Dmitry Petrov Back

Optimizing code for V8

One of the things that I love to do the most is to take a complex system and start digging through it to discover some subtle details that reveal how the system really works. This writeup is about one of recent tasks where I wanted to understand how to accelerate execution of some arbitary code for node. I coudn’t come up with better algorythm to solve the task but suspected that the code itself could have been written in a better, more efficient way from interpreter’s point of view.

So, first I decided that I wanted to measure how fast the code was to be able to understand if I do any progress at all. console.time api is a very good way to do it:


// ... code to be measured


With this I can see if I do any better with the changes I introduce, the only thing is that execution time is not deterministic and it always makes sense to do multiple measurements and work with average. The other thing that can affect the measurements is the way they are done. For example, V8 engine really consists of two compilers - the former of them compiles source code to intermediate code that can be executed, and the latter works with the code that is considered to be hot (executed many times through the program run) and compiles it to the machine code. This has it’s own implications, e.g. people like to do benchmarks like this:

// ok, let's test the perf of implementation

for (var try = 0; try < 100000; try++) {

As you see, the average execution time of this function can be affected by V8 implementation details. The other thing is that not all code can be optimized and it may really matter how you iterate on arrays and objects what language features are used and if V8 cannot optimize the code or cannot successfully guess types of variables the code will suffer from additional performance penalty.

After all this, how can one gather the knowledge of such optimizations? A very good source on this can be found here or in the awesome blog by Vyacheslav Egorov.

Additionally, profiling is always helpful and it is possible for node with help of v8-profiler.

I started my investigation from the profiler results and saw a signigicant time taken by garbage collector (50ms out of ~600) and a lot of anonymous functions. The latter were useless and I went through all anonymous functions in the code and added names to them to get meaningfull profiler report.

After some search I’ve figured out that the reason of the former was the use of array map and reduce methods. When I replaced that with ordinary loop garbage collector time reduced to 5ms on average.

Another speedup was with big object that came to be processed. On initial implementation I created another and populated with the results. Two things helped - reusing existing object and overwriting key values and using loop over Object.keys() array instead of loop.

Other discovery was that function .bind method is an optimization killer and once I replaced my_reg_exp.test.bind(my_reg_exp) with function(a) { return my_reg_exp.test(a); } in a code that was executed lot’s of times I immediately got big speedup.

Yet another speedup with iteration over big array came when I replaced a call to the Object.keys() method with ‘Object.getOwnPropertyNames()`. This method also gives keys of the object but does not check the prototype and this is probably a reason of speedup.

After all these changes I got 5x-6x acceleration in the execution time without changing the algorythm or and data structures.

As a conclusion: I wouldn’t to such optimizations on the code the is executed only once throught the lifetime of the program or operates only on small amounts of data but the fact the node can have such a drastic difference in run times depending on such subtle differences really forces to keep this in mind when dealing with the code that has strict performance requirements.