C if-else Optimization

When doing some maintenance work on C code (refactoring!), I wondered if I should code C if-else clauses in some particular way to take advantage of modern processor pipelines and caching.

It seems obvious that if you have multiple else-if clauses, then putting the most likely to execute code in the first if clause would be the best (since it avoids subsequent checks most of the time), but what about the case that you only have a two-way if (cond) {…} else {…}  type of code, should you place the code most likely to be executed in the if clause or in the else clause? It would seem that it shouldn’t matter either way since there is only one condition being checked. But…

I did some experimentation on a system at hand (an Intel Pentium system with a small program compiled using gcc) and found that putting the most likely to be executed code as part of the else clause consistently had better timings. Be warned that this was just a simplistic “add-two-values-stored-in-variables-in-one-line” kind of code — definitely not a good test, but sufficient for me to satisfy my curiousity for the time being.

Google searching seemed to indicate that the performance depended on the ‘branch prediction‘ capability of the processor. I also found out that gcc has a compiler directive (__builtin_expect()) that one can use to provide a hint to the compiler so it knows what is the most likely outcome of a if conditional check and generate code suitable for the branch prediction capability of the target processor. The gcc manual recommends against using this directive though! See more details regarding this directive here.


Payment processing

Yet another discussion on Payment Processing. This time on Hacker News. Some focus on subscription billing. Got to see some names I haven’t seen before — Braintree, Spreedly, Cybersource, PowerPay…