Dev.Poga

Predictable Performance of OCaml's Module System

Learn OCaml the Hard Way is a series about learning OCaml from the ground up:


OCaml’s module system can be a powerful tool for building generic code and structuring systems. Functors are functions from modules to modules and they serve an important role for the power of module system.

Some common usages of functors are:

  • Dependency Injection
  • Autoextension of Modules
  • Instantiating modules with state

However, I want to know if functors (and the module system) can be optimized away by the OCaml compiler.

The following codes are compiled with OCaml 4.11.1 with flambda enabled, running on Compiler Explorer.


Modules

First, I wonder if a simple module layer can break OCaml’s claim of predictable performance. Here’s a trivial function to compare two strings:

let eq x y =
  compare x y
(* camlExample__eq_29:
        subq    $8, %rsp
        movq    %rax, %rdi
        movq    %rbx, %rsi
        movq    caml_compare@GOTPCREL(%rip), %rax
        call    caml_c_call@PLT
.L100:
        movq    (%r14), %r15
        addq    $8, %rsp
        ret *)

If we wrap the type and the compare function with a module ID, the compiler still product the same assembly:

module type ID = sig
    type t
    val (=): t -> t -> int
end

module StringID = struct
    type t = string
    let (=) = compare
end

module Username: ID = StringID

let eqUser x y =
    Username.(=) x y

(* camlExample__eqUser_48:
        subq    $8, %rsp
        movq    %rax, %rdi
        movq    %rbx, %rsi
        movq    caml_compare@GOTPCREL(%rip), %rax
        call    caml_c_call@PLT
.L104:
        movq    (%r14), %r15
        addq    $8, %rsp
        ret *)

In this example, we put the actual implementation of comparing two string behind a module ID and its implementation StringID.

We can see that the compiler removed all module infomations and produced exact same assembly for eqUser and eq. Quite impressive!


Functors

The above example is way too trivial, what if we try some functors?

Here’s a functor example copied from Real world’s OCaml:

module type JustAnInt = sig
    val x: int
end

(* a functor which takes a JustAnInt and return a JustAnInt *)
module Increment (M: JustAnInt) : JustAnInt = struct
    let x = M.x + 1
end

let inc x =
    x + 1

(* camlExample__inc_71:
        addq    $2, %rax
        ret
        *)

module One = struct
    let x = 1
end

module Two = Increment(One)

let add_two y =
    Two.x + y

(* camlExample__add_two_86:
        addq    $4, %rax
        ret
        *)

Here, we can see that the add_two function (which operate on top of a functor Increment) produces the same assembly as a trivial inc function.


The above examples are trivial but build up my confidence to OCaml’s predictable performance. I guess the simplicity of OCaml’s syntax and semantics helped the compiler a lot?


References

Photo by Inbal Malca on Unsplash


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