A static search structure is an Abstract Data Type with certain
fundamental operations, e.g., initialize, insert,
and retrieve. Conceptually, all insertions occur before any
retrievals. In practice,
gperf generates a static array
containing search set keywords and any associated attributes specified
by the user. Thus, there is essentially no execution-time cost for the
insertions. It is a useful data structure for representing static
search sets. Static search sets occur frequently in software system
applications. Typical static search sets include compiler reserved
words, assembler instruction opcodes, and built-in shell interpreter
commands. Search set members, called keywords, are inserted into
the structure only once, usually during program initialization, and are
not generally modified at run-time.
Numerous static search structure implementations exist, e.g., arrays, linked lists, binary search trees, digital search tries, and hash tables. Different approaches offer trade-offs between space utilization and search time efficiency. For example, an n element sorted array is space efficient, though the average-case time complexity for retrieval operations using binary search is proportional to log n. Conversely, hash table implementations often locate a table entry in constant time, but typically impose additional memory overhead and exhibit poor worst case performance.
Minimal perfect hash functions provide an optimal solution for a particular class of static search sets. A minimal perfect hash function is defined by two properties:
For most applications it is far easier to generate perfect hash
functions than minimal perfect hash functions. Moreover,
non-minimal perfect hash functions frequently execute faster than
minimal ones in practice. This phenomena occurs since searching a
sparse keyword table increases the probability of locating a “null”
entry, thereby reducing string comparisons.
behavior generates near-minimal perfect hash functions for
keyword sets. However,
gperf provides many options that permit
user control over the degree of minimality and perfection.
Static search sets often exhibit relative stability over time. For
example, Ada's 63 reserved words have remained constant for nearly a
decade. It is therefore frequently worthwhile to expend concerted
effort building an optimal search structure once, if it
subsequently receives heavy use multiple times.
the drudgery associated with constructing time- and space-efficient
search structures by hand. It has proven a useful and practical tool
for serious programming projects. Output from
gperf is currently
used in several production and research compilers, including GNU C, GNU
C++, GNU Java, GNU Pascal, and GNU Modula 3. The latter two compilers are
not yet part of the official GNU distribution. Each compiler utilizes
gperf to automatically generate static search structures that
efficiently identify their respective reserved keywords.