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C++ exceptions can be an optimization

One of the first things I sought to do when I first started contributing to PCSX2 was to improve the emulator's overall stability and error handling; and to this day it's still one of my top priorities.

My method of doing so was initially seen as controversial: I merged in drk||Raziel's VTLB code (which was C++), converted the rest of the PCSX2 codebase to C++, and started replacing the (lack of?) error code return values with modern C++ exception handling. The initial reaction from the public (and some PCSX2 team members) was either distrust or panic. Chants of "C++ is slow!" or "Exception handling is slow!" frequented the PCSX2 revision comments.

And admittedly, for some tasks and in some specific scenarios, C++ and it's exception handling are slow. But, of course, the key is to avoid those scenarios... which as it turns out is really quite easy. Better yet, clever use of C++ and its exceptions can actually be a speedup. How is that possible? I'll explain!

Typically in traditional error handling models, you check the return code of a function for errors, like so:

Code:
if( DoSomethingSpecial() == SPECIAL_FAIL )
{
    // Handle error.
}


This is simple, short, and quite fast compared to the overhead of entering a C++ try/catch block. But let's consider a more practical everyday example:

Code:
int DoSomethingSpecial()
{
    if( DoSomethingElse() == SPECIAL_FAIL ) return SPECIAL_FAIL;

    // Do stuff based on DoSomethingElse's success
    Console::WriteLn( "Success!" );

    return SPECIAL_WIN;
}

void LoopOfCode()
{
    do
    {
        // code [...]
    } while( DoSomethingSpecial() != SPECIAL_FAIL )
}


The above code snippet must perform no less than two conditional checks per loop just to propagate the error code up the chain of function calls, and this isn't even handling the possibility of a function returning more than one error code yet! This is a situation where C++ Exception Handling can come to our rescue:

Code:
void DoSomethingSpecial()
{
    DoSomethingElse();

    // Do stuff based on DoSomethingElse's success
    Console::WriteLn( "Success!" );
}

void LoopOfCode()
{
    try
    {
        while( true )
        {
            DoSomethingSpecial();
        };
    } catch( Exception:: SpecialFail&& )
    {
    }
}


The above C++ snippet performs the exact same operation, except now no conditionals are needed. We've traded off the two conditionals per loop for the entry/exit code for the try/catch block. But the block is outside the loop, so it will be run only once. Conditional checks are one of the slower operations on almost any CPU design, which means if the loop is a busy one which spins frequently this C++ code will certainly be a significant speedup over the plain jane C version. And that's just with one return code. Adding multiple exception handlers doesn't impact performance at all, so in a case where there are multiple return codes the C++ exception handling approach shines even brighter.

... thus dies the age-old rumor that C++ is slower than C. IT's all in how you wield your sword. Or... well... programming language.

Edit: I should add that the basic theory of optimization I'm using here is what I call "optimizing for the common case." It's a process of speeding up the code that's being run more frequently (which in our example above is a typically error-free running loop) by offloading the logic to an area of the code that's run much less frequently (the exception handler's entry/exit overhead). It's one of the most powerful optimization techniques any programmer can employ.

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