Posts in category code

Damping with delta-time

Just a quick tip on how to convert usual damping code to something framerate-independent.

Most of us have probably, at some point, written code resembling this:

// Perform velocity damping
velocity -= velocity * 0.01f;

… or probably the more correct:

// Per-second damping coefficient
float const D = 10.0f;

// Damp velocity according to timestep
velocity -= velocity * D * delta_time;

Yet this is not fully framerate-independent; results are slightly different at 30fps and 60fps, and more importantly, spikes in the framerate cause lots of weird artifacts, causing developers to attempt to fix the situation by clamping delta_time, which is not ideal.

The exponentiation method

Here is one way to fix it: assume that the code works correctly at 60 fps. This means that each frame, velocity is effectively multiplied by 1 - D / 60.

After one second, i.e. 60 frames, velocity has been multiplied by (1 - D / 60) ^ 60.

After two seconds, it has been multiplied by (1 - D / 60) ^ (60 * 2).

After N seconds, it has been multiplied by (1 - D / 60) ^ (60 * N).

So, there, we have a formula that tells us what happens after N seconds, and it’s a continuous function. We can therefore choose N as we like, and especially N = delta_time:

// Per-second damping coefficient
float const D = 10.0f;

// Damp velocity (framerate-independent)
velocity *= pow(1.f - D / 60.f, 60.f * delta_time);

Which can be conveniently rewritten as:

// Per-second damping coefficient
float const D = 10.0f;
// Exponentiation base for velocity damping
float const D2 = pow(1.f - D / 60.f, 60.f);

// Damp velocity (framerate-independent)
velocity *= pow(D2, delta_time);

Use with lerp

The same method can be adapted to uses of linear interpolation such as this one:

// Perform velocity damping
velocity = lerp(velocity, target_velocity, K * delta_time);

Which we replace with:

// Damp velocity (framerate-independent)
velocity = lerp(velocity, target_velocity,
                1.f - pow(1.f - K / 60.f, 60.f * delta_time));

The stolen bytes: Visual Studio, virtual methods and data alignment

This article describes a design choice in the C++ ABI of the Visual Studio compiler that I believe should be considered a bug. I propose a trivial workaround at the end.

TL;DR — if the topmost polymorphic class in a hierarchy has members with alignment requirement N where N > sizeof(void *), the Visual Studio compiler may add up to N bytes of useless padding to your objects.

Update: be sure to read the explanation by Jan Gray, who designed the relevant part of the MS C++ ABI some 22 years ago, in the comments section below.

My colleague Benlitz first hit the problem when trying to squeeze memory out of some of our game’s most often instantiated classes. I think it is best illustrated with the following minimal example:

class Foo
    virtual void Hello() {}

    float f;     /* 4 bytes */
class Bar
    virtual void Hello() {}

    float f;     /* 4 bytes */
    double d;    /* 8 bytes */

This is the size of Foo and Bar on various 32-bit platforms:

Platform sizeof(Foo) sizeof(Bar) Madness?
Linux x86 (gcc) 8 16 no
Linux ARMv9 (gcc) 8 16 no
Win32 (gcc) 8 16 no
Win32 (Visual Studio 2010) 8 24 yes
Xbox 360 (Visual Studio 2010) 8 24 yes
PlayStation 3 (gcc) 8 16 no
PlayStation 3 (SNC) 8 16 no
Mac OS X x86 (gcc) 8 16 no

There is no trick. This is by design. The Visual Studio compiler is literally stealing 8 bytes from us!

What the fuck is happening?

This is the memory layout of Foo on all observed platforms:

byte & 0 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & 7 \\
field & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\textit{vfptr}}
      & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\texttt{float f;}} \\

The vfptr field is a special pointer to the vtable. The vtable is probably the most widespread compiler-specific way to implement virtual methods. Since all the platforms studied here are 32-bit, this pointer requires 4 bytes. A float requires 4 bytes, too. The total size of the class is therefore 8 bytes.

This is the memory layout of Bar on eg. Linux using GCC:

byte & 0 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & 7
     & 8 & 9 & 10 & 11 & 12 & 13 & 14 & 15 \\
field & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\textit{vfptr}}
      & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\texttt{float f;}}
      & \multicolumn{8}{|c|}{\texttt{double d;}} \\

The double type has an alignment requirement of 8 bytes, which makes it fit perfectly at byte offset 8.

And finally, this is the memory layout of Bar on Win32 using Visual Studio 2010:

byte & 0 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & 7
     & 8 & 9 & 10 & 11 & 12 & 13 & 14 & 15
     & 16 & 17 & 18 & 19 & 20 & 21 & 22 & 23 \\
field & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\textit{vfptr}}
      & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\textit{padding}}
      & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\texttt{float f;}}
      & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\textit{padding}}
      & \multicolumn{8}{|c|}{\texttt{double d;}} \\

This is madness! The requirement for the class to be 8-byte aligned causes the first element of the class to be 8-byte aligned, too! I demand a rational explanation for this design choice.

The problem is that the compiler decides to add the vtable pointer after it has aligned the class data, resulting in excessive realignment.

Compilers affected

The Visual Studio compilers for Win32, x64 and Xbox 360 all appear to create spurious padding in classes.

Though this article focuses on 32-bit platforms for the sake of simplicity, 64-bit Windows is affected, too.

The problem becomes even worse with larger alignment requirements, for instance with SSE3 or AltiVec types that require 16-byte storage alignment such as _FP128:

class Quux
    virtual void Hello() {}

    float f;     /* 4 bytes */
    _FP128 dd;   /* 16 bytes */

This is the GCC memory layout on both 32-bit and 64-bit platforms:

byte & 0--3 & 4--7 & 8--11 & 12--15
     & 16--19 & 20--23 & 24--27 & 28--31 \\
field (32-bit) & \textit{vfptr}
                & \texttt{float f;}
                & \multicolumn{2}{|c|}{\textit{padding}}
                & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\texttt{\_FP128 dd;}} \\
field (64-bit) & \multicolumn{2}{|c|}{\textit{vfptr}}
               & \texttt{float f;}
               & \textit{padding}
               & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\texttt{\_FP128 dd;}} \\

The padding there is perfectly normal and expected, because of the alignment requirements for dd.

But this is how Visual Studio decides to lay it out:

byte & 0--3 & 4--7 & 8--11 & 12--15
     & 16--19 & 20--23 & 24--27 & 28--31
     & 32--35 & 36--39 & 40--43 & 44--47 \\
field (32-bit) & \textit{vfptr}
               & \multicolumn{3}{|c|}{\textit{padding}}
               & \texttt{float f;}
               & \multicolumn{3}{|c|}{\textit{padding}}
               & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\texttt{\_FP128 dd;}} \\
field (64-bit) & \multicolumn{2}{|c|}{\textit{vfptr}}
               & \multicolumn{2}{|c|}{\textit{padding}}
               & \texttt{float f;}
               & \multicolumn{3}{|c|}{\textit{padding}}
               & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\texttt{\_FP128 dd;}} \\

That is 16 lost bytes, both on 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows.


There is fortunately a workaround if you want to get rid of the useless padding. It is so trivial that it actually makes me angry that the problem exists in the first place.

This will get you your bytes back:

class EmptyBase
    virtual ~EmptyBase() {}

class Bar : public EmptyBase
    virtual void Hello() {}

    float f;     /* 4 bytes */
    double d;    /* 8 bytes */

And this is the size of Bar on the same 32-bit platforms:

Platform sizeof(Bar)
Linux x86 (gcc) 16
Linux ARMv9 (gcc) 16
Win32 (gcc) 16
Win32 (Visual Studio 2010) 16
Xbox 360 (Visual Studio 2010) 16
PlayStation 3 (gcc) 16
PlayStation 3 (SNC) 16
Mac OS X x86 (gcc) 16

Phew. Sanity restored.

byte & 0 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & 7
     & 8 & 9 & 10 & 11 & 12 & 13 & 14 & 15 \\
\texttt{EmptyBase} fields & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\textit{vfptr}}
                          & \multicolumn{12}{|c|}{} \\
\texttt{Bar} fields & \multicolumn{4}{c}{\texttt{EmptyBase}}
                    & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\texttt{float f;}}
                    & \multicolumn{8}{|c|}{\texttt{double d;}} \\

The compiler is a lot less confused now: it no longer has to create space for a vfptr in Bar since it is technically already part of EmptyBase.


