Three Monkeys, Three Typewriters, Two Days

June 15, 2009

Lessons (re)learned today, and performance

Lesson relearned: working on airplanes is very productive. I chalk it up to the lack of IRC and e-mail.

Lesson learned: working on performance bugs drains your battery very quickly. This is because the work largely consists of compiling, running the performance testcases, running the profiler, and then compiling some more. These are all rather CPU-intensive activities.

I spent my flight this morning finally digging into something that's bothered me for years: the performance of setting inline style. I focused specifically on the setting, not the things we have to do lazily (restyling, reflow, etc) to handle the sets; even that part was making up something like 20% of the time on some testcases.

The first step was to write a microbenchmark for setting (which is the same code as setting style.left, so I figured I'd just profile one of them). On this microbenchmark, on my machine, we were taking somewhere around 400ms on each part on a current m-c build. Looking at the profile, the usual culprits jumped out at me. Speeding up parsing of numbers in CSS got me into something like the 350ms range. Creating a fast path for modifying a single non-important already-set style property via inline style put me into about the 250ms range.

At this point, looking at the profile, I realized that about half the time was being spent in the JS engine, not in the DOM/style code. I figured this was due to us not tracing DOM setters yet, but the fact that we were hitting the resolve hook all the time and filling the property cache a lot looked suspicious. Eventually, I decided that this looks like a possible bug in the JS property cache. I tried a hack to make us hit when we're missing right now, and times dropped to about 110ms. I'm not sure that's where we'll end up, because I'm not sure that the property cache is really misbehaving here, but it looked pretty encouraging!

All of which raises the question of what this means for "real" performance. As an example, on the testcase in bug 229391, on which inline style sets had shown up in profiles before, times look about like this:

Tracing setters might also help some; it's hard to tell.

There's more obvious work that would help these pages (e.g. David Baron's proposal to not rerun selector matching on inline style sets, or what looks like a Mac painting/invalidation issue that I'm still investigating), so I hope that Gecko 1.9.2 will be a good bit faster on this sort of thing than Gecko 1.9.1.

Posted by bzbarsky at June 15, 2009 11:27 PM