Table Preallocation

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In stock Lua 5.1, there is no built-in function accessible to Lua code that is equivalent to the lua_createtable [1] C API function. lua_createtable creates a Lua table with array and hash regions preallocated to the given sizes.

Preallocation can be more efficient than doing local t = {}; for i=1,N do t[i] = 0 end, in which case approximately O(log(N)) allocations are performed--once each time the array is reallocated to a multiple of the previous size upon overflow.

Below are some solutions to this.

Solution: Bind to a C Function

Here, we build a Lua binding to the lua_createtable C function. This is the most robust, efficient, and straightforward approach in general, if you can bind to C.

Solution: table constructor and loadstring hacks

If we use table constructor syntax in Lua, e.g. local t = {0,0,0,0,0}, the Lua parser generates opcodes that pre-allocate the required space in the table and fill the table. This is mostly what we want, except perhaps the part about filling the table:

$ echo 'local t = {0,0,0,0,0}' | luac -p -l -
main <stdin:0,0> (8 instructions, 32 bytes at 0x680e00)
0+ params, 6 slots, 0 upvalues, 1 local, 1 constant, 0 functions
        1       [1]     NEWTABLE        0 5 0
        2       [1]     LOADK           1 -1    ; 0
        3       [1]     LOADK           2 -1    ; 0
        4       [1]     LOADK           3 -1    ; 0
        5       [1]     LOADK           4 -1    ; 0
        6       [1]     LOADK           5 -1    ; 0
        7       [1]     SETLIST         0 5 1   ; 1
        8       [1]     RETURN          0 1

Even better, we can fill the table with nil's, local t = {nil,nil,nil,nil,nil}, which uses more efficient LOADNIL and SETLIST instructions:

$ echo 'local t = {nil,nil,nil,nil,nil}' | luac -p -l -
main <stdin:0,0> (4 instructions, 16 bytes at 0x680df8)
0+ params, 6 slots, 0 upvalues, 1 local, 0 constants, 0 functions
       1       [1]     NEWTABLE        0 5 0
       2       [1]     LOADNIL         1 5
       3       [1]     SETLIST         0 5 1   ; 1
       4       [1]     RETURN          0 1

The main problem is that if the required allocation size is large, this is cumbersome to write, and if the size is not known until run-time, then we need to build the string of code at run-time and call loadstring:

This is workable. It is not that efficient to build and compile the function that builds the table, but on the other hand, this step might only need to be done once (or could be memoized). A possibly minor point is that the LOADNIL and SETLIST instructions are unnecessary on every call.

Solution: bytecode hacks

The table constructor function in the previous solution can be constructed more efficiently by hacking bytecodes. We can even avoid initializing the table entries. Here, we patch the NEWTABLE opcode in the bytecode for return {} ,

$ echo 'return {}' | luac -p -l -
main <stdin:0,0> (3 instructions, 12 bytes at 0x680df8)
0+ params, 2 slots, 0 upvalues, 0 locals, 0 constants, 0 functions
        1       [1]     NEWTABLE        0 0 0
        2       [1]     RETURN          0 2
        3       [1]     RETURN          0 1

with new table sizes and then load the function defined by the new bytecode into memory. This involves no additional parsing of Lua source and less string manipulation. However, this relies on assumptions about the Lua bytecode format.

-- opcreatetable.lua
--
-- Creates table preallocated in array and hash sizes.
-- Implemented in pure Lua.
--
-- Warning: This code may be somewhat fragile since it depends on
-- the Lua 5.1 bytecode format and little-endian byte order.
--
-- This code has not been well tested.  Please review prior to using
-- in production.
--
-- (c) 2009 David Manura. Licensed under the same terms as Lua (MIT license).

local M = {}

local loadstring = loadstring
local assert = assert
local string = string
local string_dump = string.dump
local string_char = string.char

