Non-extensibility of Typed Arrays

Brendan Eich brendan at
Wed Sep 4 15:09:58 PDT 2013

> Filip Pizlo <mailto:fpizlo at>
> September 4, 2013 12:34 PM
> My point is that having custom properties, or not, doesn't change the 
> overhead for the existing typed array spec and hence has no effect on 
> small arrays.  The reasons for this include:
> - Typed arrays already have to be objects, and hence have a 
> well-defined behavior on '=='.
> - Typed arrays already have to be able to tell you that they are in 
> fact typed arrays, since JS doesn't have static typing.
> - Typed arrays already have prototypes, and those are observable 
> regardless of expandability.  A typed array from one global object 
> will have a different prototype than a typed array from a different 
> global object.  Or am I misunderstanding the spec?
> - Typed arrays already have to know about their buffer.
> - Typed arrays already have to know about their offset into the 
> buffer.  Or, more likely, they have to have a second pointer that 
> points directly at the base from which they are indexed.
> - Typed arrays already have to know their length.
> You're not proposing changing these aspects of typed arrays, right?

Of course not, but for very small fixed length arrays whose .buffer is 
never accessed, an implementation might optimize harder. It's hard for 
me to say "no, Filip's analysis shows that's never worthwhile, for all 

> The super short message is this: so long as an object obeys object 
> identity on '==' then you can have "free if unused, suboptimal if you 
> use them" custom properties by using a weak map on the side.  This is 
> true of typed arrays and it would be true of any other object that 
> does object-style ==.  If you allocate such an object and never add a 
> custom property then the weak map will never have an entry for it; but 
> if you put custom properties in the object then the map will have 
> things in it.  But with typed arrays you can do even better as my 
> previous message suggests: so long as an object has a seldom-touched 
> field and you're willing to eat an extra indirection or an extra 
> branch on that field, you can have "free if unused, still pretty good 
> if you use them" custom properties by displacing that field.  Typed 
> arrays have both of these properties right now and so expandability is 
> a free lunch.

The last sentence makes a "for-all" assertion I don't think 
implementations must be constrained by. Small fixed-length arrays whose 
.buffer is never accessed (which an implementation might be able to 
prove by type inference) could be optimized harder.

The lack of static types in JS does not mean exactly one implementation 
representation must serve for all instances of a given JS-level 
abstraction. We already have strings optimized variously in the top VMs, 
including Chords or Ropes, dependent strings, different character sets, etc.
> Still find this discussion amusing?  Here's the long story is: It is 
> these things that I list above that lead to a 16 byte overhead on 
> 32-bit, and a 32-byte overhead on 64-bit in the best "sane" case. 
>  Giving typed array objects expandability doesn't add to this 
> overhead, because two of the fields necessary to implement the above 
> (the type, and the buffer) can be displaced for pointing to property 
> storage.  Any imaginable attempt to reduce the overhead incurred by 
> the information - using BBOP (big bag of pages) for the type, using an 
> out-of-line weak map for the buffer or the type, encoding some of the 
> bits inside the pointer to the typed array, etc. - can be also used to 
> eradicate any space overhead you'd need for custom properties, so long 
> as you're on board with the "free if unused, sub-optimal if you use 
> them" philosophy.

For something like decimal, it matters whether there's an empty side 
table and large-N decimal instances of total size N*S, vs. N*(S+K) for 
some constant K we could eliminate by specializing harder. Even better 
if we agree that decimal instances should be non-extensible (and have 
value not reference semantics -- more below).

> - If the VM wants to go further and create immediate representations 
> of some or all Int64's, similarly to what VMs do for JS small integers 
> today, then the main problem you run into is object identity: does 
> Int64(1).add(Int64(1)) == Int64(1).add(Int64(1))?  A naive JS 
> implementation of an Int64 class would say that this is false, since 
> it's likely to allocate a new Int64 each time.  But an immediate 
> representation would have no choice but to say true.  You can work 
> around this if you say that the VM's implementation of Int64 
> operations behaves /as if/ the add()/sub()/whatever() methods used a 
> singleton cache.  You can still then have custom properties; i.e. you 
> could do Int64(2).foo = 42 and then Int64(1).add(Int64(1)).foo will 
> return 42, since the VM can keep an 
> immediate-int64-to-customproperties map on the side.  That's kind of 
> analogous to how you could put a setter on field '2' of 
> Array.prototype and do some really hilarious things.

The value objects proposal for ES7 is live, I'm championing it. It does 
not use (double-dispatch for dyadic) operators as methods. It does not 
use extensible objects.

Warning: both are slightly out of date, I'll be updating the strawman 
over the next week.

With value objects, TC39 has definitely favored something that I think 
you oppose, namely extending JS to have (more) objects with value not 
reference semantics, which requires non-extensibility.

If I have followed your messages correctly, this is because you think 
non-extensibility is a rare case that should not proliferate. But with 
ES5 Object.preventExtensions, etc., the horse is out of the barn.

At a deeper level, the primitives wired into the language, boolean 
number string -- in particular number when considering int64, bignum, 
etc. -- can be rationalized as value objects provided we make typeof 
work as people want (and work so as to uphold a == b && typeof a == 
typeof b <=> a === b).

This seems more winning in how it unifies concepts and empowers users to 
make more value objects, than the alternative of saying "the primitives 
are legacy, everything else has reference semantics" and turning a blind 
eye, or directing harsh and probably ineffective deprecating words, to 


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