Friday, 12 January 2018

Not every bit of code you write needs to be optimal

It's easy to fall into the trap of obsessing about performance and try to micro-optimize every little detail in the code you're writing. Or reviewing for that matter. Most of the time, this just adds complexity and is a waste of effort.

If a piece of code only runs a few (or even a few hundred) times a second, a few nanoseconds per invocation won't make a significant difference. Chances are the performance wins you'll gain by micro optimizing such code won't show up on a profile.

Given that, what should you do instead? Code is read and edited much more than it is written, so optimize for readability, and maintainability.

If you find yourself wondering whether a piece of code is making your program slow, one of the first things you should do is fire up a profiler, and measure it. Or add telemetry to report how long your function takes in the wild. Then you can stop guessing, and start doing science.

If data shows that your code is slow, by all means optimize it. But if not, you can get more impact out of your time by directing your efforts elsewhere.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

...or, as Donald Knuth famously put it in Structured Programming with go to Statements (ACM Computing Surveys, Vol 6, No. 4, Dec. 1974, p.268):

There is no doubt that the grail of efficiency leads to abuse. Programmers waste enormous amounts of time thinking about, or worrying about, the speed of noncritical parts of their programs, and these attempts at efficiency actually have a strong negative impact when debugging and maintenance are considered. We should forget about small efficiencies, say about 97% of the time: premature optimization is the root of all evil.
Yet we should not pass up our opportunities in that critical 3%. A good programmer will not be lulled into complacency by such reasoning, he will be wise to look carefully at the critical code; but only after that code has been identified.