What is Duff's Device?

Q

What is Duff's Device?

✍: Guest

A

It's a devastatingly devious way of unrolling a loop, devised by Tom Duff while he was at Lucasfilm. In its ``classic'' form, it was used to copy bytes, and looked like this:

register n = (count + 7) / 8; /* count > 0 assumed */
switch (count % 8)
{
case 0: do { *to = *from++;
case 7: *to = *from++;
case 6: *to = *from++;
case 5: *to = *from++;
case 4: *to = *from++;
case 3: *to = *from++;
case 2: *to = *from++;
case 1: *to = *from++;
} while (--n > 0);
}
where count bytes are to be copied from the array pointed to by from to the memory location pointed to by to (which is a memory-mapped device output register, which is why to isn't incremented). It solves the problem of handling the leftover bytes (when count isn't a multiple of 8) by interleaving a switch statement with the loop which copies bytes 8 at a time. (Believe it or not, it is legal to have case labels buried within blocks nested in a switch statement like this. In his announcement of the technique to C's developers and the world, Duff noted that C's switch syntax, in particular its ``fall through'' behavior, had long been controversial, and that ``This code forms some sort of argument in that debate, but I'm not sure whether it's for or against.'')

2015-01-02, 1020👍, 0💬