Switch translation

Brian Goetz brian.goetz at oracle.com
Fri Apr 6 15:51:49 UTC 2018

The following outlines our story for translating improved switches, 
including both the switch improvements coming as part of JEP 325, and 
follow-on work to add pattern matching to switches.  Much of this has 
been discussed already over the last year, but here it is in one place.

# Switch Translation
#### Maurizio Cimadamore and Brian Goetz
#### April 2018

## Part 1 -- constant switches

This part examines the current translation of `switch` constructs by 
`javac`, and proposes a more general translation for switching on 
primitives, boxes, strings, and enums, with the goals of:

  - Unify the treatment of `switch` variants, simplifying the compiler 
implementation and reducing the static footprint of generated code;
  - Move responsibility for target classification from compile time to 
run time, allowing us to more freely update the logic without updating 
the compiler.

## Current translation

Switches on `int` (and the smaller integer primitives) are translated in 
one of two ways.  If the labels are relatively dense, we translate an 
`int` switch to a `tableswitch`; if they are sparse, we translate to a 
`lookupswitch`.  The current heuristic appears to be that we use a 
`tableswitch` if it results in a smaller bytecode than a `lookupswitch` 
(which uses twice as many bytes per entry), which is a reasonable 

#### Switches on boxes

Switches on primitive boxes are currently implemented as if they were 
primitive switches, unconditionally unboxing the target before entry 
(possibly throwing NPE).

#### Switches on strings

Switches on strings are implemented as a two-step process, exploiting 
the fact that strings cache their `hashCode()` and that hash codes are 
reasonably spread out. Given a switch on strings like the one below:

     switch (s) {
         case "Hello": ...
         case "World": ...
         default: ...

The compiler desugar this into two separate switches, where the first 
switch maps the input strings into a range of numbers [0..1], as shown 
below, which can then be used in a subsequent plain switch on ints.  The 
generated code unconditionally calls `hashCode()`, again possibly 
throwing NPE.

     int index=-1;
     switch (s.hashCode()) {
         case 12345: if (!s.equals("Hello")) break; index = 1; break;
         case 6789: if (!s.equals("World")) break; index = 0; break;
         default: index = -1;
     switch (index) {
         case 0: ...
         case 1: ...
         default: ...

If there are hash collisions between the strings, the first switch must 
try all possible matching strings.

#### Switches on enums

Switches on `enum` constants exploit the fact that enums have (usually 
dense) integral ordinal values.  Unfortunately, because an ordinal value 
can change between compilation time and runtime, we cannot rely on this 
mapping directly, but instead need to do an extra layer of mapping.  
Given a switch like:

     switch(color) {
         case RED: ...
         case GREEN: ...

The compiler numbers the cases starting a 1 (as with string switch), and 
creates a synthetic class that maps the runtime values of the enum 
ordinals to the statically numbered cases:

     class Outer$0 {
         synthetic final int[] $EnumMap$Color = new 
         static {
             try { $EnumMap$Color[RED.ordinal()] = 1; } catch 
(NoSuchFieldError ex) {}
             try { $EnumMap$Color[GREEN.ordinal()] = 2; } catch 
(NoSuchFieldError ex) {}

Then, the switch is translated as follows:

     switch(Outer$0.$EnumMap$Color[color.ordinal()]) {
         case 1: stmt1;
         case 2: stmt2

In other words, we construct an array whose size is the cardinality of 
the enum, and then the element at position *i* of such array will 
contain the case index corresponding to the enum constant with whose 
ordinal is *i*.

## A more general scheme

The handling of strings and enums give us a hint of how to create a more 
regular scheme; for `switch` targets more complex than `int`, we lower 
the `switch` to an `int` switch with consecutive `case` labels, and use 
a separate process to map the target into the range of synthetic case 

Now that we have `invokedynamic` in our toolbox, we can reduce all of 
the non-`int` cases to a single form, where we number the cases with 
consecutive integers, and perform case selection via an 
`invokedynamic`-based classifier function, whose static argument list 
receives a description of the actual targets, and which returns an `int` 
identifying what `case` to select.

This approach has several advantages:
  - Reduced compiler complexity -- all switches follow a common pattern;
  - Reduced static code size;
  - The classification function can select from a wide range of 
strategies (linear search, binary search, building a `HashMap`, 
constructing a perfect hash function, etc), which can vary over time or 
from situation to situation;
  - We are free to improve the strategy or select an alternate strategy 
(say, to optimize for startup time) without having to recompile the code;
  - Hopefully at least, if not more, JIT-friendly than the existing 

We can also use this approach in preference to `lookupswitch` for 
non-dense `int` switches, as well as use it to extend `switch` to handle 
`long`, `float`, and `double` targets (which were surely excluded in 
part because the JVM didn't provide a convenient translation target for 
these types.)

