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I wrote a simple string pool for my compiler in C++ and want to hear your thoughts on its design.

String pool has 2 functions: intern and internLiteral. The only difference is that after interning literal, its memory is used. So no allocation happens. If memory for the same string was already allocated, it will be deallocated.

Hence, I have 2 destruction behaviours differentiated by StringType enum.

I also want my InternedStrings to have interface of const std::string_view (basically because of size method).

EDIT:

  1. Added concept for char allocator
  2. Strings are always null-terminated
  3. Added tests (all passed)
  4. Fixed compilation

EDIT:

  1. Removed shared_ptr and weak_ptr. Use raw pointer
  2. Now, after interning literals, previously allocated memory for the same non-literal string will be deallocated
  3. Simplified logic
  4. Updated test

FAQ:

  1. How to use InternedString?

InternedString is only meant to do 2 things:

  • O(1) equality check (as it is a pointer to const std::string_view)
  • read-only access to string

StringPool shouldn't be destroyed, while InternedString exists.

  1. Is StringPool worth it?

Well, it depends.

My use case is a compiler, where I have a lot of repeated strings for keywords, common functions names, etc.

Let's take while keyword for example.

Null-terminated "while" string contains 6 bytes. StringPool uses additional sizeof(std::string_view) bytes for it. After 4 while keywords we start gaining profit.

And comparing pointers is extremely fastenter image description here

  1. Why care about literals?

I want to "preallocate" keywords, I already use in my program as literals. But it's a very small optimization, and I may delete it to simplify pool.

#pragma once

#include <string_view>
#include <unordered_map>

/**
 * @file StringPool.hpp
 * @brief Manage pool of strings.
 * Pros:
 *  - No allocation for repeated strings
 *  - No allocation for literals
 *  - Strings have stable addresses -- fast to check for equality
 */

namespace ppl::common
{

/// Reference to string, interned in the pool
using InternedString = const std::string_view *;

namespace concepts
{

/// Concept for char allocator
template<typename T>
concept CharAllocator = requires(T t, char *str, size_t size)
{
    { t.allocate(size) } -> std::same_as<char *>;
    { t.deallocate(str, size) };
};

}

/// Pool of strings
template<concepts::CharAllocator Allocator = std::allocator<char>>
class StringPool
{
public:
    /// Allocator, used by pool
    Allocator allocator;
    
    /// Perfect forward arguments to allocator
    template<typename ...Args> 
    requires std::is_constructible_v<Allocator, Args...>
    StringPool(Args &&... args) noexcept
        : allocator(std::forward<Args>(args)...) {}

    /// Forbid copy
    StringPool(const StringPool &) = delete;
    /// Forbid copy
    StringPool &operator=(const StringPool &) = delete;

    /// Allow move
    StringPool(StringPool &&) = default;
    /// Allow move
    StringPool &operator=(StringPool &&) = default;

    /// @brief Intern a string literal on the pool
    /// @note Never allocates memory for string
    /// @note Deallocates memory for previously interned non-literal string
    InternedString internLiteral(const char *literal)
    {
        std::string_view view{literal};
        auto [it, _] = strings.emplace(view, StringType::literal);
        if (it->second == StringType::allocated)
        {
            // We can safely change it to be a view over literal, 
            // because it's exactly the same string.
            // 
            // ...But I'm not sure
            auto &oldView = const_cast<std::string_view &>(it->first);
            deallocateViewContent(oldView);
            oldView = view;
            it->second = StringType::literal;
        }
        return &it->first;
    }

    /// @brief Intern a string on the pool
    /// @note 
    ///     If string is a literal, 
    ///     use @c internLiteral() instead for memory efficiency
    InternedString intern(std::string_view str)
    {
        if (auto it = strings.find(str); it != strings.end()) 
        { 
            return &it->first; 
        }

        auto *allocated = allocator.allocate(str.size() + 1);
        if (!allocated) { return nullptr; }

        std::uninitialized_copy(str.begin(), str.end(), allocated);
        allocated[str.size()] = '\0';

        return &strings.emplace(
            std::string_view{allocated, str.size()}, 
            StringType::allocated
        ).first->first;
    }

    /// Deallocate memory
    ~StringPool()
    {
        for (auto &[str, type] : strings) 
        {
            if (type == StringType::allocated)
            {
                deallocateViewContent(str);
            }
        }
    }

private:
    /// Deallocate string that is viewed
    void deallocateViewContent(std::string_view view)
    {
        allocator.deallocate(
            const_cast<char *>(view.data()), 
            view.size() + 1
        );
    }

