Alp Mestanogullari's Blog

Why expression templates matter ?

Posted in Uncategorized by alpmestan on 2009/11/01

Imagine we are using a matrix library, with a naive implementation of +, that simply adds column and row-wise each coefficient. Thus, for a, m1, m2, m3 being for example square matrices of order n, if we want to compute the sum of m1, m2 and m3 and to put the result in a, corresponding to the following code :

a = m1 + m2 + m3

then the computation will look like the following tree :

Evaluation tree of m1 + m2 + m3

Evaluation tree of m1 + m2 + m3

Thus, there will be a first for loop to compute m1 + m2 which will result in a matrix we’ll call t, then another one to compute t + m3. For 3×3 matrices, it’s ok. Imagine n is actually 40000. Doing two for loops of 40000 iterations where we would do a single one… quite annoying, isn’t it ? Actually, we would rather want an evaluation tree like the following :

The desired evaluation tree of m1 + m2 + m3

The desired evaluation tree of m1 + m2 + m3

Here comes expression templates ;)

It’ll need a bit of refactoring though. First, let’s say our matrix type is the following (we’ll only deal with float to avoid ambedding an additional typename template parameter representing the number type we use) :

template <unsigned int N>
class matrix
{
    float data[N*N];

public:
    float operator()(unsigned int row, unsigned int col) const
    {
        return data[row + N*col];
    }

    float& operator()(unsigned int row, unsigned int col)
    {
        return data[row + N*col];
    }
};

template <unsigned int N>
std::ostream & operator<<(std::ostream& o, const matrix<N>& m)
{
    o << "[";
    for(unsigned int row = 0; row < N; row++)
    {
        for(unsigned int col = 0; col < N; col++)
        {
            o << m(row,col);
            if(col != N-1) o << ";";
        }
        if(row != N-1) o << "\n";
    }
    o << "]";
    return o;
}

Now, we’ll have to define a Domain Specific Embedded Language for matrix operations. Like in any language people design, we will have a tree representing what’s happening in the code. In our case, it’ll represent the evaluation tree of the matrix operations we’re dealing with. Thus, like in any expression tree, we need an Expression type. Ours will look like this :

template <typename LeftOperandType, typename OperationTag, typename RightOperandType>
struct Expression
{
    const LeftOperandType& l;
    const RightOperandType& r;

    Expression(const LeftOperandType& l_, const RightOperandType& r_) : l(l_), r(r_) { }

    float operator() (unsigned int row, unsigned int col) const
    {
        return OperationTag::apply(l(row, col), r(row,col));
    }
};

Ok, now, what should an OperationTag look like ? Well, we’ll implement the operation tag corresponding to additions :

struct plus
{
    static float apply(float a, float b)
    {
        return a+b;
    }
};

and the + operator that’ll let us create an expression with a ‘plus’ operation.

template <typename L, typename R>
Expression<L, plus, R> operator+(const L& l, const R& r)
{
    return Expression<L, plus, R>(l, r);
}

Thanks to the definition of Expression, we can embed matrix operations in Expressions, but for the moment we can’t do the reverse way, that is we can’t convert an Expression to a matrix. So let’s write an operator= in the matrix class.

    // inside the matrix class
    template <typename ExprType>
    matrix<N>& operator=(const ExprType& e)
    {
        for(unsigned int row = 0; row < N; row++)
        {
            for(unsigned int col = 0; col < N; col++)
            {
                (*this)(row, col) = e(row, col);
            }
        }
        return (*this);
    }

So you see, this is the only moment where we call the operator()(unsigned int, unsigned int) of the Expression type. Thus, this is the only moment when the whole expression is being evaluated. Let’s study the following code.

#include <iostream>
#include "matrix.h"
#include "expression.h"

int main()
{
    matrix<2> m1;
    m1(0,0) = 1.0;
    m1(1,0) = 0.0;
    m1(0,1) = 4.0;
    m1(1,1) = 1.0;

    matrix<2> m2;
    m2(0,0) = 0.0;
    m2(1,0) = -1.0;
    m2(0,1) = 1.0;
    m2(1,1) = 2.0;

    matrix<2> m3;
    m3(0,0) = 1.0;
    m3(1,0) = -2.0;
    m3(0,1) = 3.0;
    m3(1,1) = 5.0;

    matrix<2> a;
    a = m1 + m2 + m3; 
    std::cout << a << std::endl;
}

Here, “m1 + m2 + m3″ crates an

Expression< Expression<matrix<2>, plus, matrix<2> >, plus, matrix<2> >

instance. The coefficients aren’t computed until operator= is called. Indeed, we have the following expression tree.

Expression tree

Expression tree

That is, we know which operations we have to call, on which matrices, but nothing is evaluated. The only place where we call operator() (unsigned int, unsigned int) on a value of type Expression is in matrix<N>::operator=, and this call actually computes each coefficient, one by one, applying the whole computation tree (here, two calls to ‘+’) for each coefficient. This way, we only execute the two for loops once, and it’ll remain the same whatever the number of computations is. Moreover, the only change we had to make to our matrix class was to add an operator= to be able to assign an expression to a matrix.

By the way, the output of our main function is the following.

[2;8
-3;8]

I hope you enjoyed this post ;)

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