#### Bootstrap design

When designing the `invokedynamic` bootstraps to support this 
translation, we face the classic lumping-vs-splitting decision. For now, 
we'll bias towards splitting.  In the following example, 
`BOOTSTRAP_PREAMBLE` indicates the usual leading arguments for an indy 
bootstrap.  We assume the compiler has numbered the case values densely 
from 0..N, and the bootstrap will return [0,n) for success, or N for "no 

A strawman design might be:

     // Numeric switches for P, accepts invocation as P -> I or Box(P) -> I
     CallSite intSwitch(BOOTSTRAP_PREAMBLE, int... caseValues)

     // Switch for String, invocation descriptor is String -> I
     CallSite stringSwitch(BOOTSTRAP_PREAMBLE, String... caseValues)

     // Switch for Enum, invocation descriptor is E -> I
     CallSite enumSwitch(BOOTSTRAP_PREAMBLE, Class<Enum<E extends 
Enum<E>>> clazz,
                         String... caseNames)

It might be possible to encode all of these into a single bootstrap, but 
given that the compiler already treats each type slightly differently, 
it seems there is little value in this sort of lumping for non-pattern 

The `enumSwitch` bootstrap as proposed uses `String` values to describe 
the enum constants, rather than encoding the enum constants directly via 
condy.  This allows us to be more robust to enums disappearing after 

This strategy is also dependent on having broken the limitation on 253 
bootstrap arguments in indy/condy.

#### Extending to other primitive types

This approach extends naturally to other primitive types (long, double, 
float), by the addition of some more bootstraps (which need to deal with 
the additional complexities of infinity, NaN, etc):

     CallSite longSwitch(BOOTSTRAP_PREAMBLE, long... caseValues)
     CallSite floatSwitch(BOOTSTRAP_PREAMBLE, float... caseValues)
     CallSite doubleSwitch(BOOTSTRAP_PREAMBLE, double... caseValues)

#### Extending to null

The scheme as proposed above does not explicitly handle nulls, which is 
a feature we'd like to have in `switch`.  There are a few ways we could 
add null handling into the API:

  - Split entry points into null-friendly or null-hostile switches;
  - Find a way to encode nulls in the array of case values (which can be 
done with condy);
  - Always treat null as a possible input and a distinguished output, 
and have the compiler ensure the switch can handle this distinguished 

The last strategy is appealing and straightforward; assign a sentinel 
value (-1) to `null`, and always return this sentinel when the input is 
null.  The compiler ensures that some case handles `null`, and if no 
case handles `null` then it inserts an implicit

     case -1: throw new NullPointerException();

into the generated code.

#### General example

If we have a string switch:

     switch (x) {
         case "Foo": m(); break;
         case "Bar": n(); // fall through
         case "Baz": r(); break;
         default: p();

we translate into:

     int t = indy[bsm=stringSwitch["Foo", "Bar", "Baz"]](x)
     switch (t) {
         case -1: throw new NullPointerException();  // implicit null case
         case 0: m(); break;
         case 1: n(); // fall through
         case 2: r(); break;
         case 3: p();                                // default case

All switches, with the exception of `int` switches (and maybe not even 
non-dense `int` switches), follow this exact pattern.  If the target 
type is not a reference type, the `null` case is not needed.

This strategy is implemented in the `switch` branch of the amber 
repository; see `java.lang.runtime.SwitchBootstraps` in that branch for 
(rough!) implementations of the bootstraps.

## Patterns in narrow-target switches

When we add patterns, we may encounter switches whose targets are 
tightly typed (e.g., `String` or `int`) but still use some patterns in 
their expression.  For switches whose target type is a primitive, 
primitive box, `String`, or `enum`, we'd like to use the optimized 
translation strategy outlined here, but the following kinds of patterns 
might still show up in a switch on, say, `Integer`:

     case var x:
     case _:
     case Integer x:
     case Integer(var x):

The first three can be translated away by the source compiler, as they 
are semantically equivalent to `default`.  If any nontrivial patterns 
are present (including deconstruction patterns), we may need to 
translate as a pattern switch scheme -- see Part 2. (While the language 
may not distinguish between "legacy" and "pattern" switches -- in that 
all switches are pattern switches -- we'd like to avoid giving up 
obvious optimizations if we can.)

