Posts in category windows

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:

\begin{tabular}{|r|llll|llll|}
\hline
byte & 0 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 6 & 7 \\
\hline
field & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\textit{vfptr}}
      & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\texttt{float f;}} \\
\hline
\end{tabular}

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:

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

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:

\begin{tabular}{|r|llll|llll|llll|llll|llllllll|}
\hline
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 \\
\hline
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;}} \\
\hline
\end{tabular}

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:

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

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:

\begin{tabular}{|r|c|c|c|c|c|c|c|c|c|c|c|c|}
\hline
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 \\
\hline
\hline
field (32-bit) & \textit{vfptr}
               & \multicolumn{3}{|c|}{\textit{padding}}
               & \texttt{float f;}
               & \multicolumn{3}{|c|}{\textit{padding}}
               & \multicolumn{4}{|c|}{\texttt{\_FP128 dd;}} \\
\hline
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;}} \\
\hline
\end{tabular}

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

Workaround

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
{
protected:
    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.

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

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.

Conclusion

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.

Fuck you, Microsoft: reloading projects in Visual Studio

I usually develop using the default Release configuration setting in Visual Studio. It generates faster code and smaller binaries. It’s a perfectly sane thing to do, and most people do the same.

Sometimes, however, something wrong happens and I need to switch to Debug mode:

Then, in order to debug what went wrong, I open several source files, set a lot of breakpoints, study the program flow:

Quite often, I wonder: “did my coworkers commit any code that might be relevant to my problem?” and I synchronise my tree:

git pull --rebase

Or:

p4 get

This is where the nightmare begins.

If Core.vcproj was modified, the following modal dialog appears:

I click Reload. Then, if Engine.vcproj was modified, the following modal dialog appears:

Can you see where this is going? For each of the 50 projects in my solution that were modified, a modal dialog appears and I have no way to say “Yes to All”. Each and every single dialog appears.

When projects are finally reloaded, my tab line looks like this:

Fucking Visual Studio closed all the open tabs from the projects it reloaded! I have no way to reopen them as they were.

Anyway. I press F7 to rebuild the solution, and go take a drink, or switch to another task. A build takes several minutes.

When I come back, I notice this:

Fucking Visual Studio automatically switched my configuration mode back to Release! I just lost minutes of work because I needed a debug build, not a release build. And that tiny check box becomes another thing I need to constantly check in case the software attempts to change it behind my back.

So fuck you, Microsoft, for failing to handle project reloads in even the most slightly user-friendly way. And I shall no buy the “it is not a trivial thing to do” argument. When I close Visual Studio before syncing the tree, then open it again afterwards, I get no annoying avalanche of modal dialogs, my settings are in the expected configuration, and previously opened files are still here in tabs. I would totally do it if it didn't take several minutes to close and reopen the memory hog.

Fuck you, Microsoft: the environment variable windows

Why, oh why, is the environment variable window (accessible from the system preferences) such an atrocious experience, beyond the limits of human pain tolerance?

Why does the window not have a fucking resize handle? Why do I have to click on scrollbar handles smaller than my fucking mouse pointer to browse my environment variables? Why is there no way to search or replace strings? Why is the intern who wrote this GUI probably a top executive now?

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.