This is now the fifth year I’ve been writing numerical software for the .NET platform. Over these years, I’ve discovered quite a few, let’s call them ‘unfortunate’, design decisions that make writing solid and fast numerical code on .NET more difficult than it needs to be.
What I’d like to do in the coming weeks is list some of the improvements that would make life easier for people in our specialized field of technical computing. The items mentioned in this post aren’t new: I’ve written about them before. But it’s nice to have them all collected in one spot.
Fix the “Inlining Problem“
First on the list: the “inlining“ problem. Method calls with parameters that are value types do not get inlined by the JIT. This is very unfortunate, as it eliminates most of the benefit of defining specialized value types. For example: it’s easy enough to define a complex number structure with overloaded operators and enough bells and whistles to make you deaf. Unfortunately, none of those operator calls are inlined. You end up with code that is an order of magnitude slower than it needs to be.
Even though it has been the top performance issue for several years, there is no indication yet that it will be fixed any time soon. You can add your vote to the already sizeable number on Microsoft’s product feedback site.
Support the IEEE-754 Standard
Over 20 years ago, the IEEE published a standard for floating-point arithmetic that has since been adopted by all major manufacturers of CPU’s. So, platform independence can’t be an issue. Why then is it that the .NET Framework has only the most minimal support for the standard? Surely the fact that people took the time to come up with a solid standard, and the fact that it has enjoyed such wide support from hardware vendors should be an indication that this is something useful and would greatly benefit an important segment of the developer community.
I’ve written about the benefits of floating-point exceptions before, and I’ve discussed my proposal for a FloatingPointContext class. I’ve added a suggestion to this effect in LadyBug. Please go over there and vote for this proposal.
Allow Overloading of Compound Assignment Operators
This is another topic I’ve written about before. In a nutshell: C# and VB.NET don’t support custom overloaded assignment operators at all. C++/CLI supports them, and purposely violates the CLI spec in the process – which is a good thing! One point I would like to add: performance isn’t the only reason. Sometimes there is a semantic difference. Take a look at this code:
RowVector pivotRow = matrix.GetRow(pivot)
for(row = pivot+1; row < rowCount; row++)
RowVector currentRow = matrix.GetRow(row);
currentRow -= factor * pivotRow
which could be part of the code for computing the LU Decomposition of a matrix. The GetRow method returns the row of the matrix without making a copy of the data. The code inside the loop subtracts a multiple of the pivot row from the current row. With the current semantics where x -= y is equivalent to x = x – y, this code does not perform as expected.
What I would like to see is have the CLI spec changed to match what C++/CLI does. Compound assignment operators should be instance members.
Still to come: a proposal for some (relatively) minor modifications to .NET generics to efficiently implement generic arithmetic, better support for arrays, and more.