# Part 2 -- type test patterns and guards

A key motivation for reexamining switch translation is the impending 
arrival of patterns in switch.  We expect switch translation for the 
pattern case to follow a similar structure -- lower to an `int` switch 
and use an indy-based classifier to select an index.  However, there are 
a few additional complexities.  One is that pattern cases may have 
guards, which means we need to be able to re-enter the bootstrap with an 
indication to "continue matching from case N", in the event of a failed 
guard. (Even if the language doesn't support guards directly, the 
obvious implementation strategy for nested patterns is to desugar them 
into guards.)

Translating pattern switches is more complicated because there are more 
options for how to divide the work between the statically generated code 
and the switch classifier, and different choices have different 
performance side-effects (are binding variables "boxed" into a tuple to 
be returned, or do they need to be redundantly calculated).

## Type-test patterns

Type-test patterns are notable because their applicability predicate is 
purely based on the type system, meaning that the compiler can directly 
reason about it both statically (using flow analysis, optimizing away 
dynamic type tests) and dynamically (with `instanceof`.)  A switch 
involving type-tests:

     switch (x) {
         case String s: ...
         case Integer i: ...
         case Long l: ...

can (among other strategies) be translated into a chain of `if-else` 
using `instanceof` and casts:

     if (x instanceof String) { String s = (String) x; ... }
     else if (x instanceof Integer) { Integer i = (Integer) x; ... }
     else if (x instanceof Long) { Long l = (Long) x; ... }

#### Guards

The `if-else` desugaring can also naturally handle guards:

     switch (x) {
         case String s
             where (s.length() > 0): ...
         case Integer i
             where (i > 0): ...
         case Long l
             where (l > 0L): ...

can be translated to:

     if (x instanceof String
         && ((String) x).length() > 0) { String s = (String) x; ... }
     else if (x instanceof Integer
              && ((Integer) x) > 0) { Integer i = (Integer) x; ... }
     else if (x instanceof Long
              && ((Long) x) > 0L) { Long l = (Long) x; ... }

#### Performance concerns

The translation to `if-else` chains is simple (for switches without 
fallthrough), but is harder for the VM to optimize, because we've used a 
more general control flow mechanism.  If the target is an empty 
`String`, which means we'd pass the first `instanceof` but fail the 
guard, class-hierarchy analysis could tell us that it can't possibly be 
an `Integer` or a `Long`, and so there's no need to perform those tests. 
But generating code that takes advantage of this information is more 

In the extreme case, where a switch consists entirely of type test 
patterns for final classes, this could be performed as an O(1) operation 
by hashing.  And this is a common case involving switches over 
alternatives in a sum (sealed) type. (We shouldn't rely on finality at 
compile time, as this can change between compile and run time, but we 
should take advantage of this at run time if we can.)

Finally, the straightforward static translation may miss opportunities 
for optimization.  For example:

     switch (x) {
         case Point p
             where p.x > 0 && p.y > 0: A
         case Point p
             where p.x > 0 && p.y == 0: B

Here, not only would we potentially test the target twice to see if it 
is a `Point`, but we then further extract the `x` component twice and 
perform the `p.x > 0` test twice.

#### Optimization opportunities

The compiler can eliminate some redundant calculations through 
straightforward techniques.  The previous switch can be transformed to:

     switch (x) {
         case Point p:
             if (((Point) p).x > 0 && ((Point) p).y > 0) { A }
             else if (((Point) p).x > 0 && ((Point) p).y > 0) { B }

to eliminate the redundant `instanceof` (and admits further CSE 

#### Clause reordering

The above example was easy to transform because the two `case Point` 
clauses were adjacent.  But what if they are not?  In some cases, it is 
safe to reorder them.  For types `T` and `U`, it is safe to reorder 
`case T` and `case U` if the two types have no intersection; that there 
can be no types that are subtypes of them both.  This is true when `T` 
and `U` are classes and neither extends the other, or when one is a 
final class and the other is an interface that the class does not 

The compiler could then reorder case clauses so that all the ones whose 
first test is `case Point` are adjacent, and then coalesce them all into 
a single arm of the `if-else` chain.

A possible spoiler here is fallthrough; if case A falls into case B, 
then cases A and B have to be moved as a group.  (This is another reason 
to consider limiting fallthrough.)

A bigger possible spoiler here is separate compilation.  If at compile 
time, we see that `T` and `U` are disjoint types, do we want to bake 
that assumption into the compilation, or do we have to re-check that 
assumption at runtime?

