Compiler Optimization

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Here's a good overview on compiler optimizations:

Here's some info about GCC optimization techniques:

Effects of optimization options are explained in this LJ article.

A note of warning from Gentoo wiki on optimization flags:

-O3: This is the highest level of optimization possible, and also the riskiest. It will take a longer time to compile your code with this option, and in fact it should not be used system-wide with gcc 4.x. The behavior of gcc has changed significantly since version 3.x. In 3.x, -O3 has been shown to lead to marginally faster execution times over -O2, but this is no longer the case with gcc 4.x. Compiling all your packages with -O3 will result in larger binaries that require more memory, and will significantly increase the odds of compilation failure or unexpected program behavior (including errors). The downsides outweigh the benefits; remember the principle of diminishing returns. Using -O3 is not recommended for gcc 4.x.

In the following e-mail, Jim Wilson, who apparently supports gcc, writes:

From: Jim Wilson <wilson at specifixinc dot com> 
Date: Thu, 29 Apr 2004 15:58:28 -0700 
Subject: Re: optimization issue about -O2 and -Os 
The -Os option is buggy. You might want to report a bug into our bugzilla
bug datase. See for more info on reporting bugs.

Though the -Os option is based on the -O2 option, it is a different option, that
generates different code, and has different bugs.

Tim Riker: this is a bit overly dramtic. -Os is widely used and widely supported. The link is to a thread about general information and does not refer to any specific bug from what I can see. Try -Os out. If you have issues, try -O2 instead. In general -Os will work. Be very careful in tweaking kernel optimizations. There is kernel code that only works with the existing optimizations.

Gentoo has also a very good overview over Safe Cflags for different architectures and cpus.

Link-time optimization (LTO)

  • gcc front-ends (parsers) produce GIMPLE, which is in "static single assignment" (SSA) form
  • Then, gcc optimizes the code, and converts to RTL (Register Transfer Language)
  • RTL is converted to assembler by an architecture-specific back-end. Then the assembler is called to convert to machine code
  • Finally, the linker is called to combine object files

gcc LTO support

Linux kernel LTO support

Andi Kleen produced a set of patches to support LTO in the Linux kernel (originally for version 3.6 of the kernel and gcc 4.7)