C++ Map Lookup Memoization

C++ Map Lookup Memoization

Memoization is an old technique. It's basically caching outputs for giving inputs (usually in a map). But a map lookup itself is not free. How can we memoize map lookups?

I learned from my coworker this nifty trick recently. Let's say we have a map (e.g. std::unordered_map<K,V>, for which the associations (key -> value mapping) don't change during the lifetime of the program. This is fairly common for things like settings and counters. Now every time you look up a certain key, you have to paid the lookup cost (more instructions, cacheline misses, memory accesses, you name it). How can we make it faster?

// imagine a hot code path that gets executed for every request

// instead of
auto res = map["key"];

// how about
#define MAP_LOOKUP(key)                 \
  [&]() {                              \
      constexpr const char* const const_key = (key);
      static auto res = map[const_key];      \
      return res;                      \
auto res = MAP_LOOKUP("key");

Now instead of doing the map lookup every time, we only perform the lookup once per MAP_LOOK(key) callsite (not per key). Notice we used static local variable in a lambda. Since a unique class type is created for each MAP_LOOKUP(key) callsite, we get memoization for each callsite (not per key).

Because we are memoizing per callsite (not per key), the key cannot change at a given callsite. The way to make sure that's the case is by enforcing the key to be a constexpr.

The lambda is not free for sure. But it's just an allocation on the stack. So very cheap.

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