Lessons learned:

  • The pointer to the vtable isn’t just like any other pointer.
  • Various C++ ABIs have different stances on padding and alignment.
  • Inheriting from an empty abstract class can make your objects smaller on Windows and Xbox 360!
  • Design decisions can haunt you for decades!

The workaround is so simple that it sounds like a good idea to always use it, preemptively.

LINK : fatal error LNK1104: cannot open file 'XAPID.lib'

Ever got a link error for a library that was referenced nowhere in your Visual Studio project or even in the final link.exe command line? Here's a hint: check the contents of static libraries, too. They may be pulling unexpected dependencies behind your back!

If the static library is part of your solution, here is another hint: check that the [Configuration Properties] >> [C/C++] >> [Code Generation] >> [Runtime Library] configuration values match across projects.

Beyond De Bruijn: fast binary logarithm of a 10-bit number

Recently I needed a method for retrieving the binary logarithm of a 10-bit number (for the curious, it was for the purpose of converting between 32-bit and 16-bit floating point numbers).

Computing the binary logarithm is equivalent to knowing the position of the highest order set bit. For instance, log2(0x1) is 0 and log2(0x100) is 8.

One well known method for fast binary logarithm is presented at Bit Twiddling Hacks. It is a two-step method where first all lower bits are set to 1 and then a De Bruijn-like sequence is used to perform a table lookup:

int fastlog2(uint32_t v)
    static const int MultiplyDeBruijnBitPosition[32] = 
        0, 9, 1, 10, 13, 21, 2, 29, 11, 14, 16, 18, 22, 25, 3, 30,
        8, 12, 20, 28, 15, 17, 24, 7, 19, 27, 23, 6, 26, 5, 4, 31

    v |= v >> 1;
    v |= v >> 2;
    v |= v >> 4;
    v |= v >> 8;
    v |= v >> 16;

    return MultiplyDeBruijnBitPosition[(uint32_t)(v * 0x07C4ACDDU) >> 27];

That is 12 integer operations and a table lookup.


It should be obvious what the sequence of operations on v does: fill the integer with ones starting from the highest order bit. Here are a few examples of what happens to v at each step:

v v |= v >> 1 v |= v >> 2 v |= v >> 4 v |= v >> 8 v |= v >> 16
0x0001 0x0001 0x0001 0x0001 0x0001 0x0001
0x0002 0x0003 0x0003 0x0003 0x0003 0x0003
0x0003 0x0003 0x0003 0x0003 0x0003 0x0003
0x0004 0x0006 0x0007 0x0007 0x0007 0x0007
0x0100 0x0180 0x01e0 0x01fe 0x01ff 0x01ff
0x80000000 0xc0000000 0xf0000000 0xff000000 0xffff0000 0xffffffff

There is one obvious optimisation available: since the input is only 10-bit, the last shift operation v |= v >> 16 can be omitted because the final value was already reached.

int fastlog2(uint32_t v)
    static const int MultiplyDeBruijnBitPosition[32] = 
        0, 9, 1, 10, 13, 21, 2, 29, 11, 14, 16, 18, 22, 25, 3, 30,
        8, 12, 20, 28, 15, 17, 24, 7, 19, 27, 23, 6, 26, 5, 4, 31

    v |= v >> 1;
    v |= v >> 2;
    v |= v >> 4;
    v |= v >> 8;

    return MultiplyDeBruijnBitPosition[(uint32_t)(v * 0x07C4ACDDU) >> 27];

10 instructions instead of 12. Not really amazing, but worth mentioning.

Optimising more?

Could we do better? Now the last line is v |= v >> 8; and it is only useful to propagate the 9th and 10th bits to positions 1 and 2. What happens if we omit that line? Let’s see:

  • For most values of v, the expected value is obtained.
  • For values of v with a highest order bit at 9th position, 0x1fe could be obtained instead of 0x1ff.
  • For values of v with a highest order bit at 10th position, one of 0x3fc, 0x3fd or 0x3fe could be obtained instead of 0x3ff.

The list of possible output values would therefore be 0x1, 0x3, 0x7, 0xf, 0x1f, 0x3f, 0x7f, 0xff, 0x1fe, 0x1ff, 0x3fc, 0x3fd, 0x3fe, 0x3ff. What happens to these values when multiplying them with the De Bruijn sequence? Let's see:

v v * 0x07C4ACDDU) >> 27
0x1 0
0x3 2
0x7 6
0xf 14
0x1f 30
0x3f 29
0x7f 27
0xff 23
0x1fe 15
0x1ff 16
0x3fc 30
0x3fd 31
0x3fe 0
0x3ff 1

Damn! Two values are colliding. It looks like we cannot omit the last line after all.

Beyond De Bruijn

Let’s give another try at the problem. Usually De Bruijn sequences are built using either nontrivial algorithms, or brute force. Maybe we could find another sequence that has no collision? Or a sequence that is not a De Bruijn sequence but that works for our problem?

Well, let’s just brute force!

(2 seconds later)

int fastlog2(uint32_t v)
    static const int MagicTable[16] = 
        0, 1, 2, 8, -1, 3, 5, 9, 9, 7, 4, -1, 6, -1, -1, -1

    v |= v >> 1;
    v |= v >> 2;
    v |= v >> 4;

    return MagicTable[(uint32_t)(v * 0x5a1a1a2u) >> 28];

Down to 8 instructions instead of 12. And the lookup table is now half the size!


It is possible for multiply-and-shift techniques similar to the De Bruijn sequence algorithm to exist for a larger set of problems. Brute forcing the search is a totally valid method for 32-bit multiplication.

The code used for this article is included in the attached file.

Maths trick: doing fewer comparisons

Note: this is not an optimisation. It is just one more tool you should have in your toolbox when looking for optimisations. It may be useful.

This is the trick:

\[\min(x,y) = \dfrac{x + y - |x - y|}{2}\]
\[\max(x,y) = \dfrac{x + y + |x - y|}{2}\]

You can check for yourself that it is always true: when x > y, |x - y| is the same as x - y, etc.

What good is it for? There is often an implicit comparison in min or max. It might be interesting to replace it with a call to the branchless fabs.

Example usage

Consider the following code:

float a, b, c, d;
/* ... */
return (a > b) && (c > d);

That kind of code is often used eg. in collision checks, where a lot of tests can be done. This code does two comparisons. On some architectures, this means two branches. Not always something you want.

The test condition is equivalent to:

(a - b > 0) && (c - d > 0)

Now when are two given numbers both positive? That is if and only if the smallest is positive:

min(a - b, c - d) > 0

We may now use our trick:

(a - b) + (c - d) - |(a - b) - (c + d)| > 0

And so the code could be rewritten as such:

float a, b, c, d;
/* ... */
return (a - b) + (c - d) > fabsf((a - b) - (c - d));

We basically replaced the additional test with a call to fabsf and some additions/subtractions. It may be possible to reorganise the input data so that this second version performs better.

C++ trick: selectively restrict implicit conversions

TL;DR: given a class Foo with an implicit constructor from int, how to allow the implicit conversion in f(42); but not in g(42); where both f and g take a Foo const & argument?


So I have this real class that performs numeric operations that I want use just like any other C++ numeric type. For instance, I can write the following:

float f = 15, g = 3.5;
int x = f / g;

If I decide that I need double precision, I can write:

double f = 15, g = 3.5;
int x = f / g;

And of course, using my real class for even higher precision:

real f = 15, g = 3.5;
int x = f / g;

I like that. I can just write code as usual, and when I need higher precision, I use real instead of double. It's transparent and convenient.

