Cost of array bounds checking — one experiment

Sometimes people ask me what the overhead of array range checking is. A while ago I did a quickish experiment to measure the cost of the bounds checking introduced by the JIT in a typical application. This is just one part of the managed safety net but it’s a fairly easy one to get a handle on compared to some of the other overheads. Notably, it’s a lot trickier to get a handle on the marginal cost of explicit range-checking done in helper methods in base classes.

The test case was a Windows Presentation Framework application that basically tried to render the same thing that you might see on the MSN home page. The time being measured is from process startup (t=0) until Main exits (which is almost but not quite everything). This is a wall clock time on a normally configured machine so there is noise in the system which I attempt to remove as shown below.

To faciliate this experiment I used a then recent build of WPF, which was built using PD3 of the CLR (so this is 2004 vintage). I modified mscorjit.dll so that it does not introduce array bounds checks for arrays or strings. This modified jitter was built using a slightly different process than the official build (I did a standard dev build) so to control that difference I also rebuilt the standard jitter, unmodified, in the same way. So in this experiment I’m comparing two jitters both build by me in the same way. To reduce the impact of normal machine noise in the runs I removed the 10 slowest run –but I show the full data as well.

Times were gathered with everything was hot in the disk cache.

Time Results:




Std. Dev.

Standard All 36 1.661s 0.275s
Standard Slowest 10 Removed 26 1.506s 0.054s
Norange All 36 1.609s 0.574s
Norange Slowest 10 Removed 26 1.497s 0.017s
Delta All 36 0.052s  
Delta Slowest 10 Removed 26 0.009s  
% Delta All 36 -3.1%  
% Delta Slowest 10 Removed 26 -0.6%  

But notice that in both cases the delta is within one standard deviation of the mean. Based on this experiment we could not reject the null hypothesis that range checking is making no difference in execution time (i.e. noise is making a bigger difference).

Space Results

Working set numbers were very unstable due to the interactive nature of the test case, the variation from run to run is even more pronounced in terms of working set than it is in terms of time and I strongly feel that this variation totally hides any meaningful analysis of workingset. However it’s easy enough to see the absolute difference in terms of size of the assemblies on disk which I think accurately accounts for the space tax.

Assembly Checked Unchecked Delta 9,777,152 9,703,424 -0.75% 1,585,152 1,581,056 -0.26% 901,120 897,024 -0.45% 6,713,344 6,668,288 -0.67% 12,132,352 12,099,584 -0.27%
Others (similar, not shown)
Total 73,719,808 73,359,360 -0.49%

So basically, at least in this experiment, the cost was within the noise level of the test. Of course your mileage may vary but this seems to agree with anecdotal experience in larger applications.

Comments (11)

  1. barrkel says:

    Of course, it depends on the application too. Some apps are dominated by table lookups. I was analysing a poker hand evaluator ( which, with a fairly trivial conversion from the C# to C++ is still a lot faster in C++. That’s after some of the datatypes had been converted to more optimal types, and with other similar changes.

    I even changed the lookups in C# to use unsafe pointers in an attempt to remove bounds checking, and it was still slower.

  2. Ridge says:

    I wouldn’t mind seeing a perf analysis of the above mentioned hand evaluator.  A while back I looked at it, I was able to squeeze a couple million more hands/sec out of it, but as the above poster mentioned it is quite a bit slower than native.  I gather from the above poster that he converted from C# to C++, though at the time I was comparing the C# to the original poker-eval, which uses a bunch of nasty macros to unroll loops and the like…  There’s another fairly interesting evaluator at and if I recall it was a tad faster than poker-eval, though again, a C# conversion was significantly slower… 🙁

  3. Matt says:

    Sorry if this seems griping but a more useful test would be to see how a long running, cpu bound task benefits from this hack…

    The sort of thing that people pay significant moey for thrid party libraries which have been hand tweaked to get maximum performance on various architectures like optimization and the like.

    In a lot of cases the process startup times are fairly negligible in comparison with the expected runtime of the application (think days!).

    for example I would love to know how the  password finder on this site (vb not c# sorry 🙂

    performs on a decent strong password with and without bounds checking. source is included if you need to tweak it or want to validate it yourself.

    Since I have used unsafe pointers (or dropped to Managed C++ and thence to pointers) for critical parts of the code I’d be interested to see the impact on something (slightly) more akin to my world.

  4. GregYoung says:

    The JIT generally does a pretty good job at removing array bounds checks in simple cases anyways (if its passed in or a local).

    I showed the particular optimization here

    So I am not sure how "good" these tests actually are since the JIT removes many anyways.

