Design of the Optimizer


This document describes the high-level design of the Hermes optimizer. The Hermes optimizer transforms the Hermes IR into a more efficient representation that preserves the original semantics of the program. The document describes the design of the Hermes IR.

Key concepts#

This section describes a few key concepts and ideas:

  • The optimizer is responsible for optimizing the IR. IRGen and BytecodeGen are not the right place for implementing optimizations. The parts of the compiler that translate from one representation to another are inherently complex because they require the understanding of the semantics of both representations. Moreover, translators are not designed like optimizers. They do not have good access to analysis and do not allow the separation of the optimizer from the translation, which makes debugging more difficult.

  • Passes: Optimizations are organized in passes. There are two kinds of passes: function passes and module passes. Function passes can modify only the functions that they operate on, while module passes operate on the whole module. Function passes are allowed to read the whole module but only touch the current function.

  • Analysis: Analyses are caches in front of a computation of some property. For example, the dominator analysis is a cache that helps reduce compile time by removing the need to recompute the dominator tree for each function. Analyses are all about caching and invalidating pre-computed properties.

  • Optimizations do one thing: Optimizations are designed to be simple and this means that they do only one thing. For example, the common subexpression elimination optimization does not delete dead code "on the way" just because it can.

  • Optimizations are predictable: Sometimes there are several legal representations of the program, but the optimizer should never randomize the output of the compiler. Randomization of the output happens when the output depends on runtime information such as the order of elements in a set or map. Randomizing the output of the compiler makes it very difficult to write tests and reproduce bugs. LLVM has data structures that provide guaranteed order - use them!

  • Write compile-time efficient algorithms: The compile time of a compiler is a very important metric and we attempt to minimize compile time as much as possible. Do not write exponential algorithms (or polynomial algorithm with a high degree). If you are writing a quadratic algorithm make sure to implement a sliding-window or other techniques that will allows to limit the quadratic search to a small subset of the graph. Always assume that there exist a function with hundreds of consecutive basic blocks or a basic block with thousands of instructions. If you are writing a "solver" then you are probably doing it wrong.

  • There are three kinds of transformations: canonicalization, simplification and lowering. Make sure that you know exactly what kind of transformation you are doing and why. Canonicalizations are transformations that expose opportunities for other transformations. Re-association (reducing tree height, placing constants on the RHS, etc.) is a canonicalization because it organizes things in predictable patterns and makes the life of future optimizations simpler by reducing the number of possible inputs. Inlining is another example of effective canonicalization because it exposes opportunities for optimizations in the caller function (by providing more information). Another example is loop rotation, which is a canonical representation of all loops. In canonicalization we strive to clean up the program as much as possible and reach a pure representation of the program. Simplification is what we normally think of as optimizations, like removing redundancy by deleting dead code and optimizing arithmetic, etc. Canonicalization can allow simplification that can allow more canonicalization. For example, de-virtualization unblocks inlining that may allow some transformations that enable more de-virtualization. Lowering transformations are the opposite of canonicalization. In Lowering transformations we generate patterns that are closer to the target representation. We may not be able to recover from lowering transformations. One example for lowering transformation is loop strength reduction where the optimizer transforms loop indices into non-consecutive accesses that fit with the hardware instruction set. Another example is loop versioning where the body of the loop is duplicated and versioned multiple times .

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