Implementation example

Here is a highly simplified example of a real class:

struct real
    inline real(double d) : m_value(d) {}
    inline operator int() const { return (int)m_value; }
    /* ... */
    long double m_value;

It is possible to write real f = 15 because of the implicit constructor. Actually, C++ constructors are always implicit unless specified otherwise.

It is possible to write int x = f / g because of the conversion operator.

So far, so good.

The problem with implicit promotion

Here is how fabs could be implemented:

real fabs(real const &r)
    return real(r.m_value < 0 ? -r.m_value : r.m_value);

But now we have a problem. A subtle problem. Consider the following code:

double x = fabs(-5.0);

What does this do? Well, it depends. It depends whether <cmath> was included or not. Because if <cmath> wasn’t included, then that code is going to automatically promote -5.0 to a real and call our custom function instead of the one provided by the math library! With no compile-time warning!

This is confusing. It should not happen. But it is a well known problem and there are several obvious workarounds:

  1. What most professional C++ programmers will tell you: use namespaces
  2. Mark the real(int) constructor explicit

The problem with 1. is that I am not a professional C++ programmer. I am a C programmer who uses C++. I use preprocessor macros and printf and memalign and goto. Try and stop me!

The problem with 2. is that I can no longer write real f = 15, I would need real f(15) or real f = real(15) instead. This is not acceptable, I want real to behave exactly like float and others, to the fullest extent of what the language allows.

Another solution

Fortunately, the C++ standard has a solution for us: “Implicit conversions will be performed [...] if the parameter type contains no template-parameters that participate in template argument deduction” (ISO/IEC 14882:1998, section You cannot have implicit conversion and template argument deduction at the same time.

It means we just have to make fabs a template function! Which means making real a template class, too.

A quick way to fix real would be:

/* N is unused */
template<int N> struct real_base
    inline real_base(double d) : m_value(d) {}
    inline operator int() const { return (int)m_value; }
    /* ... */
    long double m_value;

typedef real_base<0> real;

The template argument is useless, unfortunately. It will just have to be here, forever. But who knows, you might find a use for it one day.

And to fix fabs:

/* A generic template declaration is needed */
template<int N> real_base<N> fabs(real_base<N> const &r);

/* Here we just add template<> to the previous version */
real fabs(real const &r)
    return real(r.m_value < 0 ? -r.m_value : r.m_value);

So, what happens with double x = fabs(-5.0); when we forget to include <cmath> now? Well, here is what GCC says:

In function ‘int main()’:
error: no matching function for call to ‘fabs(double)’
note: candidate is:
note: template<int N> real_base<N> fabs(const real_base<N>&)

It seems we’ve successfully managed to avoid the problematic implicit conversion, yet still allow it in places where it was useful!

So what is the rule? It’s simple: where implicit conversion should not be allowed, make the function a specialised template function.

  • Posted: 2012-02-08 22:14 (Updated: 2012-02-09 00:31)
  • Author: sam
  • Categories: code tip c++
  • Comments (1244)

C/C++ trick: static string hash generation

I am always interested in having the compiler do more things for me, without giving away code clarity or performance for the convenience. Today a colleague linked me to Pope Kim's Compile-Time Hash String Generation article which is a perfect example of the things I like: hidden syntactic sugar that does useful things.

Inline hash function

The goal: for a given hash function, write something like HASH_STRING("funny_bone") in the code, and have the compiler directly replace it with the result, 0xf1c6fd7f.

The solution: inline the function and hope that the compiler will be clever enough.

#include <string.h>
#define HASH(str) generateHash(str, strlen(str))

inline unsigned int generateHash(const char *string, size_t len)
    unsigned int hash = 0;
    for(size_t i = 0; i < len; ++i)
        hash = 65599 * hash + string[i];
    return hash ^ (hash >> 16);

Unfortunately Pope ran into several very problematic issues:

  • requires heavy optimisation flags (/O2 with Visual Studio, -O3 with g++)
  • limited to 10-character strings with Visual Studio
  • limited to 17-character strings with g++

I could personally reproduce the g++ limitations. I believe they are more related to loop unrolling limits than to the actual string size, but they indeed make the technique unusable in practice.

Macro-based hash function

If you read my previous article about C/C++ preprocessor LUT generation, you may remember that it used preprocessor tricks to do loop unrolling.

Hence the following implementation:

#include <string.h>
#include <stdint.h>
#include <stdio.h>

#define H1(s,i,x)   (x*65599u+(uint8_t)s[(i)<strlen(s)?strlen(s)-1-(i):strlen(s)])
#define H4(s,i,x)   H1(s,i,H1(s,i+1,H1(s,i+2,H1(s,i+3,x))))
#define H16(s,i,x)  H4(s,i,H4(s,i+4,H4(s,i+8,H4(s,i+12,x))))
#define H64(s,i,x)  H16(s,i,H16(s,i+16,H16(s,i+32,H16(s,i+48,x))))
#define H256(s,i,x) H64(s,i,H64(s,i+64,H64(s,i+128,H64(s,i+192,x))))

#define HASH(s)    ((uint32_t)(H256(s,0,0)^(H256(s,0,0)>>16)))

It has the following properties:

  • works in C in addition to C++
  • strings are always optimised away by gcc or g++ (but not always the computation itself)
  • hash computation is optimised away by gcc or g++ even with -O, -O1 or -Os
  • string size limit is 256 characters (probably more than enough for most uses) and can be manually increased or decreased

The following code:

int main(void)
    printf("%08x\n", HASH("funny_bone"));
    printf("%08x\n", HASH("incredibly_large_string_that_gcc_groks_easily"));

Is (correctly) optimised to this with gcc -Os:

  movl    $-238617217, %esi
  movl    $.LC0, %edi
  xorl    %eax, %eax
  call    printf
  movl    $-453669173, %esi
  movl    $.LC0, %edi
  xorl    %eax, %eax
  call    printf

I haven't tested it with Visual Studio. Feedback from this compiler would be very appreciated!

  • Posted: 2012-01-12 18:05 (Updated: 2012-01-12 18:07)
  • Author: sam
  • Categories: code tip
  • Comments (3962)

Better function approximations: Taylor vs. Remez

You may have once crossed this particular piece of magic:

$\sin(a) = a - \dfrac{a^3}{3!} + \dfrac{a^5}{5!} - \dfrac{a^7}{7!} + \dfrac{a^9}{9!} + \dots$

The right part is the Taylor series of sin around 0. It converges very quickly to the actual value of sin(a). This allows a computer to compute the sine of a number with arbitrary precision.

And when I say it’s magic, it’s because it is! Some functions, called the entire functions, can be computed everywhere using one single formula! Other functions may require a different formula for different intervals; they are the analytic functions, a superset of the entire functions. In general, Taylor series are an extremely powerful tool to compute the value of a given function with very high accuracy, because for several common functions such as sin, tan or exp the terms of the series are easy to compute and, when implemented on a computer, can even be stored in a table at compile time.

Approximating sin with Taylor series

This is how one would approximate sin using 7 terms of its Taylor series on the [-π/2, π/2] interval. The more terms, the better the precision, but we’ll stop at 7 for now:

static double taylorsin(double x)
    static const 
    double a0 =  1.0,
           a1 = -1.666666666666666666666666666666e-1,  /* -1/3! */
           a2 =  8.333333333333333333333333333333e-3,  /*  1/5! */
           a3 = -1.984126984126984126984126984126e-4,  /* -1/7! */
           a4 =  2.755731922398589065255731922398e-6,  /*  1/9! */
           a5 = -2.505210838544171877505210838544e-8,  /* -1/11! */
           a6 =  1.605904383682161459939237717015e-10; /*  1/13! */
    double x2 = x * x;
    return x * (a0 + x2 * (a1 + x2 * (a2 + x2
             * (a3 + x2 * (a4 + x2 * (a5 + x2 * a6))))));

And you may think…

/raw-attachment/blog/2011/12/14/understanding-motion-in-games/derp.png “Oh wow that is awesome! So simple for such a difficult function. Also, since I read your masterpiece about polynomial evaluation I know how to improve that function so that it is very fast!”