    My concern is that the JIT does not remove all that it should. I discuss it in detail here

    A bigger concern is that it is impossible to write an efficient bit of safe code that does something similar to the following (note this is a quick example typed up for clarity, not necesarily compiling or well designed code)

    public static int [] CopyWithSquare(int [] in) {

       int [] ret = new int[in.Length];

       int tmp;

       for(int i=0;i<in.Length;i++) {

           ret[i] =  in[i] * in[i];



    One of the two arrays will always have a bounds check because the optimizer will only remove the bounds check for the array that is used in the condition.

    It would seem to me that in this case the JIT should probably atleast hoist the other array bounds check (especially when it is held in a register as you _know_ the operation is safe)

    Of course I can get this to not happen using unsafe code but …

    1) Most languages don’t support unsafe code

    2) Many situations are beginning to require verifiable code which would keep people from calling my routine.

    I agree that in *insert application* your overall gain from the optimization will not be huge (there are many other items which are more likely at fault). When you are however dealing with optimizing code that you have isolated as a problem point through profiling it seems to be common that you find arrays with bounds checks 🙂

  5. GregYoung says:

    *to* happen using unsafe code.

  6. Jeremy A says:

    try skipping the array bound checking using Exceptions. In java, (performance tuning manual) they suggested make the loop infinite and use a "try…catch" exception.

    If this works for csharp…let me know.

    Also, I am using the generic exception eg."}catch(Exception e){} ". Will narrowing down to the exact exception prove faster exception handling. eg "(System.IndexOutOfRangeException e){}"


    public static int [] CopyWithSquare(int [] in) {

      int [] ret = new int[in.Length];

      int tmp;

      try {

        for(int i=0;;i++) {

           ret[i] =  in[i] * in[i];


      }catch(Exception e){}


    Please let me know what you make of this.

    jeremygwa At

  7. GregYoung says:

    Didn’t expect it to work and it doesn’t. This is actually slower than the original loop because the original loop removed one of the bounds checks where this has two.

           public static int[] CopyWithSquare(int[] val) {

               int[] ret = new int[val.Length];

    00000000  push        ebp  

    00000001  mov         ebp,esp

    00000003  push        edi  

    00000004  push        esi  

    00000005  push        ebx  

    00000006  sub         esp,18h

    00000009  xor         eax,eax

    0000000b  mov         dword ptr [ebp-18h],eax

    0000000e  mov         edi,ecx

    00000010  mov         edx,dword ptr [edi+4]

    00000013  mov         ecx,7915982Ah

    00000018  call        FFCB0FB0

    0000001d  mov         dword ptr [ebp-24h],eax

               int tmp;

               try {

                   for (int i = 0; ; i++) {

    00000020  xor         esi,esi

    00000022  mov         ebx,dword ptr [edi+4]

    00000025  mov         eax,dword ptr [ebp-24h]

    00000028  mov         ecx,dword ptr [eax+4]

                       ret[i] = val[i] * val[i];

    0000002b  cmp         esi,ebx

    0000002d  jae         0000004A

    0000002f  mov         edx,dword ptr [edi+esi*4+8]

    00000033  mov         eax,edx

    00000035  imul        eax,edx

    00000038  mov         edx,eax

    0000003a  mov         eax,dword ptr [ebp-24h]

    0000003d  cmp         esi,ecx

    0000003f  jae         0000004A

    00000041  mov         dword ptr [eax+esi*4+8],edx

                   for (int i = 0; ; i++) {

    00000045  add         esi,1

    00000048  jmp         0000002B

    0000004a  call        79443501



               catch (Exception e) { }

    0000004f  call        79345119

               return ret;

    00000054  mov         eax,dword ptr [ebp-24h]

    00000057  lea         esp,[ebp-0Ch]

    0000005a  pop         ebx  

    0000005b  pop         esi  

    0000005c  pop         edi  

    0000005d  pop         ebp  

    0000005e  ret              

  8. fortran geek says:


    Can you comment a little on array performance on .net from a number crunching point of view? I would like to be able to write everything in C#, but worry that it’ll be too much of a performance hit (for various reasons I’d like the array code to be managed, not external native code I’m using from a C# app).

    I understand the differences in support for 1D vs Jagged vs MultiD arrays. My concerns include lack of of use of SIMD instructions by the JIT, plus lack of blocking and loop transformations.

    Any experience on perf of fortran style .net code?

  9. Questa &#232; una domanda che mi sono posto anch’io parecchie volte: il controllo&amp;nbsp;dei limiti inferiore…

  10. Questa è una domanda che mi sono posto anch’io parecchie volte: il controllo dei limiti inferiore…