    /// Type of string
    enum class StringType
    {
        literal, // Doesn't need deallocation
        allocated // Needs deallocation
    };

    /// Interned strings
    std::unordered_map<
        std::string_view,
        StringType
    > strings;
};
    
} // namespace ppl::common

Google tests:

#include <gtest/gtest.h>

#include "ppl/common/StringPool.hpp"


template<typename Allocator>
struct TrackAllocator
{
    Allocator allocator;

    char * allocate(size_t size)
    {
        ++allocations;
        return allocator.allocate(size);
    }

    void deallocate(char *str, size_t size)
    {
        ++deallocations;
        allocator.deallocate(str, size);
    }

    size_t allocations = 0;
    size_t deallocations = 0;
};

/// Doesn't allocate memory
struct NullAllocator
{
    char * allocate(size_t) { return nullptr; }

    void deallocate([[maybe_unused]]char *ptr, size_t) 
    {
        assert(!ptr);
    }
};

using namespace ppl::common;

TEST(StringPool, internLiteralFirst)
{
    auto pool = 
        StringPool<TrackAllocator<NullAllocator>> {
            TrackAllocator<NullAllocator>{}
        };
    const char *literal = "Hello";

    auto internedLiteral = pool.internLiteral(literal);
    ASSERT_EQ(pool.allocator.allocations, 0);
    ASSERT_EQ(pool.allocator.deallocations, 0);
    ASSERT_EQ(internedLiteral->data(), literal);

    auto internedLiteral1 = pool.internLiteral(literal);
    ASSERT_EQ(pool.allocator.allocations, 0);
    ASSERT_EQ(pool.allocator.deallocations, 0);
    ASSERT_EQ(internedLiteral1, internedLiteral);

    std::string str = literal;
    auto internedStr = pool.intern(str);
    ASSERT_EQ(pool.allocator.allocations, 0);
    ASSERT_EQ(pool.allocator.deallocations, 0);
    ASSERT_EQ(internedStr, internedLiteral);
}

TEST(StringPool, internFirst)
{
    TrackAllocator<std::allocator<char>> trackAllocator;

    {
        StringPool<TrackAllocator<std::allocator<char>> &> pool(trackAllocator);

        const char *literal = "Hello";
        std::string str = literal;

        auto internedStr = pool.intern(str);
        ASSERT_EQ(pool.allocator.allocations, 1);
        ASSERT_EQ(pool.allocator.deallocations, 0);
        ASSERT_EQ(*internedStr, literal);

        auto internedLiteral = pool.internLiteral(literal);
        ASSERT_EQ(pool.allocator.allocations, 1);
        // Note that internedStr was deallocated
        ASSERT_EQ(pool.allocator.deallocations, 1);
        ASSERT_EQ(internedLiteral, internedStr);
        // Note that literal's memory is used instead
        ASSERT_EQ(internedLiteral->data(), literal);
    }
    ASSERT_EQ(trackAllocator.deallocations, 1);
}

TEST(StringPool, allocationFailure)
{
    TrackAllocator<NullAllocator> trackAllocator;

    {
        auto pool = 
            StringPool<TrackAllocator<NullAllocator> &> {
                trackAllocator
            };

        std::string str = "hello";
        auto internedStr = pool.intern(str);
        ASSERT_FALSE(internedStr);

        ASSERT_EQ(pool.allocator.allocations, 1);
        ASSERT_EQ(pool.allocator.deallocations, 0);
    }
    ASSERT_EQ(trackAllocator.deallocations, 0);
}

P.S: don't know how to handle if InternedString outlives the pool. I guess, it's not an issue of string pool, but an incorrect usage.

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  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Incorporating advice from an answer into the question violates the question-and-answer nature of this site. You could post improved code as a new question, as an answer, or as a link to an external site - as described in I improved my code based on the reviews. What next?. I have rolled back the edit, so the answers make sense again. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2022 at 5:51

4 Answers 4

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Make it more generic

You have already written somewhat generic code, as StringPool is a template. However, you can go further than that. First, consider that std::string is actually a std::basic_string<char>. You could add the same template parameters as std::basic_string has:

template<typename CharT = char,
         typename Traits = std::char_traits<CharT>,
         typename Allocator = std::allocator<CharT>>
class StringPool
{
    const Allocator& allocator;
    ...
};

Note that the allocator is stored by reference, just like std::basic_string<> does. This allows multiple pools to use the same allocator object.

Replacing an allocated string with a literal is dangerous

There are potential issues with replacing an allocated string with a literal. While InternedString is a stable pointer to a std::string_view stored in the pool, consider that some code might at some point copy a dereferenced InternedString somewhere. That is of course something it probably shouldn't do, but still.

