Profiling Code Using clock_gettime

After raising the issue of the low resolution problem of the timer provided by clock() in Resolution Problems in clock(), I’ve ended the post by mentioning to two more functions that should provide high-resolution timers suitable for profiling code. In this post I will discuss one of them, clock_gettime().

The clock_gettime() provides access to several useful timers with the resolution of nanoseconds. First, the prototype for the function is as follows:

int clock_gettime(clockid_t clk_id, struct timespect *tp);

The clk_id allows us to select a specific clock from the several
offered by the system, which includes:

  • CLOCK_REALTIME, a system-wide realtime clock.
  • CLOCK_PROCESS_CPUTIME_ID, high-resolution timer provided by the CPU for each process.
  • CLOCK_THREAD_CPUTIME_ID, high-resolution timer provided by the CPU for each of the threads.

Usually, there are more clocks provided, but I find these three the most useful as they allow to get the execution time spent in the system level, process level and the thread level.

The current clock time, for the chosen clock is stored int the struct provided by the *tp pointer. The timespec struct is defined as follows:

struct timespec {
	time_t tv_sec; /* seconds */
	long tv_nsec; /* nanoseconds */
};

To time the processing time some function took, one should call clock_gettime() twice. Once before the function call and once right after it and subtract the returned timings to get the actual runtime.

Getting the difference between two timespec structs isn’t very complicated and can be acheived using the function diff() defined bellow:

timespec diff(timespec start, timespec end)
{
	timespec temp;
	if ((end.tv_nsec-start.tv_nsec)<0) {
		temp.tv_sec = end.tv_sec-start.tv_sec-1;
		temp.tv_nsec = 1000000000+end.tv_nsec-start.tv_nsec;
	} else {
		temp.tv_sec = end.tv_sec-start.tv_sec;
		temp.tv_nsec = end.tv_nsec-start.tv_nsec;
	}
	return temp;
}

Now let’s move to some real example:

#include <iostream>
#include <time.h>
using namespace std;
 
timespec diff(timespec start, timespec end);
 
int main()
{
	timespec time1, time2;
	int temp;
	clock_gettime(CLOCK_PROCESS_CPUTIME_ID, &time1);
	for (int i = 0; i< 242000000; i++)
		temp+=temp;
	clock_gettime(CLOCK_PROCESS_CPUTIME_ID, &time2);
	cout<<diff(time1,time2).tv_sec<<":"<<diff(time1,time2).tv_nsec<<endl;
	return 0;
}
 
timespec diff(timespec start, timespec end)
{
	timespec temp;
	if ((end.tv_nsec-start.tv_nsec)<0) {
		temp.tv_sec = end.tv_sec-start.tv_sec-1;
		temp.tv_nsec = 1000000000+end.tv_nsec-start.tv_nsec;
	} else {
		temp.tv_sec = end.tv_sec-start.tv_sec;
		temp.tv_nsec = end.tv_nsec-start.tv_nsec;
	}
	return temp;
}

To use clock_gettime you need to include time.h and to link to librt.a. If you use gcc just make sure you add -lrt to your list of arguments.

Play a bit with the length of the for loop. As you can see clock_gettime provides much more accurate results and can register very short processing time too. Just remember that as the case with any profiling functions, this function adds a little overhead to your program, so make sure you disable the profiling code, using preprocessor commands for example, in the production release.

26/9/2007 – Update

You may want to take a look at The Revised String Iteration Benchmark post for another, larger, example of using clock_gettime to time performance of code.

52 thoughts on “Profiling Code Using clock_gettime

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