Performance Quiz #12 — The Cost of a Good Hash — Some Help

I continue to be astounded by what my readers can come up with. 

As usual I had a purpose for posing my last question and that purpose was to show that basically its hard to get a handle on what things cost in any kind of omnibus way.  But imagine my surprise when Frank and Shuggy turned this into an interesting discussion of hashing techniques and combining hashes.  To say nothing of some of the other regulars (you know who you are) that have insightful comments.  Those comments are definately worth a read and thanks very much for presenting them! 

But I don't know that anyone has answered my question quite squarely (except maybe Alois) and I think this makes my point that it is hard to answer this question. 

But what if you were to download this file...  I think you'd find it quite helpful.

What you see is a compilation of one cost metric for the entire framework.  It's not the only cost metric by any means, you could imagine many others, but it is an interesting one.   The cost is computed by doing a static analysis of all allocations made in the call tree of each method.  It's the metric that I discussed in this article on performance signatures including the exception for methods that look like they do a one-time allocation.  The cost is logarithmic, base 10, offset by 1, i.e.

if (allocation_count == 0)
    cost = 0;
    cost = 1+log(allocation_count)

And I'm only reporting one digit after the decimal because I want to give the idea that this is just a rough cost, it's not supposed to be super-precise it's just supposed to give you a rough idea of whether or not a method is very complex or not so much.

I'm trying to think of a good name for this metric, so far I'm thinking something like Allocation Complexity but I'm open to better ideas.

Anyway snoop the file then see if you can answer my question.  For bonus points look at some other low level functions that might be interesting like say  Compare, Equals, or GetEnumerator.  It's very intersting to see that some methods that seem like they should be very low level are actually quite high level.

I think costs like this one can be very useful in making decisions about which framework features to use in which contexts.

Again this is only one kind of cost and its only approximate but I think it's interesting nonetheless.

Now would you like to try the original question again:

Q: Name five implementations of GetHashCode in the framework that do things that you wouldn't expect a hashing function to do.

Comments (32)
  1. Okay, I’ll bite (but not five times).  Using the framework cost metric data you provided it was pretty easy to identify costly GetHashCode methods (ranging from 4.2 to 1).  A quick look at some of the costlier ones reveals some activites one would not expect a hashing function to do.  For instance, types derived from System.Security.Policy.CodeGroup which rely on its GetHashCode method (which scores a 3.5), such as System.Security.Policy.FileCodeGroup, may find themselves taking a lock in order to search and parse some XML in order to populate a private member, one property of which is used to get a hash code, which is added, without consideration for overflow, to the member object’s hash code (and then, for FileCodeGroup anyway, added again to the FileCodeGroup object’s hash code, again without consideration for int overflow).  Is this where you’re heading?

  2. Oh yeah, and System.Uri, which I mentioned in my comment yesterday as having unexpected GetHashCode behavior, scores a 3.8 and may also take a lock while establishing the completeness of the URI infoset and distinguishing remote URLs for non-absolute URIs.

  3. ricom says:

    That’s exactly the kinds of things I’m talking about Eric.  

    What do you think of the little costs file?

  4. Little? πŸ˜‰

    I love having this information.  I’ll probably spend way too much time querying and pivoting it, then reflecting on the methods themselves for details, to get a better understanding of the framework’s (oft used) heavy methods.  This knowledge, or whatever part of it I retain, may then bubble up in real coding decisions I make down the road.

    However, what I’d really like to do is statically analyze my own projects in a similar way, perhaps using this information to short circuit reflection-based analysis of framework methods that my code calls.  Or, even better, make this information available closer to where it’s needed: while we’re coding.  I’d love to see a weight indicator/value next to methods in Intellisense and/or in help (both for the framework and my own projects, though I can appreciate that real-time generation of the latter may not be feasible).  Of course, as you pointed out, this is just one particular measure of "heavy" – so how about generating cost measurements in a few different ways, shipping the values with the framework, and integrating it with VS/Intellisense/help?

    Just some thoughts.

  5. Did someone manage to convert the .txt file to excel format? Please post a link.

    And sorry Rico for hijacking your previous thread.

  6. ricom says:

    It’s just tab delimited Frank, excel will suck it up natively.  But there are lotsa rows.

  7. Tim Dawson says:

    I didn’t really expect GetHashCode for Double to get the raw bits and turn them into an integer. The performance is great, though.