Well, actually, no.


If you are approximating a function over an interval using its Taylor series then either you or the person who taught you is a fucking idiot because a Taylor series approximates a function near a fucking point, not over a fucking interval, and if you don’t understand why it’s important then please read on because that shit is gonna blow your mind.

Error measurement

Let’s have a look at how much error our approximation introduces. The formula for the absolute error is simple:

$\text{E}(x) = \left|\sin(x) - \text{taylorsin}(x)\right|$

And this is how it looks like over our interval:

You can see that the error skyrockets near the edges of the [-π/2, π/2] interval.

/raw-attachment/blog/2011/12/14/understanding-motion-in-games/derp.png “Well the usual way to fix this is to split the interval in two or more parts, and use a different Taylor series for each interval.”

Oh, really? Well, let’s see the error on [-π/4, π/4] instead:

I see no difference! The error is indeed smaller, but again, it becomes extremely large at the edges of the interval. And before you start suggesting reducing the interval even more, here is the error on [-π/8, π/8] now:

I hope this makes it clear that:

  • the further from the centre of the interval, the larger the error
  • the error distribution is very unbalanced
  • the maximum error on [-π/2, π/2] is about 6.63e-10

And now I am going to show you why that maximum error value is pathetic.

A better approximation

Consider this new function:

static double minimaxsin(double x)
    static const
    double a0 =  1.0,
           a1 = -1.666666666640169148537065260055e-1,
           a2 =  8.333333316490113523036717102793e-3,
           a3 = -1.984126600659171392655484413285e-4,
           a4 =  2.755690114917374804474016589137e-6,
           a5 = -2.502845227292692953118686710787e-8,
           a6 =  1.538730635926417598443354215485e-10;
    double x2 = x * x;
    return x * (a0 + x2 * (a1 + x2 * (a2 + x2
             * (a3 + x2 * (a4 + x2 * (a5 + x2 * a6))))));

It doesn’t look very different, right? Right. The values a0 to a6 are slightly different, but the rest of the code is strictly the same.

Yet what a difference it makes! Look at this error curve:

That new function makes it obvious that:

  • the error distribution is better spread over the interval
  • the maximum error on [-π/2, π/2] is about 4.96e-14

Check that last figure again. The new maximum error isn’t 10% better, or maybe twice as good. It is more than ten thousand times smaller!!

The minimax polynomial

The above coefficients describe a minimax polynomial: that is, the polynomial that minimises a given error when approximating a given function. I will not go into the mathematical details, but just remember this: if the function is sufficiently well-suited (as sin, tan, exp etc. are), then the minimax polynomial can be found.

The problem? It’s hard to find. The most popular algorithm to find it is the Remez exchange algorithm, and few people really seem to understand how it works (or there would be a lot less Taylor series). I am not going to explain it right now. Usually you need professional math tools such as Maple or Mathematica if you want to compute a minimax polynomial. The Boost library is a notable exception, though.

But you saw the results, so stop using Taylor series. Spending some time finding the minimax polynomial is definitely worth it. This is why I am working on a Remez framework that I will make public and free for everyone to use, modify and do what the fuck they want. In the meantime, if you have functions to numerically approximate, or Taylor-based implementations that you would like to improve, let me know in the comments! This will be great use cases for me.

C/C++ trick: static lookup table generation

There are two major ways of using lookup tables (LUTs) in C/C++ code:

  • build them at runtime,
  • embed them in the code.

One major advantage of runtime initialisation is the choice between static initialisation (at program startup), or lazy initialisation (on demand) to save memory. Also, the generating code can be complex, or use information that is only available at runtime.

In the case of an embedded table, the generation cost is only at compile time, which can be very useful. Also, the compiler may take advantage of its early knowledge of the table contents to optimise code. However, quite often the content of embedded tables is abstruse and hardly useful to someone viewing the code. Usually this is due to the use of an external program for generation, sometimes in a completely different language. But the generation can also often be done using the C/C++ preprocessor.

Practical example

Consider the bit interleaving routine at Sean Eron Anderson's Bit Twiddling Hacks page (which, by the way, I recommend you read and bookmark). It uses the following LUT (shortened for brevity):

static const unsigned short MortonTable256[256] = 
  0x0000, 0x0001, 0x0004, 0x0005, 0x0010, 0x0011, 0x0014, 0x0015, 
  0x0040, 0x0041, 0x0044, 0x0045, 0x0050, 0x0051, 0x0054, 0x0055, 
  0x0100, 0x0101, 0x0104, 0x0105, 0x0110, 0x0111, 0x0114, 0x0115, 
  ... 32 lines in total ...
  0x5540, 0x5541, 0x5544, 0x5545, 0x5550, 0x5551, 0x5554, 0x5555

The MortonTable256 table has, as its name suggests, 256 elements. It was pregenerated by some external piece of code which probably looked like this:

for (int i = 0; i < 256; i++)
    MortonTable256[i] = (i & 1) | ((i & 2) << 1) | ((i & 4) << 2) | ((i & 8) << 3);

The problem with that external piece of code is that it is external. You cannot write it in this form and have it fill the table at compile time.

If you only take the output of this table, the information on how the table was created is lost. It makes it impractical to build another table that has, for instance, all values shifted one bit left. Even if such a table was created using a modified version of the above code, switching between the two tables would be a hassle unless both versions were kept between preprocessor tests.

Preprocessor iterator

Here is one way to get the best of both worlds. First, declare the following iterator macros. They can be declared somewhere in a global .h, maybe with more descriptive names:

#define S4(i)    S1((i)),   S1((i)+1),     S1((i)+2),     S1((i)+3)
#define S16(i)   S4((i)),   S4((i)+4),     S4((i)+8),     S4((i)+12)
#define S64(i)   S16((i)),  S16((i)+16),   S16((i)+32),   S16((i)+48)
#define S256(i)  S64((i)),  S64((i)+64),   S64((i)+128),  S64((i)+192)
#define S1024(i) S256((i)), S256((i)+256), S256((i)+512), S256((i)+768)

Their purpose is simple: calling eg. S16(i) will expand to S1(i), S1(i+1), …, S1(i+15). Similarly, S256(i) will call S1 with values from i to i + 255 times.

And this is how to use them in our example:

static const unsigned short MortonTable256[256] = 
#define S1(i) ((i & 1) | ((i & 2) << 1) | ((i & 4) << 2) | ((i & 8) << 3))
#undef S1

That's it! The table will be built at compile time, and you get to keep the logic behind it.

A more complex example

Jeroen van der Zijp's fast half float conversions paper describes table-based methods to convert between 16-bit and 32-bit floating point values. The construction of one of the LUTs is as follows:

void generatetables(){
  for(unsigned int i=0; i<256; ++i){
    int e=i-127;
    if(e<-24){                  // Very small numbers map to zero
    } else if(e<-14){             // Small numbers map to denorms
      basetable[i|0x100]=(0x0400>>(-e-14)) | 0x8000;
    } else if(e<=15){             // Normal numbers just lose precision
      basetable[i|0x100]=((e+15)<<10) | 0x8000;
    } else if(e<128){             // Large numbers map to Infinity
    } else{                       // Infinity and NaN's stay Infinity and NaN's

And this is the compile-time version :

static uint16_t const basetable[512] =
#define S1(i) (((i) < 103) ? 0x0000 : \
               ((i) < 113) ? 0x0400 >> (0x1f & (113 - (i))) : \
               ((i) < 143) ? ((i) - 112) << 10 : 0x7c00)
#undef S1
#define S1(i) (0x8000 | basetable[i])
#undef S1

In this case the macro code is slightly bigger and was slightly rewritten, but is no more complicated than the original code. Note also the elegant reuse of previous values in the second half of the table.

