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19.9 Is Fast Code or Small Code preferred?

If an application uses many floating point functions it is often the case that the cost of the function calls themselves is not negligible. Modern processors can often execute the operations themselves very fast, but the function call disrupts the instruction pipeline.

For this reason the GNU C Library provides optimizations for many of the frequently-used math functions. When GNU CC is used and the user activates the optimizer, several new inline functions and macros are defined. These new functions and macros have the same names as the library functions and so are used instead of the latter. In the case of inline functions the compiler will decide whether it is reasonable to use them, and this decision is usually correct.

This means that no calls to the library functions may be necessary, and can increase the speed of generated code significantly. The drawback is that code size will increase, and the increase is not always negligible.

There are two kinds of inline functions: those that give the same result as the library functions and others that might not set errno and might have a reduced precision and/or argument range in comparison with the library functions. The latter inline functions are only available if the flag -ffast-math is given to GNU CC.

In cases where the inline functions and macros are not wanted the symbol __NO_MATH_INLINES should be defined before any system header is included. This will ensure that only library functions are used. Of course, it can be determined for each file in the project whether giving this option is preferable or not.

Not all hardware implements the entire IEEE 754 standard, and even if it does there may be a substantial performance penalty for using some of its features. For example, enabling traps on some processors forces the FPU to run un-pipelined, which can more than double calculation time.

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