  8. Olivier Coanet says:

    For the lazy guys :



     4.2 java.lang.reflect.Method

     3.8 System.Security.Policy.HashMembershipCondition

     3.8 System.Uri


     3.5 java.lang.reflect.Field





     3.5 System.Security.Policy.CodeGroup

     3.5 System.Security.Policy.NetCodeGroup

     3.5 System.Security.Policy.FileCodeGroup

     3.3 System.Security.PermissionSet

     3.3 System.Security.NamedPermissionSet

     3.1 System.Configuration.SettingElement

       3 System.Configuration.ConfigurationElement

       3 System.Diagnostics.ListenerElement

     2.8 System.Web.Configuration.TagPrefixInfo

     2.8 java.math.BigDecimal

     2.4 System.Web.Configuration.BuildProvider

     2.4 System.Web.Configuration.CustomError

     2.4 System.Web.Configuration.ProfileGroupSettings

     2.4 System.Web.Configuration.TransformerInfo

     2.4 System.Web.Configuration.TagMapInfo

     2.1 System.Web.Configuration.NamespaceInfo

       2 System.Security.Policy.StrongNameMembershipCondition

     1.9 System.Xml.Serialization.CaseInsensitiveKeyComparer.System.Collections.IEqualityComparer(System.Object)

     1.7 System.Security.Policy.PublisherMembershipCondition

     1.6 System.Xml.Schema.KeySequence

     1.6 System.Data.SqlTypes.SqlDecimal

     1.6 System.Data.SqlTypes.SqlString

     1.5 java.text.CollationKey

     1.5 System.Security.Policy.UrlMembershipCondition

     1.5 System.Security.Policy.SiteMembershipCondition

     1.5 System.Globalization.SortKey

     1.3 System.Management.ManagementBaseObject

     1.3 System.Net.Cookie

       1 System.Security.AccessControl.GenericAce

       1 System.Web.Configuration.RootProfilePropertySettingsCollection

       1 System.Web.Caching.CachedVary

       1 java.math.BigInteger

       1 System.Security.Cryptography.X509Certificates.X509CertificateCollection

       1 System.Web.UI.ControlCachedVary

       1 System.Windows.Forms.DataGridView+HitTestInfo

       1 System.Web.FileSecurity+DaclComparer.System.Collections.IEqualityComparer(System.Object)

       1 System.Web.UI.AttributeCollection

       1 System.Windows.Forms.DataGridViewAdvancedBorderStyle

       1 System.Drawing.FontFamily

       1 System.Configuration.ConfigurationElementCollection

       1 System.Windows.Forms.DataGridViewCellStyle

       1 System.Windows.Forms.TableLayoutPanelCellPosition

  9. Coconut says:

    Sorry for being a dumbass, say the method jhas a score of 3.0, the allocation count will be 10 to the power of 3, which is 1000. But 1000 of what?

  10. shuggy says:


    I interpreted that as 1000 allocations of any sort though you could weight it by the size of the allocation I suspect that is impossible to do without runtime introspection since the most likely large allocations will be arrays with dynamic sizes.

  11. shuggy says:

    Oh yes – sorry for the hijaking too (but Frank’s links were very informative πŸ™‚

  12. ricom says:

    Remember the score is offset by 1 because 0 is a possibility and you can’t take the log of 0.

    So if an API gets a "3" that means it has roughly 10^(3-1) (100) allocation sites in its entire call graph.   That doesn’t mean that it will actually make 100 allocations because most of that code probably doesn’t run in any given call.  It’s a rough measure of the overall complexity of the code.

    It’s a pretty good metric for sniffing out how high-level an API is.

  13. Regarding getting bits of a Single or Double: it is necessary to quickly compute a hash to get all relevant bits. Without using unsafe code, this is the only technique I could find:

    value is float

    floatBuffer is float[]

               floatBuffer[0] = value;

               uint iv = Buffer.GetByte(floatBuffer, 0);

    Is there a faster way Rico?

    An unrelated note: iterating through a string with managed code only (using 16 bit char type) is about as fast as using unsafe code and pointers.

  14. Forgot some code:

               floatBuffer[0] = value;

               uint iv = Buffer.GetByte(floatBuffer, 0);

               iv |= (uint)Buffer.GetByte(floatBuffer, 1) << 8;

               iv |= (uint)Buffer.GetByte(floatBuffer, 2) << 16;

               iv |= (uint)Buffer.GetByte(floatBuffer, 3) << 24;

  15. Jim says:

    Am trying to upload this data to "Many Eyes" but it appears they’re a bit sleepy right now πŸ™


  16. Alois Kraus says:

    I think much more people should read your blog and buy your advice. The string question is quite interesting. It seems that a little space is left to change even the "immutable" string object when interacting with StringBuilder. Otherwise I cannot explain why one need the arrayLength.


         private int m_arrayLength;


         private char m_firstChar;


         private int m_stringLength;

    Perhaps due to this (limited) mutability we need to calculate the hash code every time again. But it could be very well be that space was also the limiting factor. If you draw a histogram of all string length of your business use case applicatons and compare it then with the number of GetHashCode calls that really happen there. Except for dictionaries GetHashCode is rarely useful. But how many strings are really stored inside a dictionary with frequent stores and lookups in a typical application? On the other hand every dictionary lookup causes a string (after determining the bucket right with GetHashCode() % BucketSize) compare with each element inside a bucket until a match is found. String compares are much more costly than a simple hashcode since it could cost you many cache misses due to lost data locality.

