Proposal for a small language change

Angelo Borsotti angelo.borsotti at
Mon Apr 13 14:21:10 PDT 2009

Author: Angelo Borsotti, former Senior Director Software Technology,
Alcatel-Lucent Optics

  Feature Summary: fast and accurate measurement of execution time
  Major Advantage: optimization of algorithms by measuring execution
      times of small snippets of code executed many times
  Major Benefit: greatly increases observability of programs
  Major Disadvantage: very little cost
  Alternatives: there are no alternatives


  Simple example:
       long c0 = System.cycles();
       long c = System.cycles() - c0;
  Advanced example:
       long cycles = 0;
       for (int i = 0; i < bound; i++){
          long c0 = System.cycles();
          some statements
          cycles += System.cycles()- c0;

     Add a new method System.cycles().
     The method must be compiled inline, translating it into a single
     present in most architectures, that reads the cycle counter
register (e.g. the
     TSC in x86 architectures).
     To measure execution time, System.nanoTime() is currently
provided. This, however,
     is by far too inaccurate to measure the execution time of code
which lies inside
     methods, possibly inside loops. The accuracy that it provides is
comparable to the
     time needed to execute thousands of java statements, which is too low.
     Moreover, the time spent to execute the nanoTime() method itself
makes this tool
     too much invasive. Execution times become often much higher when
nanoTime() is
     added, to the point to provide useless results.
     Note that when a piece of code lies inside loops, measuring its execution
     time means adding many small durations. This means that the invasivity
     and the accuracy of the tool to measure time is extremely important.
     Note that also a native method would be too much invasive. The
only way to provide
     a means to measure execution times that introduces an acceptable
noise (i.e. an
     error that is sufficiently lower than the times measured) is to
compile the call
     inline into a machine instruction. Profilers are orders of
magnitude coarser than
     what is needed.
     A simple test case in which a very simple example (as the one
above) is used,
     that computes the number of cycles needed to perform a simple
operation. The
     result should then be compared agains an estimate.
  Library suppor
     None needed
  Reflective APIs
     No change
  Other changes

  Completely downward compatible

  Bug ID: 6685613

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