Department of Computer Science and Technology

Technical reports

Improving cache performance by runtime data movement

Mark Adcock

July 2009, 174 pages

This technical report is based on a dissertation submitted June 2009 by the author for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the University of Cambridge, Christ’s College.

Some figures in this document are best viewed in colour. If you received a black-and-white copy, please consult the online version if necessary.

DOI: 10.48456/tr-757


The performance of a recursive data structure (RDS) increasingly depends on good data cache behaviour, which may be improved by software/hardware prefetching or by ensuring that the RDS has a good data layout. The latter is harder but more effective, and requires solving two separate problems: firstly ensuring that new RDS nodes are allocated in a good location in memory, and secondly preventing a degradation in layout when the RDS changes shape due to pointer updates.

The first problem has been studied in detail, but only two major classes of solutions to the second exist. Layout degradation may be side-stepped by using a ‘cache-aware’ RDS, one designed to have inherently good cache behaviour (e.g. using a B-Tree in place of a binary search tree), but such structures are difficult to devise and implement. A more automatic solution in some languages is to use a ‘layout-improving’ garbage collector, which attempt to improve heap data layout during collection using online profiling of data access patterns. This may carry large performance, memory and latency overheads.

In this thesis we investigate the insertion of code into a program which attempts to move RDS nodes at runtime to prevent or reduce layout degradation. Such code affects only the performance of a program not its semantics. The body of this thesis is a thorough and systematic evaluation of three different forms of data movement. The first method adapts existing work on static RDS data layout, performing ad-hoc single node movements at a program’s pointer-update sites, which is simple to apply and effective in practice, but the performance gain may be hard to predict. The second method performs infrequent movement of larger groups of nodes, borrowing techniques from garbage collection but also embedding data movement in existing traversals of the RDS; the benefit of performing additional data movement to compact the heap is also demonstrated. The third method restores a pre-chosen layout after each RDS pointer update, which is a complex but effective technique, and may be viewed both as an optimisation and as a way of synthesising new cache-aware RDSs.

Concentrating on both maximising performance while minimising latency and extra memory usage, two fundamental RDSs are used for the investigation, representative of two common data access patterns (linear and branching). The methods of this thesis compare favourably to upper bounds on performance and to the canonical cache-aware solutions. This thesis shows the value of runtime data movement, and as well as producing optimisation useful in their own right may be used to guide the design of future cache-aware RDSs and layout-improving garbage collectors.

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BibTeX record

  author =	 {Adcock, Mark},
  title = 	 {{Improving cache performance by runtime data movement}},
  year = 	 2009,
  month = 	 jul,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  doi = 	 {10.48456/tr-757},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-757}