A more realistic problem is if you have multi-threaded code. In that case, one thread might have dereferenced an allocated string, while another thread is replacing it with a literal.

You could place restrictions on the users of your code, and forbid multi-threaded access, but it's hard to enforce that programmatically. Make sure that these restrictions are documented, and possibly add run-time assertions to the code to catch misuse.

Also consider that pre-C++11, std::string was copy-on-write, which caused lots of issues, and ultimately led to the standards committee to forbid that.

Don't handle literals at all

I don't think there is much point in letting your pool handle the difference between literals and non-literals. Most compilers will already detect duplicate string literals and will merge them.

If you don't need to deal with literals, all strings will be allocated, and then you can avoid the whole manual allocation dance by storing strings in a std::unordered_set<std::string>.

Is it worth it?

Consider whether it is worth having a pool at all. How many bytes are saved by deduplicating strings? Conversely, how much memory is now used by all the std::string_view objects (one in the pool itself, and one copy the caller of intern() has to keep), and how much is the overhead of the std::unordered_map?

Also consider that if you are mostly interested in deduplicating and comparing small strings: since C++11, on most platforms std::string comes with small string optimization (SSO). That means if the string is smaller than almost sizeof(std::string), it doesn't perform an allocation, and comparing two such std::strings is almost as fast as comparing two std::string_views. In fact, it is likely to be faster to compare two small std::strings if they are unequal!

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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I check for it->second == StringType::allocated to see, if this string was already interned with intern. There is a test internFirst that shows that specific case \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2022 at 13:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that the allocator is stored by reference, just like std::basic_string<> does. This allows multiple pools to use the same allocator object. ... and disallows allocator to have state, I suppose \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2022 at 13:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ You cannot safely deallocate an allocated string and replace it with a literal, as someone might still have an InternedString that points to the old allocated string. Interned strings are pointers to keys in map. I update key with const_cast (it only changes address, not the data, so it's somewhat safe), hence it must work \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2022 at 14:00
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ const allocators can still have mutable state. \$\endgroup\$
    – G. Sliepen
    Sep 20, 2022 at 14:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair enough XD Thanks \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2022 at 14:02
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Reconsider your design:

  • Why do you limit yourself to strings, and only those fitting the specialization string_view?
    With a slight adjustment you could use it for any kind of read-only data. Mostly, you would need to make InternedString a full class, best templated like basic_string_view, provide the same for span, and use reference_wrapper for arbitrary literal objects.
  • Deallocating and replacing interned strings is suicidal.
    Thus, don't try.
  • You only remove an interned string when the pool is destroyed.
    Thus, use a custom linear allocator for string-data and map-nodes to avoid overhead, potentially one each.
  • Do you really want/need your strings to be 0-terminated?
    If not, that saves space, and would synergize with the next point.
  • Depending on your space/time tradeoff, it might make sense to get a list of read-only regions and search it as well as accumulated string-data for a match before adding the string.
  • Consider chaining your string-pools, if that makes sense for your application.

Try different combinations (including foregoing it completely) and measure with a real workload.

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4
  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean by read-only regions? \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20, 2022 at 23:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ And I just don't need to have pool of anything but utf-8 encoded strings, so making it more generic won't give me anything \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2022 at 2:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, YAGNI applies. And your program and libraries are most likely mapped ro, and the mappung can be retrieved on most modern OSs, though that is dreadfully implementation specific.. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2022 at 5:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gavrilikhin.d, if you're working with UTF-8, the preferred string type would be std::u8string (and its corresponding view). \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2022 at 6:27
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Errors, warnings and style

std::uninitialized_copy() requires <memory> to be included.

std::size_t is misspelt throughout.

Some g++ -Weffc++ warnings were easily addressed by adding = {} initialisers to member variables. This is mostly a limitation of the warning, that doesn't understand default-initialization of aggregate types - but being explicit about the initialisation is always good for readers, so worth fixing.

#pragma once isn't standard; prefer a portable include-guard.

I dislike the trailing whitespace that's present on many lines. That can be dangerous if you ever continue lines using \. I configure my editor to delete extraneous whitespace when saving C++ source.

Lifetime and ownership

A pool is generally used as a long-lived resource, so it's not completely unreasonable to specify that references to its contents are valid only during the pool's lifetime.

However, this is exactly the kind of scenario for which std::shared_ptr was created. That's the way to express ownership when you don't have a clear foreknowledge of which owner will live longest.

And the shared pointer carries around with it the information needed to delete its value, so you can support a mixed pool of literals and allocated strings. That said, I'd advise against that, but instead support layering of pools, so that you can have a constant pool of literals that uses a modifiable pool of allocated strings when an element isn't found.

