: if (!e3) continue; C

For cases where the same type test is repeated in consecutive positions 
(at N and N+1), we can have the static compiler coalesce them as above, 
or we could have the bootstrap maintain a table so that if you re-enter 
the bootstrap where the previous answer was N, then it can immediately 
return N+1.  Similarly, if N and N+1 are known to be mutually exclusive 
types (like `String` and `Integer`), on reentering the classifier with 
N, we can skip right to N+2 since if we matched `String`, we cannot 
match `Integer`. Lookup tables for such optimizations can be built at 
link time.

#### Mixing constants and type tests

This approach also extends to tests that are a mix of constant patterns 
and type-test patterns, such as:

     switch (x) {
         case "Foo": ...
         case 0L: ...
         case Integer i:

We can extend the bootstrap protocol to accept constants as well as 
types, and it is a straightforward optimization to combine both type 
matching and constant matching in a single pass.

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