#### Summary of if-else translation

While the if-else translation at first looks pretty bad, we are able to 
extract a fair amount of redundancy through well-understood compiler 
transformations.  If an N-way switch has only M distinct types in it, in 
most cases we can reduce the cost from _O(N)_ to _O(M)_.  Sometimes _M 
== N_, so this doesn't help, but sometimes _M << N_ (and sometimes `N` 
is small, in which case _O(N)_ is fine.)

Reordering clauses involves some risk; specifically, that the class 
hierarchy will change between compile and run time.  It seems eminently 
safe to reorder `String` and `Integer`, but more questionable to reorder 
an arbitrary class `Foo` with `Runnable`, even if `Foo` doesn't 
implement `Runnable` now, because it might easily be changed to do so 
later.  Ideally we'd like to perform class-hierarchy optimizations using 
the runtime hierarchy, not the compile-time hierarchy.

## Type classifiers

The technique outlined in _Part 1_, where we lower the complex switch to 
a dense `int` switch, and use an indy-based classifier to select an 
index, is applicable here as well. First let's consider a switch 
consisting only of unguarded type-test patterns, optionally with a 
default clause.

We'll start with an `indy` bootstrap whose static argument are `Class` 
constants corresponding to each arm of the switch, whose dynamic 
argument is the switch target, and whose return value is a case number 
(or distinguished sentinels for "no match" and `null`.)  We can easily 
implement such a bootstrap with a linear search, but can also do better; 
if some subset of the classes are `final`, we can choose between these 
more quickly (such as via binary search on `hashCode()`, hash function, 
or hash table), and we need perform only a single operation to test all 
of those at once. Dynamic techniques (such as a building a hash map of 
previously seen target types), which `indy` is well-suited to, can 
asymptotically approach _O(1)_ even when the classes involved are not 

So we can lower:

     switch (x) {
         case T t: A
         case U u: B
         case V v: C


     int y = indy[bootstrap=typeSwitch(T.class, U.class, V.class)](x)
     switch (y) {
         case 0: A
         case 1: B
         case 2: C

This has the advantages that the generated code is very similar to the 
source code, we can (in some cases) get _O(1)_ dispatch performance, and 
we can handle fallthrough with no additional complexity.

#### Guards

There are two approaches we could take to add support for guards into 
the process; we could try to teach the bootstrap about guards (and would 
have to pass locals that appear in guard expressions as additional 
arguments to the classifier), or we could leave guards to the generated 
bytecode.  The latter seems far more attractive, but requires some 
tweaks to the bootstrap arguments and to the shape of the generated code.

If the classifier says "you have matched case #3", but then we fail the 
guard for #3, we want to go back into the classifier and start again at 
#4.  (Sometimes the classifier can also use this information ("start 
over at #4") to optimize away unnecessary tests.)

We add a second argument (where to start) to the classifier invocation 
signature, and wrap the switch in a loop, lowering:

     switch (target) {
         case T t where (e1): A
         case T t where (e2): B
         case U u where (e3): C


     int index = -1; // start at the top
     while (true) {
         index = indy[...](target, index)
         switch (index) {
             case 0: if (!e1) continue; A
             case 1: if (!e2) continue; B
             case 2: if (!e3) continue; C
             default: break;

For cases where the same type test is repeated in consecutive positions 
(at N and N+1), we can have the static compiler coalesce them as above, 
or we could have the bootstrap maintain a table so that if you re-enter 
the bootstrap where the previous answer was N, then it can immediately 
return N+1.  Similarly, if N and N+1 are known to be mutually exclusive 
types (like `String` and `Integer`), on reentering the classifier with 
N, we can skip right to N+2 since if we matched `String`, we cannot 
match `Integer`. Lookup tables for such optimizations can be built at 
callsite linkage time.

#### Mixing constants and type tests

This approach also extends to tests that are a mix of constant patterns 
and type-test patterns, such as:

     switch (x) {
         case "Foo": ...
         case 0L: ...
         case Integer i:

We can extend the bootstrap protocol to accept constants as well as 
types, and it is a straightforward optimization to combine both type 
matching and constant matching in a single pass.

## Nested patterns

Nested patterns are essentially guards; even if we don't expose guards 
in the language, we can desugar

     case Point(0, var x):

into the equivalent of

     case Point(var a, var x) && a matches 0:

using the same translation story as above -- use the classifier to 
select a candidate case arm based on the top-type of the pattern, and 
then do additional checks in the generated bytecode, and if the checks 
fail, continue and re-enter the classifier starting at the next case.

#### Explicit continue

An alternative to exposing guards is to expose an explicit `continue` 
statement in switch, which would have the effect of "keep matching at 
the next case."  Then guards could be expressed imperatively as:

     case P:
         if (!guard)
     case Q: ...

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