Using shared pointers even allows use of a weak pointer inside the pool (once there are no external users, the exact pointer value is no longer necessary). This approach should be used with care, as it could lead to frequent re-creation of values (e.g. in your use case of a compiler, we might end up with creation and deletion of "tmp" in each function that contains that identifier).

String literal handling

The complexity of managing string literal lifetimes (including the additional cognitive load imposed on the users is unlikely to be worth the gain). Just intern those like any other string - the expense of constructing a string object will be incurred only once per string, after all. You might be able to shift the burden to compile-time with suitable constexpr constructor.

Performance

You should consider that std::unordered_map might not be the best container for strings, depending on the contents. The hash function can cause lookups to be slower than simple < comparison as used by std::map. This is one circumstance where it is useful to pass a template as template parameter, to give the user a choice of implementation strategy.

Generality

This could easily be extended to support other string types (wide, UTF-8, etc). But why stop there? If we free ourselves from std::basic_string_view<>, this could become an intern table for any kind of object (at least, any regular object that can be hashed and/or sorted). That would increase its value, and decouple it from serving just one particular application.

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2
  • \$\begingroup\$ #pragma once is de-facto standard as it works with gcc, clang and Microsoft's compiler. It's much convenient and safer to use that header guards. So, while I understand your concerns, I'll stick to pragma \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2022 at 10:09
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, it's common, and may one day become a standard. Which advice you heed and which you disregard is entirely your own concern, but I thought I ought to point that out so you have made an informed decision. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2022 at 11:54
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Applied changes

  1. Completely removed special handling of literals.
  2. Use unordered_set as an underlying container

Handling of literals overcomplicated my pool without much gain.

A lot of suggested changes were connected with this problem.

What I considered


Make it more generic.

This StringPool is generic enough for me, at least for now. I will generalise it once there is a need.

Use header guards instead of #pragma once

#pragma once is supported by all major compilers and is much safer to use than header guards

Code

#pragma once

/**
 * @file StringPool.hpp
 * @brief Manage pool of strings.
 * Pros:
 *  - No allocation for repeated strings
 *  - Strings have stable addresses -- fast to check for equality
 */

#include <string_view>
#include <unordered_set>
#include <memory> // uninitialized_copy

namespace ppl::common
{

/// Pointer to view of string, interned on the pool
using InternedString = const std::string_view *;

namespace concepts
{

/// Concept for char allocator
template<typename T>
concept CharAllocator = requires(T t, char *str, size_t size)
{
    { t.allocate(size) } -> std::same_as<char *>;
    { t.deallocate(str, size) };
};

}

/// Pool of strings.
/// @warning isn't thread safe
template<concepts::CharAllocator Allocator = std::allocator<char>>
class StringPool
{
public:
    /// Allocator, used by pool
    Allocator allocator;

    /// Perfect forward arguments to allocator
    template<typename ...Args>
    requires std::is_constructible_v<Allocator, Args...>
    StringPool(Args &&... args) noexcept
        : allocator(std::forward<Args>(args)...) {}

    /// Forbid copy
    StringPool(const StringPool &) = delete;
    /// Forbid copy
    StringPool &operator=(const StringPool &) = delete;

    /// Allow move
    StringPool(StringPool &&) = default;
    /// Allow move
    StringPool &operator=(StringPool &&) = default;

    /// Intern a string on the pool.
    /// @warning isn't thread safe
    InternedString intern(std::string_view str)
    {
        if (auto it = strings.find(str); it != strings.end())
        {
            return &*it;
        }

        auto *allocated = allocator.allocate(str.size() + 1);
        if (!allocated) { return nullptr; }

        std::uninitialized_copy(str.begin(), str.end(), allocated);
        allocated[str.size()] = '\0';

        return &*strings.emplace(allocated, str.size()).first;
    }

    /// Deallocate memory
    ~StringPool()
    {
        for (auto &str : strings)
        {
            deallocateViewContent(str);
        }
    }

private:
    /// Deallocate string that is viewed
    void deallocateViewContent(std::string_view view)
    {
        allocator.deallocate(
            const_cast<char *>(view.data()),
            view.size() + 1
        );
    }

    /// Interned strings
    std::unordered_set<std::string_view> strings;
};

} // namespace ppl::common
```
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  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Just .insert() and handle success by fixing up the new element. Also use allocator_traits instead of naked allocator. Btw: If you used the right allocator, special-casing true constants would be simply omitting the copy, as no manual deletes would happen at all. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 21, 2022 at 15:17

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