This trick is certainly not new, but since I have found practical uses for it, I thought you may find it useful, too.

  • Posted: 2011-12-20 22:21 (Updated: 2011-12-20 22:26)
  • Author: sam
  • Categories: code tip
  • Comments (1098)

Understanding basic motion calculations in games: Euler vs. Verlet

During the past month, I have found myself in the position of having to explain the contents of this article to six different persons, either at work or over the Internet. Though there are a lot of articles on the subject, it’s still as if almost everyone gets it wrong. I was still polishing this article when I had the opportunity to explain it a seventh time.

And two days ago a coworker told me the source code of a certain framework disagreed with me… The kind of framework that probably has three NDAs preventing me from even thinking about it.

Well that framework got it wrong, too. So now I’m mad at the entire world for no rational reason other than the ever occurring realisation of the amount of wrong out there, and this article is but a catharsis to deal with my uncontrollable rage.

A simple example

Imagine a particle with position Pos and velocity Vel affected by acceleration Accel. Let’s say for the moment that the acceleration is constant. This is the case when only gravity is present.

A typical game engine loop will update position with regards to a timestep (often the duration of a frame) using the following method, known as Euler integration:

Particle::Update(float dt)
    Accel = vec3(0, 0, -9.81); /* Constant acceleration: gravity */
    Vel = Vel + Accel * dt;    /* New, timestep-corrected velocity */
    Pos = Pos + Vel * dt;      /* New, timestep-corrected position */

This comes directly from the definition of acceleration:

\[a(t) = \frac{\mathrm{d}}{\mathrm{d}t}v(t)\]
\[v(t) = \frac{\mathrm{d}}{\mathrm{d}t}p(t)\]

Putting these two differential equations into Euler integration gives us the above code.

Measuring accuracy

Typical particle trajectories would look a bit like this:

These are three runs of the above simulation with the same initial values.

  • once with maximum accuracy,
  • once at 60 frames per second,
  • once at 30 frames per second.

You can notice the slight inaccuracy in the trajectories.

You may think…

“Oh, it could be worse; it’s just the expected inaccuracy with different framerate values.”

Well, no.

Just… no.

If you are updating positions this way and you do not have a really good reason for doing so then either you or the person who taught you is a fucking idiot and should not have been allowed to write so-called physics code in the first place and I most certainly hope to humbly bestow enlightenment upon you in the form of a massive cluebat and don’t you dare stop reading this sentence before I’m finished.

Why this is wrong

When doing kinematics, computing position from acceleration is an integration process. First you integrate acceleration with respect to time to get velocity, then you integrate velocity to get position.

\[v(t) = \int_0^t a(t)\,\mathrm{d}t\]
\[p(t) = \int_0^t v(t)\,\mathrm{d}t\]

The integral of a function can be seen as the area below its curve. So, how do you properly get the integral of our velocity between t and t + dt, ie. the green area below?

It’s not by doing new_velocity * dt (left image).

It’s not by doing old_velocity * dt either (middle image).

It’s obviously by doing (old_velocity + new_velocity) * 0.5 * dt (right image).

And now for the correct code

This is what the update method should look like. It’s called Velocity Verlet integration (not strictly the same as Verlet integration, but with a similar error order) and it always gives the perfect, exact position of the particle in the case of constant acceleration, even with the nastiest framerate you can think of. Even at two frames per second.

Particle::Update(float dt)
    Accel = vec3(0, 0, -9.81);
    vec3 OldVel = Vel;
    Vel = Vel + Accel * dt;
    Pos = Pos + (OldVel + Vel) * 0.5 * dt;

And the resulting trajectories at different framerates:

Further readings

“Oh wow thank you. But what if acceleration is not constant, like in real life?”

Well I am glad you asked.

Euler integration and Verlet integration are part of a family of iterative methods known as the Runge-Kutta methods, respectively of first order and second order. There are many more for you to discover and study.

  • Richard Lord did this nice and instructive animated presentation about several integration methods.
  • Glenn Fiedler also explains in this article why idiots use Euler, and provides a nice introduction to RK4 together with source code.
  • Florian Boesch did a thorough coverage of various integration methods for the specific application of gravitation (it is one of the rare cases where Euler seems to actually perform better).

In practice, Verlet will still only give you an approximation of your particle’s position. But it will almost always be a much better approximation than Euler. If you need even more accuracy, look at the fourth-order Runge-Kutta (RK4) method. Your physics will suck a lot less, I guarantee it.


I would like to thank everyone cited in this article, explicitly or implicitly, as well as the commenters below who spotted mistakes and provided corrections or improvements.

Playing with the CPU pipeline

This article will show how basic knowledge of a modern CPU’s instruction pipeline can help micro-optimise code at very little cost, using a real world example: the approximation of a trigonometric function. All this without necessarily having to look at lines of assembly code.

The code used for this article is included in the attached file.

Evaluating polynomials

Who needs polynomials anyway? We’re writing games, not a computer algebra system, after all. But wait! Taylor series are an excellent mathematical tool for approximating certain classes of functions. For instance, this is the Taylor series of sin(x) near x = 0:

\[\sin(x) = x - \dfrac{x^3}{3!} + \dfrac{x^5}{5!} - \dfrac{x^7}{7!} + \dfrac{x^9}{9!} - \dfrac{x^{11}}{11!} + \dfrac{x^{13}}{13!} - \dfrac{x^{15}}{15!} + O(x^{16})\]

Truncating the series at the 15th power will compute sin(x) with an absolute error no greater than 1e-11 in the range [-π/2; π/2], and 2e-16 in the range [-π/4; π/4].

However, a better approximation known as the minimax polynomial (probably featured in an upcoming article) will give a maximum absolute error of about 2e-16 on the whole [-π/2; π/2] range:

static double a0 = +1.0;
static double a1 = -1.666666666666580809419428987894207e-1;
static double a2 = +8.333333333262716094425037738346873e-3;
static double a3 = -1.984126982005911439283646346964929e-4;
static double a4 = +2.755731607338689220657382272783309e-6;
static double a5 = -2.505185130214293595900283001271652e-8;
static double a6 = +1.604729591825977403374012010065495e-10;
static double a7 = -7.364589573262279913270651228486670e-13;

double sin1(double x)
    return a0 * x
         + a1 * x * x * x
         + a2 * x * x * x * x * x
         + a3 * x * x * x * x * x * x * x
         + a4 * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x
         + a5 * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x
         + a6 * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x
         + a7 * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x * x;

That is 64 multiplications and 7 additions, though compiler options such as GCC’s -ffast-math will help factor the expression in order to perform fewer operations.

It is possible to help the CPU by noticing that a term such as x^9 can be computed in only one operation if x^2 and x^7 are already known, leading to the following code:

double sin2(double x)
    double ret, y = x, x2 = x * x;
    ret = a0 * y; y *= x2;
    ret += a1 * y; y *= x2;
    ret += a2 * y; y *= x2;
    ret += a3 * y; y *= x2;
    ret += a4 * y; y *= x2;
    ret += a5 * y; y *= x2;
    ret += a6 * y; y *= x2;
    ret += a7 * y;
    return ret;

That is now only 16 multiplications and 7 additions. But it is possible to do even better using the Horner form of a polynomial evaluation:

\[\sum_{i=0}^n a_i x^i = a_0 + x * (a_1 + x * (a_2 + x * (\dots + x * a_n)))\dots)\]

Leading to the following code:

double sin3(double x)
    double x2 = x * x;
    return x * (a0 + x2 * (a1 + x2 * (a2 + x2 * (a3 + x2 * (a4 + x2 * (a5 + x2 * (a6 + x2 * a7)))))));

We are down to 9 multiplications and 7 additions. There is probably no way to be faster, is there? Let’s see…


Here are the timings in nanoseconds for the above code, compared with the glibc’s sin() function. The test CPU is an Intel® Core™ i7-2620M CPU at 2.70GHz. The functions were compiled using -O3 -ffast-math:

function sin sin1 sin2 sin3
nanoseconds per call 22.518 16.406 16.658 25.276

Wait, what? Our superbly elegant function, performing only 9 multiplications, is actually slower than the 64-multiplication version? Which itself is as fast as the 16-multiplication one? Surely we overlooked something.