    It is interesting that no data member of the string object itself is serialized. It seems that during serialization this object gets extra treatment. But what does XmlSerializer make of this members since you need the [XmlIgnore] attribute to let him ignore these.


        Alois Kraus

  17. It is interesting that String is not immutable after all. But given the consequences of that, why didn’t StringBuilder use its own character buffer, and a String internal constructor to turn that into a regular String (releasing the buffer memory to the string and allocating a new one when needed).

  18. Jim says:

    Would be interested in anyone else visualisation of the log10 data (which you can find on this site)

    I cut off the cost at 6.3, but perhaps that should have been higher..?

  19. Alois Kraus says:

    Frank: The string function:

    string GetStringForStringBuilder(string value, int startIndex, int length, int capacity)

    does explain that. The usage pattern of StringBuilder does not say anything about several ToString() calls. If you empty StringBuilder from time to time by calling ToString you have to copy it every time back when the next volatile operation happens which would need quite a bit of redundant prechecks for every StringBuilder operation in the main code path. This could become quite expensive when you have to add guards to take care multithreading issues. I think for the sake of performance/simplicity you have make sacrifaces from time to time.


      Alois Kraus

  20. Hello Alois,

    The main usage pattern for StringBuilder is probably several (or many) Appends, followed by a single ToString(). While it is true it would add one conditional to each Append operation to determine if the current buffer is mutable or a reference to an immutable string, it would not seem to add much over the exising Append code, and would free up memory in potentially millions of strings, since the String.m_stringLength field would no longer be needed.



  21. Alois Kraus says:

    You meant the m_arrayLength? Hm not sure about that. Perhaps you still need somewhere the allocated array size when you release its memory. I have not (yet) looked into the GC logic how it does keep track of string memory allocations.


       Alois Kraus

  22. shuggy says:

    Frank – I think you may be forgetting that in .Net it is legal to have a string containing null characters…

    How are you going to determine the length of such a string…

    If you fix that by forcing the char array to be the exact length then the stringbuilder has to do far more effort to create the strings in terms of copying them to a new array of the correct size if it was not initialized with the correct capacity

  23. Alois Kraus says:

    Shuggy: Please note that String has actually 3 members.

    1. String Length

    2. Char Array Capacity

    3. First Char of Array

    I think Frank wanted to get rid of the Array capacity since in his model the string length is always exact. But if you allocate an array of a certain size how do you deallocate it if you do not store the array size somewhere? Either has the GC a fourth member with the array size or he does use the array capacity from string directly. But I do not know how the deallocation part is exactly handled.


       Alois Kraus

  24. Correct. With the length only a pointer to the string characters is necessary (or embed in the object). Truly immutable strings are smaller/faster; fields can be readonly. I assumed the GC already stores other information, the true size of the string memory in bytes, in a per object header, as it is likely to do for all objects in the CLR heap.

    If the StringBuilder instead copied bytes to a new string memory in ToString, there would be savings by preventing live strings padded with empty space in the heap. Fastest would be to leave the empty space in the string and have the GC compact strings as well as move objects. I don’t think the GC does that currently.

    – Regards, Frank

  25. Shuggy says:

    The CLR does not store the size of a string somewhere in a seperate per object header (what would be the point). The cost would be enormous given that the object header on all objects is (size and bitmask wise) identical otherwise. Strings are like arrays in that they are special types which can have arbitrary size. IIRC string and array are the only such types and must be special cased in the GC for this very reason.

    Only strings and arrays need this additional data and so it is (sensibly) stored inline with the object itself.

    On a side note having strings become ‘simple’ objects where they are quite simply a pointer to a char array would exhibit far worse performance in most cases since every acess to the characters in the string would involve an arbitrary pointer jump. Awful on modern cache hirearchies though I doubt you meant to imply this was a good idea.

    The cost of a live string with empty bytes with a simple doubling allocation in the stringbuilder will be at most N and likely average better. The cost of the copy is *always* N. I would guess that the overhead is lower in the general case (measuring of course :). If the majority of strings die young (as you would expect from the majority of use cases) then the avoidance of the copy will outperform (since the copy requires more memory  in the shortterm upping level0 garbage collects as well)

    If the consumer of the class needs to avoid any wasteage on large strings they can easily set stringBuilder.Capacity = stringBuilder.Length and do it themselves (for the cost of the copy)

    Forcing all users to take the copy would I believe be far worse. As you say there is nothing stopping the compacting GC from shrinking a string as it copies it (it might even be faster)

  26. Shuggy says:

    Alois – sorry if I wasn’t clear but that was exactly the point I was making. either you store two values or you force them to be the same. the consequences of the later are far reaching for the StringBuilder use case.