-- Encodes integer for NEWTABLE opcode. Based on lobject.c:luaO_int2fb.
local xmax = 15*2^30
local function int2fb(x)
  assert(x >= 0 and x <= xmax)
  local e = 0
  while x >= 16 do
    x = (x+1)
    local b = x % 2
    x = (x-b) / 2
    e = e + 1
  end
  if x < 8 then
    return x
  else
    return (e+1) * 8 + (x - 8)
  end
end

-- Packs and unpacks 4-byte little-endian unsigned int.
local function pack_int4(x1,x2,x3,x4)
  return ((x4*256 + x3)*256 + x2)*256 + x1
end
local function unpack_int4(x)
  local x1 = x % 256; x = (x - x1) / 256
  local x2 = x % 256; x = (x - x2) / 256
  local x3 = x % 256; x = (x - x3) / 256
  local x4 = x
  return x1,x2,x3,x4
end

-- Packs and unpacks iABC type instruction.
local function unpack_iABC(x)
  local instopid = x % 64;  x = (x - instopid) / 64
  local insta    = x % 256; x = (x - insta)    / 256
  local instc    = x % 512; x = (x - instc)    / 512
  local instb    = x
  return instopid, insta, instb, instc
end
local function pack_iABC(instopid, insta, instb, instc)
  return ((instb * 512 + instc) * 256 + insta) * 64 + instopid
end


-- Returns a function that when called creates and returns a new table.
-- The table has array size asize and hash size hsize (both default to 0).
-- Calling this function may be slow and you may want to cache the
-- returned function.  Calling the returned function should be fast.
local code
local pos
local insta
local function new_table_builder(asize, hsize)
  asize = asize or 0
  hsize = hsize or 0
  if not code then
    -- See "A No-Frills Introduction to Lua 5.1 VM Instructions"
    -- by Kein-Hong Man for details on the bytecode format.

    code = string_dump(function() return {} end)

    -- skip headers
    local int_size = code:byte(8)
    local size_t_size = code:byte(9)
    local instruction_size = code:byte(10)
    local endian = code:byte(7)
    assert(size_t_size == 4)
    assert(instruction_size == 4)
    assert(endian == 1) -- little endian
    local source_size =
      pack_int4(code:byte(13), code:byte(14), code:byte(15), code:byte(16))
    pos = 1 + 12           -- chunk header
            + size_t_size  -- string size
            + source_size  -- string data
            + 2 * int_size + 4 -- rest of function block header
            + 4            -- number of instructions

    -- read first instruction (NEWTABLE)
    local a1 = code:byte(pos)
    local a2 = code:byte(pos+1)
    local a3 = code:byte(pos+2)
    local a4 = code:byte(pos+3)
    local inst = pack_int4(a1,a2,a3,a4)

    -- parse instruction
    local instopid, instc, instb
    instopid, insta, instb, instc = unpack_iABC(inst)
    assert(instopid == 10)
    assert(instb == 0)
    assert(instc == 0)
  end

  -- build new instruction
  local instopid = 10
  local instb = int2fb(asize)
  local instc = int2fb(hsize)
  local inst = pack_iABC(instopid, insta, instb, instc)

  -- encode new instruction into code.
  local inst1,inst2,inst3,inst4 = unpack_int4(inst)
  local code2 =
    code:sub(1,pos-1)..string_char(inst1,inst2,inst3,inst4)..code:sub(pos+4)
  local f2 = assert(loadstring(code2))

  return f2
end
M.new_table_builder = new_table_builder

return M
--DavidManura

Test:

local new_table_builder = require "opcreatetable" . new_table_builder

local nt = new_table_builder(1e6,1e6)
local t1 = nt()
local t2 = nt()
print(t1, t2)

-- wait for user to observe process memory usage
io.stdin:read'*l'

Lua 5.2

Should Lua 5.2 provide a better way of doing this?

See Also


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Last edited July 25, 2011 1:54 pm GMT (diff)