That’s right. We ignored the CPU pipeline.

The instruction pipeline

In order to execute an instruction, such as “add A and B into C”, a CPU needs to do at least the following:

  • fetch the instruction (ie. read it from the program’s memory)
  • decode the instruction
  • read the instruction’s operands (ie. A and B)
  • execute the instruction
  • write the result in memory or in registers (in our case, C)

On a modern Intel® CPU, the execution step only accounts for 1/10 or even 1/16 of the total execution time. The idea behind pipelining is simple: while executing an instruction, the CPU can often already read the operands for the next one.

But there is a problem with this strategy: if the next instruction depends on the result of the current one, the CPU cannot read the next operands yet. This is called a read-after-write hazard, and most usually causes a pipeline stall: the CPU just does nothing until it can carry on.

For the sake of simplicity, imagine the CPU’s pipeline depth is 3. At a given time, it can fetch, execute and finish one instruction:

instruction is being fetched, executed or finished
instruction could start, but needs to wait for the result of a previous instruction

This is how the CPU would execute A = (a + b) * (c + d):

time → total: 7
1 B = a + b
2 C = c + d
3 A = B * C

The c + d operation can be started very early because it does not depend on the result of a + b. This is called instruction-level parallelism. However, the final B * C operation needs to wait for all previous instructions to finish.

Since every operation in sin3() depends on the previous one, this is how it would execute that function:

time → total: 48
1 x2 = x * x
2 A = a7 * x2
3 A += a6
4 A *= x2
5 A += a5
6 A *= x2
7 A += a4
8 A *= x2
9 A += a3
10 A *= x2
11 A += a2
12 A *= x2
13 A += a1
14 A *= x2
15 A += a0
16 A *= x

These 9 multiplications and 7 additions are done in 48 units of time. No instruction-level parallelism is possible because each instruction needs to wait for the previous one to finish.

The secret behind sin2()’s performance is that the large number of independent operations allows the compiler to reorganise the computation so that the instructions can be scheduled in a much more efficient way. This is roughly how GCC compiled it:

time → total: 30
1 x2 = x * x
2 A = a7 * x2
3 x3 = x2 * x
4 A += a6
5 B = a1 * x3
6 x5 = x3 * x2
7 A *= x2
8 C = a2 * x5
9 B += x
10 x7 = x5 * x2
11 A += a5
12 D = a3 * x7
13 B += C
14 x9 = x7 * x2
15 B += D
16 E = a4 * x9
17 x11 = x9 * x2
18 B += E
19 A *= x11
20 A += B

These 13 multiplications and 7 additions are executed in 30 units of time instead of 48 for the previous version. The compiler has been rather clever here: the number of ○’s is kept small.

Note that 30 / 48 = 0.625, and the ratio between sin2 and sin3’s timings is 16.658 / 25.276 = 0.659. Reality matches theory pretty well!

Going further

We have seen that increasing the number of operations in order to break dependencies between CPU instructions allowed to help the compiler perform better optimisations taking advantage of the CPU pipeline. But that was at the cost of 40% more multiplications. Maybe there is a way to improve the scheduling without adding so many instructions?

Luckily there are other ways to evaluate a polynomial.

Even-Odd form and similar schemes

Consider our 8th order polynomial:

\[P(x) = a_0 x + a_1 x^3 + a_2 x^5 + a_3 x^7 + a_4 x^9 + a_5 x^{11} + a_6 x^{13} + a_7 x^{15}\]

Separating the odd and even coefficients, it can be rewritten as:

\[P(x) = x \left((a_0 + a_2 x^4 + a_4 x^8 + a_6 x^{12}) + x^2 (a_1 + a_3 x^4 + a_5 x^8 + a_7 x^{12})\right)\]

Which using Horner’s form yields to:

\[P(x) = x \left((a_0 + x^4 (a_2 + x^4 (a_4 + x^4 + a_6))) + x^2 (a_1 + x^4 (a_3 + x^4 (a_5 + x^4 a_7)))\right)\]

This polynomial evaluation scheme is called the Even-Odd scheme. It only has 9 multiplications and 7 additions (only one multiplication more than the optimal case). It results in the following C code:

double sin4(double x)
    double x2 = x * x;
    double x4 = x2 * x2;
    double A = a0 + x4 * (a2 + x4 * (a4 + x4 * a6));
    double B = a1 + x4 * (a3 + x4 * (a5 + x4 * a7));
    return x * (A + x2 * B);

And this is the expected scheduling:

time → total: 33
1 x2 = x * x
2 x4 = x2 * x2
3 B = a7 * x4
4 A = a6 * x4
5 B += a5
6 A += a4
7 B *= x4
8 A *= x4
9 B += a3
10 A += a2
11 B *= x4
12 A *= x4
13 B += a1
14 A += a0
15 B *= x2
16 A += B
17 A *= x

Still not good enough, but we’re certainly onto something here. Let’s try another decomposition for the polynomial:

\[P(x) = x \left((a_0 + a_3 x^6 + a_6 x^{12}) + x^2 (a_1 + a_4 x^6 + a_7 x^{12}) + x^4(a_2 + a_5 x^6)\right)\]

And using Horner’s form again:

\[P(x) = x \left((a_0 + x^6 (a_3 + x^6 a_6) + x^2 (a_1 + x^6 (a_4 + x^6 a_7)) + x^4(a_2 + x^6 a_5)\right)\]

Resulting in the following code:

double sin5(double x)
    double x2 = x * x;
    double x4 = x2 * x2;
    double x6 = x4 * x2;
    double A = a0 + x6 * (a3 + x6 * a6);
    double B = a1 + x6 * (a4 + x6 * a7);
    double C = a2 + x6 * a5;
    return x * (A + x2 * B + x4 * C);

And the following scheduling:

time → total: 31
1 x2 = x * x
2 x4 = x2 * x2
3 x6 = x4 * x2
4 B = x6 * a7
5 A = x6 * a6
6 C = x6 * a5
7 B += a4
8 A += a3
9 C += a2
10 B *= x6
11 A *= x6
12 C *= x4
13 B += a1
14 A += a0
15 B *= x2
16 A += C
17 A += B
18 A *= x

One more instruction and two units of time better. That’s slightly better, but still not as good as we would like. One problem is that a lot of time is lost waiting for the value x6 to be ready. We need to find computations to do in the meantime to avoid pipeline stalls.

High-Low form

Instead of splitting the polynomial into its even and odd coefficients, we split it into its high and low coefficients:

\[P(x) = x \left((a_0 + a_1 x^2 + a_2 x^4 + a_3 x^6) + x^8 (a_4 + a_5 x^2 + a_6 x^4 + a_7 x^6)\right)\]

And again using Horner’s form:

\[P(x) = x \left((a_0 + x^2 (a_1 + x^2 (a_2 + x^2 a_3))) + x^8 (a_4 + x^2 (a_5 + x^2 (a_6 + x^2 a_7)))\right)\]

The corresponding code is now:

double sin6(double x)
    double x2 = x * x;
    double x4 = x2 * x2;
    double x8 = x4 * x4;
    double A = a0 + x2 * (a1 + x2 * (a2 + x2 * a3));
    double B = a4 + x2 * (a5 + x2 * (a6 + x2 * a7));
    return x * (A + x8 * B);

And the expected scheduling:

time → total: 30
1 x2 = x * x
2 B = x2 * a7
3 A = x2 * a3
4 x4 = x2 * x2
5 B += a6
6 A += a2
7 x8 = x4 * x4
8 B *= x2
9 A *= x2
10 B += a5
11 A += a1
12 B *= x2
13 A *= x2
14 B += a4
15 A += a0
16 B *= x8
17 A += B
18 A *= x

Finally! We now schedule as well as GCC, and with 11 multiplications instead of 13. Still no real performance gain, though.

