FFI calls: is it possible to allocate a small memory block on a stack?

Denys Rtveliashvili rtvd at mac.com
Thu Apr 15 15:34:06 EDT 2010

> While alloca is not as cheap as, say, C's alloca, you should find that 
> it is much quicker than C's malloc.  I'm sure there's room for 
> optimisation if it's critical for you.  There may well be low-hanging 
> fruit: take a look at the Core for alloca.
> The problem with using the stack is that alloca needs to allocate 
> non-movable memory, and in GHC thread stacks are movable.
> Cheers,
> 	Simon

Thank you for reply.

I think I have had a few wrong assumptions. One of them is that stack is
non-movable. Of course, for this purpose I need a non-movable region and
a pinned array on a heap is probably the only choice.
Also, I was hoping it is possible to use the low-level stack (the one
which is being used when instructions such as "push" and "pop" are
executed), but I guess it is not possible in case of GHC-generated code.

As for the performance of "alloca", I though it would be faster than
"malloc". However, in a simple test I have just written it is actually
slower. The test allocates 16-bytes arrays and immediately de-allocates
them. This operation is repeated 1000000000 times. On my computer the C
program takes 27 seconds to complete while Haskell version takes about

#include <stdlib.h>

int main (int argc, char **argv) {
    for(long i = 0; i < 1000000000; i ++) {
module Main where

import Control.Monad
import Foreign.Storable
import Foreign.Marshal.Alloc
import Foreign.Ptr

data Data = Data
instance Storable Data where
  sizeOf _ = 16
  alignment _ = 16
  peek _ = return Data
  poke _ _ = return ()

main = sequence_ $ replicate 1000000000 $ alloca $ \ptr ->
  if (nullPtr::Ptr Data) == ptr then fail "Can't be" else return ""

I would gladly take a look at the Core of "alloca". But frankly, I am
not sure how to tell ghc to show me that. With the help of -ddump-simpl
and -fext-core I can make it show me the Core, but it does not have the
body of the "alloca" itself, just a call to it. And when I look at C--
source with the help of -ddump-cmm the source is transformed too much
already to tell where "alloca" is.
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