    They also prevent substrings reusing the underlying character sequence for open ended* (which is fine in a compacting GC because the GC simply ignores non live parts)

    * i.e. 4th character to the end

  27. I love Rico’s performance quizzes in general, but the last one has something especially interesting:

  28. Hi shuggy,

    You explained clearly why there should be no copy, thanks.

    In StringBuilder.ToString the buffer memory is released, not with a special string ctor but by returning the buffer. Instead the new string could at that point made exact size, without a copy or allocation, by changing the length field to match exactly, keeping capcity in StringBuilder instead. All strings could use a single length field, instead of length and capacity. There would be wasted space in the heap after ToString at that point, since more was allocated than needed, but assuming the GC looks at the string length it can compact away the wastage.

    Looking at StringBuilder.ToString() we see logic to signal the buffer is now immutable:

    public override string ToString()


         string text1 = this.m_StringValue;

         if (this.m_currentThread != Thread.InternalGetCurrentThread())


               return string.InternalCopy(text1);


         if ((2 * text1.Length) < text1.ArrayLength)


               return string.InternalCopy(text1);



         this.m_currentThread = IntPtr.Zero;

         return text1;


    The immutable buffer signal is m_currentThread set to IntPtr.Zero. A subsequent Append detects this signal and allocates a new buffer:

    public StringBuilder Append(string value)


         if (value != null)


               string text1 = this.m_StringValue;

               IntPtr ptr1 = Thread.InternalGetCurrentThread();

               if (this.m_currentThread != ptr1)


                     text1 = string.GetStringForStringBuilder(text1, text1.Capacity);


               int num1 = text1.Length;

               int num2 = num1 + value.Length;

               if (this.NeedsAllocation(text1, num2))


                     string text2 = this.GetNewString(text1, num2);

                     text2.AppendInPlace(value, num1);

                     this.ReplaceString(ptr1, text2);




                     text1.AppendInPlace(value, num1);

                     this.ReplaceString(ptr1, text1);



         return this;


    The new buffer is assigned in ReplaceString:

    private void ReplaceString(IntPtr tid, string value)


         this.m_currentThread = tid;

         this.m_StringValue = (volatile string) value;


    The question remains, why does every string have the overhead of a capacity field, if only StringBuilders make use of it, and that use could be eliminated. Surely there is another reason?

    Alois, I did not understand the substring comment.



  29. Rico Mariani included a very interesting file in his latest performance quiz post which shows all the

  30. shuggy says:

    Frank – takng a quick look I can think of a few reasns for doing this.

    Some forward thinking ones:

    * It lets you do some optimization for the only ascii characters case by only storing 8 bits per character (at the cost of much increase in complexity for the string class). I doubt this is likely but it does allow it

    * Certain optimizations on temporary strings become possible where the underlying memory can be reused (Release mode only πŸ™‚

    * I could be wrong but if the runtime were to be changed to allow allocation of temporary small strings on the stack the alignment issues might be a pain if the capacity is locked to the length (though that would be OS and hardware dependent most likely

    But chiefly I believe this is to make common methods on StringBuilder (cheaply) thread safe in the common case without locks. Given the effort the JVM implementors had to go through to make non contended locks super fast (and they still slow heavy text processing down) after realising that making StringBuffer synchronized then making it the compiler generated mechanism for concatenation I suspect this is the primary reason.

    Note that they do avoid serializing that field at least.

    I suspect they could get away with not doing this if the CLR guaranteed a seperate gen0 per thread, but that has costs of its own and would be a nasty contract to keep forever (especially if you think of the Compact Framework).

  31. Hi Shuggy,

    StringBuilder is not thread-safe, but I think you say if String.AppendInPlace occurred simultaneously with ToString, with ToString shortening string.m_stringLength, the GC thread might compact away space after the string at the same time as AppendInPlace, overwriting memory for a moved object.

    StringBuilder choices then:

    – separate buffer and a copy on ToString (temporarily more space before GC compaction)

    – synchronization between GC and StringBuilder buffers, preventing append overwrite scenario

    – every string is a kind of string builder with capacity (current situation)

    Thanks, Frank

  32. shuggy says:

    Sorry I wasn’t implying StringBuilder was thread safe in general, nor thread safe in terms of serializing calls. Just thread safe in terms of memory ownership as you say (if this happened in the large object heap you mightn’t get the space back as no compaction occurs there)

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