Pushing the limits

Can we do better? Probably. Remember that each ○ in the above table is a pipeline stall, and any instruction we would insert there would be basically free.

Note the last instruction, A *= x. It causes a stall because it needs to wait for the final value of A, but it would not be necessary if A and B had been multiplied by x beforehands.

Here is a way to do it (bold instructions indicate a new instruction or a modified one):

time → total: 27
1 x2 = x * x
2 B = x2 * a7
3 A = x2 * a3
4 x4 = x2 * x2
5 B += a6
6 A += a2
7 x8 = x4 * x4
8 B *= x2
9 A *= x2
10 x3 = x2 * x
11 B += a5
12 A += a1
13 C = a0 * x
14 B *= x2
15 A *= x3
16 x9 = x8 * x
17 B += a4
18 A += C
19 B *= x9
20 A += B

Excellent! Just as many instructions as GCC, but now with fewer pipeline stalls. I don’t know whether this scheduling is optimal for the (incorrect) assumption of a 3-stage pipeline, but it does look pretty good. Also, loading a0, a1 etc. from memory hasn't been covered for the sake of simplicity.

Anyway, we just need to write the code corresponding to this behaviour, and hope the compiler understands what we need:

double sin7(double x)
    double x2 = x * x;
    double x3 = x2 * x;
    double x4 = x2 * x2;
    double x8 = x4 * x4;
    double x9 = x8 * x;
    double A = x3 * (a1 + x2 * (a2 + x2 * a3));
    double B = a4 + x2 * (a5 + x2 * (a6 + x2 * a7));
    double C = a0 * x;
    return A + C + x9 * B;


It’s time to check the results! Here they are, for all the functions covered in this article:

function sin sin1 sin2 sin3 sin4 sin5 sin6 sin7
nanoseconds per call 22.518 16.406 16.658 25.276 18.666 18.582 16.366 17.470

Damn. All these efforts to understand and refactor a function, and our best effort actually performs amongst the worst!

What did we miss? Actually, this time, nothing. The problem is that GCC didn't understand what we were trying to say in sin7() and proceeded with its own optimisation ideas. Compiling with -O3 instead of -O3 -ffast-math gives a totally different set of timings:

function sin sin1 sin2 sin3 sin4 sin5 sin6 sin7
nanoseconds per call 22.497 30.250 19.865 25.279 18.587 18.958 16.362 15.891

There. We win eventually!

There is a way to still use -ffast-math yet prevent GCC from trying to be too clever. This might be preferable because we do not want to lose the benefits of -ffast-math in other places. By using an architecture-specific assembly construct, we can mark temporary variables as used, effectively telling GCC that the variable needs to be really computed and not optimised away:

double sin7(double x)
    double x2 = x * x;
    double x3 = x2 * x;
    double x4 = x2 * x2;
    double x8 = x4 * x4;
    double x9 = x8 * x;
#if defined __x86_64__
    __asm__("" : "+x" (x3), "+x" (x9));
#elif defined __powerpc__ || defined __powerpc64__
    __asm__("" : "+f" (x3), "+f" (x9));
    __asm__("" : "+m" (x3), "+m" (x9)); /* Out of luck :-( */
    double A = x3 * (a1 + x2 * (a2 + x2 * a3));
    double B = a4 + x2 * (a5 + x2 * (a6 + x2 * a7));
    double C = a0 * x;
    return A + C + x9 * B;

This works on the x86_64 architecture, where "+x" indicates the SSE registers commonly used for floating point calculations, and on the PowerPC, where "+f" can be used. This approach is not portable and it is not clear what should be used on other platforms. Using "+m" is generic but often means a useless store into memory; however, on x86 it is still a noticeable gain.

And our final results, this time with the full -O3 -ffast-math optimisation flags:

function sin sin1 sin2 sin3 sin4 sin5 sin6 sin7
nanoseconds per call 22.522 16.411 16.663 25.277 18.628 18.588 16.365 15.617

The code used for this article is included in the attached file.

  • Posted: 2011-09-17 03:58 (Updated: 2014-02-04 01:30)
  • Author: sam
  • Categories: optim code
  • Comments (5270)

Understanding fast float/integer conversions

If you are interested in micro-optimisation and have never studied IEEE-754 float representation, I suggest you have a look at the beast. It may give you ideas for interesting bitlevel operations. This article will cover the specific topic of conversions between integers and floats.

Note: unless you are coding for antique or very specific architectures such as the PDP-11, you may assume that the floating point storage endianness and the integer endianness match. The code presented here will therefore work flawlessly on modern CPU architectures such as x86, amd64, PowerPC or even ARM.


Here are a few floating point values and their bitlevel representation. Notice how the different values affect the sign, exponent and mantissa fields:

sign exponent mantissa
1.0f 0 01111111 0000000 00000000 00000000
-1.0f 1 01111111 0000000 00000000 00000000
0.5f 0 01111110 0000000 00000000 00000000
0.25f 0 01111101 0000000 00000000 00000000
1.0f + 0.5f 0 01111111 1000000 00000000 00000000
1.0f + 0.25f 0 01111111 0100000 00000000 00000000

The core idea behind this article is the manipulation of the last field, the mantissa.

Byte to float conversion

A classical byte (0 - 255) to float (0.0f - 1.0f) conversion function is shown here:

float u8tofloat(uint8_t x)
    return (float)x * (1.0f / 255.0f);

This looks very simple: one conversion (fild on x86) and one multiplication (fmul on x86). However, the fild instruction has a latency such that the conversion may have a severe impact on performance.

But let’s look at these interesting floating point values:

sign exponent mantissa
32768.0f 0 10001110 0000000 00000000 00000000
32768.0f + 1.0f/256.0f 0 10001110 0000000 00000000 00000001
32768.0f + 2.0f/256.0f 0 10001110 0000000 00000000 00000010
32768.0f + 255.0f/256.0f 0 10001110 0000000 00000000 11111111

Notice the last eight bits? They look almost exactly like the input byte expected by u8tofloat. Taking advantage of the binary representation allows us to write the following conversion function:

float u8tofloat_trick(uint8_t x)
    union { float f; uint32_t i; } u; u.f = 32768.0f; u.i |= x;
    return u.f - 32768.0f;

When used in a CPU-intensive loop, this method can be up to twice as fast as the previous implementation, for instance on the amd64 architecture. On the x86 architecture, the difference is far less noticeable.

You probably noticed that the output range is 0.0f - 255.0f/256.0f instead of 0.0f - 1.0f. This may be preferred in some cases when the value is supposed to wrap around. However, colour coordinates will require exact 0.0f - 1.0f bounds. This is easily fixed with an additional multiplication:

float u8tofloat_trick2(uint8_t x)
    union { float f; uint32_t i; } u; u.f = 32768.0f; u.i |= x;
    return (u.f - 32768.0f) * (256.0f / 255.0f);

This can still be up to twice as fast than the original integer to float cast.

Short to float conversion

The usual way to convert a 16-bit integer to a float will be:

float u16tofloat(uint16_t x)
    return (float)x * (1.0f / 65535.0f);

Again, careful observation of the following floats will be useful:

sign exponent mantissa
16777216.0f 0 10010111 0000000 00000000 00000000
16777216.0f + 1.0f/65536.0f 0 10010111 0000000 00000000 00000001
16777216.0f + 2.0f/65536.0f 0 10010111 0000000 00000000 00000010
16777216.0f + 65535.0f/65536.0f 0 10010111 0000000 11111111 11111111

And the resulting conversion method:

float u16tofloat_trick(uint16_t x)
    union { float f; uint32_t i; } u; u.f = 16777216.0f; u.i |= x;
    return u.f - 16777216.0f; // optionally: (u.f - 16777216.0f) * (65536.0f / 65535.0f)

However, due to the size of the input data, the performance gain here can be much less visible. Be sure to properly benchmark.

