Modeling strings with libpmemobj C++ bindings

Posted January 23, 2017         « Previous post     Next post »

C++ developers using libpmemobj have more than one option for modeling strings, depending on the size of the strings and whether they are fixed or varying in length. In this post we’ll review the representations that work, known variations to avoid, and finally present a persistent string class that implements these best practices.

Avoid wrapping fixed-size arrays

You might expect (like I did at first!) that p<char[size]> is a proper way to simply model a fixed-size string, but actually this is not correct. The p<> template does not implement the subscript operator[] and so p<char[size]> won’t even compile.

Avoid wrapping std::string

Never use p<std::string> or persistent_ptr<std::string>. This code will compile, but these implementations will not be power-fail safe (at best) and might be unstable (at worst). This advice applies to using p<> or persistent_ptr<> wrappers around any complex types that perform their own memory management.

Avoid arrays of persistent pointers to single chars

Don’t model a variable-length string with representations like persistent_ptr<char> X[] or persistent_ptr<p<char>[]>. These are horribly inefficient and should always be avoided. Let’s consider what is happening behind the scenes here. In case of persistent_ptr<char> X[], each char in the variable-length string will be stored as one char in persistent memory and so each char requires another 16 bytes for its individual persistent pointer. So allocating a single char results in 16 more bytes written than necessary. Reading or writing a single char results in 16 more bytes read than necessary, since every persistent char accessed requires dereferencing a 16-byte persistent pointer. These are not the strings you’re looking for.

Use fixed-length strings inside persistent structs

The easiest proper way to model a fixed-length string is within a persistent struct or class. The char array will be stored inside the struct/class, which is wrapped in a persistent_ptr, as in the example below.

class MyAssociation {
public:
  void set_key(std::string* key);
  void set_value(std::string* value);
private:
  char key[SIZE];
  char value[SIZE];
};

struct MyAssociations {
  persistent_ptr<MyAssociation> preferred_association;
  persistent_ptr<MyAssociation> alternate_associations[SIZE];
};

A small complication here is that the set_key and set_value methods must always call pmemobj_tx_add_range_direct prior to modifying their respective internal fields. (This call would typically be done automatically by a p<> wrapper, if we had one.)

Technically, calling pmemobj_tx_add_range_direct is redundant when modifying a newly allocated object, as the entire memory range of a new object is already in the current transaction. However, the performance improvement from skipping pmemobj_tx_add_range_direct is very low, especially considering the risk of corruption from missing one of these calls.

Use variable-length strings inside persistent structs

For a long or variable-length string, it’s best to use persistent_ptr<char[]> within a persistent struct or class. A version of MyAssociation for this case is shown below.

class MyAssociation {
public:
  void set_key(std::string* key);
  void set_value(std::string* value);
private:
  persistent_ptr<char[]> key;
  persistent_ptr<char[]> value;
};

struct MyAssociations {
  persistent_ptr<MyAssociation> preferred_association;
  persistent_ptr<MyAssociation> alternate_associations[SIZE];
};

Here the set_key and set_value methods will each call make_persistent to allocate a char array (including the null termination char). This is a significant increase in number of persistent allocations over the previous version for small strings. These methods will also have to use delete_persistent properly to avoid leaking persistent memory.

Use a persistent string class

All these guidelines so far are a lot to remember, so a simple persistent string class like the example below can provide some relief.

#define SSO_CHARS 15
#define SSO_SIZE (SSO_CHARS + 1)

class PersistentString {
public:
  char* data() const { return str ? str.get() : const_cast<char*>(sso); }
  void reset();
  void set(std::string* value);
private:
  char sso[SSO_SIZE];
  persistent_ptr<char[]> str;
};

void PersistentString::reset() { 
  pmemobj_tx_add_range_direct(sso, 1);
  sso[0] = 0;
  if (str) delete_persistent<char[]>(str, strlen(str.get()) + 1);
}

void PersistentString::set(std::string* value) {
  unsigned long length = value->length();
  if (length <= SSO_CHARS) {
    if (str) {
      delete_persistent<char[]>(str, strlen(str.get()) + 1);
      str = nullptr;
    }
    pmemobj_tx_add_range_direct(sso, SSO_SIZE);
    strcpy(sso, value->c_str());
  } else {
    if (str) delete_persistent<char[]>(str, strlen(str.get()) + 1);
    str = make_persistent<char[]>(length + 1);
    strcpy(str.get(), value->c_str());
  }
}

Note how PersistentString uses a small internal array, or allocates a second persistent array, automatically based on the length of the string. The set method follows the proper rules for calling pmemobj_tx_add_range_direct, based on the length of the incoming string.

Although PersistentString could additionally store the length of the persistent string, we chose not to do so above for two reasons – first because this reduces space for storing short strings (making the long string case more probable), and second because maintaining the length as a separate persistent field requires more journaling overhead. This might be a good case for using a volatile field within a persistent type, should NVML support that concept someday.

Many thanks to @tomaszkapela and @pbalcer for contributing to this post!



Posted by @RobDickinson         « Previous post     Next post »