The effect of micro-optimizations

Optimizing software for speed is a delicate topic. Often you hear the saying “Make it work, make it right, make it fast”, implying performance optimization should be the last step you should do when you code. Which is true to a very large extent.

But in many cases, you are happy if your budget allows to you to get to the “get it right” phase, and you rarely get the chance to kick off a decent performance optimization phase. That’s a situation which is true in many areas of the software industry, and performance optimization is often only done when absolutely necessary. Which is unfortunate, because it leaves us with a lot of software, which has performance problems. And in many cases a large part of the problem could be avoided if only a few optimizations were done (at the right spot, of course).

But all this statement of “performance improvement phase” assumes, that it requires huge efforts to make software more performant. Which in general is true, but there are typically a number of actions, which can be implemented quite easily and which can be beneficial. Of course these rarely boost your overall application performance by 50%, but most often it just speeds up certain operations. But depending on the frequency these operations are called it can sum into a substantial improvement.

I did once a performance tuning session on an AEM publish instance to improve the raw page rendering performance of an application. The goal was to squeeze more page responses out of the given hardware. Using a performance test and a profiler I was able to find the creation of JCR sessions and Sling ResourceResolvers to take 1-2 milliseconds, which was worth to investigate. Armed with this knowledge I combed through the codebase, reviewed all cases where a new Session is being created and removed all cases where it was not necessary. This was really a micro-optimization, because I focussed on tiny pieces of the code (not even the areas which are called many times) , and the regular page rendering (on a developer machine) was not improving at all. But in production this optimization turned out to help a lot, because it allowed us to deliver 20% more pages per second out of the publish at peak.

In this case I spend quite some amount of time to come to the conclusion, that opening sessions can be expensive under load. But now I know that and spread that knowledge via code reviews and blog posts.

Most often you don’t see the negative effect of these anti-patterns (unless you overdo it and every Sling Models opens a new ResourceResolver), and therefor the positive effects of applying these micro-optimizations are not immediately visible. And in the end, applying 10 micro-optimizations with a ~1% speedup each sum up to a pretty nice number.

And of course: If you can apply such a micro-optimization in a codepath which is heavily used, the effects can be even larger!

So my recommendation to you: If you come across such a piece of code, optimize it. Even if you cannot quantify and measure the immediate performance benefit of it, do it.

Same as:

(for int=0;i<= 100;i++) {
  othernumber += i;

I cannot quantify the improvement, but I know, that

othernumber += 5050;

is faster than the loop, no questions asked. (Although that’s a bad example, because hopefully the compiler would do it for me.)

In the upcoming blog posts I want to show you a few cases of such micro-optimizations in AEM, which I personally used with good success. Stay tuned.

(Photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash)

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