Int to float conversion

The above techniques cannot be directly applied to 32-bit integers because floats only have a 23-bit mantissa. Several methods are possible:

  • Use the double type instead of float. They have a 52-bit mantissa.
  • Reduce the input int precision to 23 bits.

Float to int conversion

Finally, the exact same technique can be used for the inverse conversion. This is the naive implementation:

static inline uint8_t u8fromfloat(float x)
    return (int)(x * 255.0f);

Clamping is left as an exercise to the reader. Also note that a value such as 255.99999f will ensure better distribution and avoid singling out the 1.0f value.

And our now familiar bitlevel trick:

static inline uint8_t u8fromfloat_trick(float x)
    union { float f; uint32_t i; } u;
    u.f = 32768.0f + x * (255.0f / 256.0f);
    return (uint8_t)u.i;

Unfortunately, this is usually a performance hit on amd64. However, on x86, it is up to three time as fast as the original. Choose wisely!

The LUT strategy

Some will point out that using a lookup table is much faster.

float lut[256];
void fill_lut()
    for (int n = 0; n < 256; n++) lut[n] = (float)n / 255.0f;
float u8tofloat_lut(uint8_t x)
    return lut[x];

This is indeed faster in many cases and should not be overlooked. However, the following should be taken into account:

  • LUTs are fast, but if unlucky, the cache may get in your way and cause performance issues
  • the LUT approach is actually almost always slower with 16-bit input, because the size of the table starts messing with the cache
  • do not underestimate the time needed to fill the LUT, especially if different conversions need to be performed, requiring several LUTs
  • LUTs do not mix well with SIMD instructions
  • obviously, this method doesn’t work with float to int conversions

Last warnings

Many programmers will be tempted to write shorter code such as:

float u8tofloat_INVALID(uint8_t x)
    float f = 32768.0f; *(uint32_t *)&f |= x;
    return f - 32768.0f;

Do not do this, ever! I guarantee that this will break in very nasty and unexpected places. Strict C and C++ aliasing rules make it illegal to have a pointer to a float also be a pointer to an integer. The only legal way to do this is to use a union (actually, this is still not legal by the C++ standard but most real-life compilers allow this type punning through documented extensions).

Finally, one last, obvious tip: always measure the effects of an optimisation before deciding to use it!

Build and run Android NDK applications without Eclipse

If you already have a development environment and do not wish to use Eclipse, you can easily build and run your NDK application from makefiles or the command line.

First of all, you need to set the ANDROID_NDK_ROOT environment variable and ensure the SDK and NDK binary directories are in PATH. Here are my definitions:


This is best defined in one of your shell’s startup scripts such as .zshenv.

Build and install package

Now, whenever you are in an NDK project’s directory, build the project using:

ndk-build && ant release

And to upload it to the emulator or to a connected device:

ant release install

That’s all! Those two simple commands can easily be launched from your preferred development environment.

Update: ant compile no longer exists in recent SDKs; replaced with ant release.

Run package

You can use adb to run any application remotely. For instance:

adb shell am start -a android.intent.action.MAIN -n $PACKAGENAME/.$ACTIVITYNAME

Both package name and activity name can be found in your AndroidManifest.xml.

Fuck you, Microsoft: near and far macros

If you target the Windows platform, chances are that your code will have this:

#include <windows.h>

Which in turns includes <windef.h>, which unconditionally defines the following macros:

#define far
#define near

Right. Because there’s no chance in hell that, writing 3D code for Windows, someone’s gonna name any of their variables near or far. Never happens. Never will.

Fuck you, Microsoft, for not even providing a way to disable that monstrosity with a global macro such as NOFUCKINGMACROSFROMTHEEIGHTIES but instead requiring me to #undef those macros after each inclusion of <windows.h>. And it’s not like you don’t know how to do that, because you provide NOMINMAX which deactivates your min() and max() macros in the same fucking file. Fuck you for silently breaking code that compiles cleanly on every platform, Mac OS X, Android or the Playstation.

I refuse to be swayed by your terror tactics and name my variables m_fNearPlaneClipDistance or whatever deranged mind decides is better. My near and far values are called near and far, because I love this naming scheme, and if you don’t, fuck you and your fat wife.

Load PNGs from assets using Android NDK

Many developers appear to embed libpng with their NDK project in order to decode PNGs. While libpng does offer great flexibility, the amount of code necessary to decode an image is surprisingly high, and the additional work needed to maintain a libpng build means that most of the time, using the system’s decoding routines is perfectly reasonable.

But wait, isn’t the NDK for C++ development only? True, but usually we are still running in a virtual machine that has access to a large panel of high-level utility libraries. This article actually demonstrates a broader, useful technique I call return-to-JVM that you can use for other purposes than simply PNG loading.

I suggest putting your PNG files in the assets directory of your application, so that they can be accessed by path.

First, let’s decide of a Java class and object that will act as a PNG factory and manager for us. Let’s call it PngManager:

import android.content.res.AssetManager;

public class PngManager
    private AssetManager amgr;

    public Bitmap open(String path)
            return BitmapFactory.decodeStream(;
        catch (Exception e) { }
        return null;

    public int getWidth(Bitmap bmp) { return bmp.getWidth(); }
    public int getHeight(Bitmap bmp) { return bmp.getHeight(); }

    public void getPixels(Bitmap bmp, int[] pixels)
        int w = bmp.getWidth();
        int h = bmp.getHeight();
        bmp.getPixels(pixels, 0, w, 0, 0, w, h);

    public void close(Bitmap bmp)

Now to load the PNG from the C++ part of the program, use the following code:

jobject g_pngmgr;
JNIEnv *g_env;

/* ... */

char const *path = "images/myimage.png";

jclass cls = g_env->GetObjectClass(g_pngmgr);
jmethodID mid;

/* Ask the PNG manager for a bitmap */
mid = g_env->GetMethodID(cls, "open",
jstring name = g_env->NewStringUTF(path);
jobject png = g_env->CallObjectMethod(g_pngmgr, mid, name);

/* Get image dimensions */
mid = g_env->GetMethodID(cls, "getWidth", "(Landroid/graphics/Bitmap;)I");
int width = g_env->CallIntMethod(g_pngmgr, mid, png);
mid = g_env->GetMethodID(cls, "getHeight", "(Landroid/graphics/Bitmap;)I");
int height = g_env->CallIntMethod(g_pngmgr, mid, png);

/* Get pixels */
jintArray array = g_env->NewIntArray(width * height);
mid = g_env->GetMethodID(cls, "getPixels", "(Landroid/graphics/Bitmap;[I)V");
g_env->CallVoidMethod(g_pngmgr, mid, png, array);

jint *pixels = g_env->GetIntArrayElements(array, 0);

Now do anything you want with the pixels, for instance bind them to a texture.

And to release the bitmap when finished:

g_env->ReleaseIntArrayElements(array, pixels, 0);

/* Free image */
mid = g_env->GetMethodID(cls, "close", "(Landroid/graphics/Bitmap;)V");
g_env->CallVoidMethod(g_pngmgr, mid, png);

This will not work out of the box. There are a few last things to do, which will hugely depend on your global application architecture and are thus left as an exercise to the reader:

  • Store an AssetManager object in PngManager::amgr before the first call to open() is made (for instance by calling Activity::getAssets() upon application initialisation).
  • Store in g_env a valid JNIEnv * value (the JNI environment is the first argument to all JNI methods), either by remembering it or by using jvm->AttachCurrentThread().
  • Store in g_pngmgr a valid jobject handle to a PngManager instance (for instance by calling a JNI method with the instance as an argument).
  • Error checking was totally omitted from the code for the sake of clarity.
  • Some of the dynamically retrieved variables could benefit from being cached.

I hope this can prove helpful!

For a C++-only solution to this problem, see Load pngs from assets in NDK by Bill Hsu.