Non-extensibility of Typed Arrays

Brendan Eich brendan at
Wed Sep 4 17:25:13 PDT 2013

Filip Pizlo wrote:
>>> 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. 
> How so? It is true that some VM implementations will be better than 
> others. But ultimately every VM can implement every optimization that 
> every other VM has; in fact my impression is that this is exactly what 
> is happening as we speak.

My "for-all" referred to all typed arrays across all VMs, not just all VMs.

Also just as a point of fact (something "done", the Latin root means 
"deed"), I do not see the same optimizations being used in all VMs. For 
example, SpiderMonkey's TI (written up here: http://‎ [PLDI 2012]) is not being used elsewhere 
AFAIK -- please correct me if I'm mistaken.

> So, it doesn't make much sense to make language design decisions 
> because it might make some implementor's life easier right now. If you 
> could argue that something will /never/ be efficient if we add feature 
> X, then that might be an interesting argument. But as soon as we 
> identify one sensible optimization strategy for making something free, 
> I would tend to think that this is sufficient to conclude that the 
> feature is free and there is no need to constrain it. If we don't do 
> this then we risk adding cargo-cult performance features that rapidly 
> become obsolete.

I agree that's a risk. I'm also with Niko in wanting to argue about what 
the semantics should be without appealing to performance arguments.

However, I still think you are verging on promising a free lunch. All 
methods in C++ cannot affordably be virtual. Expandos in JS cost. At 
fine enough grain, even pretty-well-predicted branches cost. Nothing is 
free-enough to discount forever in my bitter and long experience :-P.

>> 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).
> With a side table, the constant K = 0 even if you have custom 
> properties. The table will only have an entry for those instances that 
> had custom properties.

I know, that's why I was attacking the non-side-table approach.

But the side table has its own down-side trade-offs: GC complexity, even 
costlier indirection, and strictly greater implementation complexity. If 
one could implement without having to mess with this K ?= 0 design 
decision and hassle with packing or else using a side-table, one's VM 
would be smaller, simpler, less buggy -- all else equal.

Now you may say that I'm betraying my hero Mr. Spock, whom I have 
invoked to argue that implementors should sacrifice so the mass of JS 
users can live long and prosper.

And you'd have me dead to rights -- if I thought JS users wanted 
expandos on binary data, that the lack of expandos there was a problem 
akin to the whole starship being blown up. But I do not believe that's 
the case.

If users don't care, then implementors should get a break and VMs should 
be simpler, ceteris paribus.

>>> - 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.
> Thanks for the links! To clarify, I'm not trying to make a 
> counterproposal - the above was nothing more than a fun thought 
> experiment and I shared it to motivate why I think that custom 
> properties are free.
> My understanding is that you are still arguing that custom properties 
> are not free, and that they incur some tangible cost in terms of space 
> and/or time. I'm just trying to show you why they don't if you do the 
> same optimizations for them that have become acceptable for a lot of 
> other JS corners. Unless you think that ES should have an "ease of 
> implementation" bar for features. I wouldn't necessarily mind that, 
> but my impression is that this is not the case.

I do think implementor ease, or really implementation simplicity, should 
be a concern. It's secondary, per Spock's Kobayashi Maru solution, to 
the needs of the many JS users. But it's not nothing. Part of the 
impetus for Dart, I'm told, is the complexity of V8 required by 
JS-as-it-is. Whatever the case there, standardized JS extensions should 
not add too much complexity if we can help it.

I'll lay off performance concerns but you'll still see me, like Ahab 
lashed to the white whale, beckoning against free lunch arguments or 
anything near them :-P.

>> 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.
> Indeed.
>> If I have followed your messages correctly, this is because you think 
>> non-extensibility is a rare case that should not proliferate. 
> I have two points here:
> - Typed arrays already have so much observable objectyness that making 
> then non-extensible feels arbitrary; this is true regardless of the 
> prevalence, or lack thereof, of non-extensibility.

Ok, I acknowledge this point.

And yet SpiderMonkey had native typed arrays from the get-go, 
non-extensible -- we didn't use WebIDL. So the interoperable 
intersection semantics developers can count on does not include 
extensibility. As Mark says, this allows us to standardize either way, 
so we need arguments that don't appeal to "feelings".

> - At the same time, I do think that non-extensibiltiy is a rare case 
> and I don't like it.

I can tell ;-). Feelings are important but to decide on a spec we will 
need stronger reasons.

>> But with ES5 Object.preventExtensions, etc., the horse is out of the 
>> barn.
> It's there and we have to support it, and the fact that you can do 
> preventExtensions() to an object is a good thing. That doesn't mean it 
> should become the cornerstone for every new feature. If a user wants 
> to preventExtensions() on their object, then that's totally cool - and 
> I'm not arguing that it isn't.
> The argument I'm making is a different one: should an object be 
> non-expandable by default?
> I keep hearing arguments that this somehow makes typed arrays more 
> efficient. That's like arguing that there exists a C compiler, 
> somewhere, that becomes more efficient if you label your variables as 
> 'register'.

I remember when that indeed mattered.

> It's true that if you're missing the well-known optimization of 
> register allocation then yes, 'register' is an optimization. Likewise, 
> if you're missing the well-known object model optimizations like 
> pointer displacement, BBOP's, or other kinds of side tables, then 
> forcing objects to be non-extensible is also an optimization. That 
> doesn't mean that we should bake it into the language. VM hackers can 
> just implement these well-known optimizations and just deal with it.

Ok, let's let the performance argument rest. You can be Ishmael and 
live. I'm Ahab and I still stab at such nearly-free-lunch, "sufficiently 
smart compiler" claims :-).

>> 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).
> I think making int64/bignum be primitives is fine. My only point is 
> that whether or not you make them expandable has got nothing to do 
> with how much memory they use.
>> 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 Object.preventExtensions.
> Well this is all subjective. Objects being expandable by default is a 
> unifying concept.

It does not unify number, boolean, string.

What's not subjective is that we have two concepts in JS today, one 
(ignoring null and undefined) for primitive AKA value types, the other 
for reference types (objects). I see a way to extend object as a concept 
to subsume value types, although of course unity comes at the price of 
complexity for object. But non-extensibility is a piece of complexity 
already added to object as a concept by ES5.

Irreducible complexity here, and perhaps "subjective" or (I prefer) 
"aesthetic" judgment is the only way to pick.

> The only thing that expandability of typed arrays appears to change is 
> the interaction with binary data - but that isn't exactly a value 
> object system as much as it is a playing-with-bits system. I'm not 
> sure that having oddities there changes much.

Sure, let's get back to binary data (I brought up value objects because 
you brought up int64).

Interior binary data objects will be cons'ed up upon extraction, so 
distinguishable by == returning false and by lack of expando 
preservation. Niko, Dmitry, and others take this as a sign that expandos 
should not be allowed, leaving only == returning false among same-named 
extractions as an oddity. And they further conclude that expandos should 
not be allowed on any binary data object (whether interior extracted, or 

You argue on the contrary that JS objects in general can be extended 
with expandos, so why restrict binary data objects, even interior ones 
that are extracted? Let each such extracted interior object be != with 
all other same-named extractions, and let each have expandos assigned 
that (vacuously) won't be preserved on next extraction.

I hope I have stated positions accurately. If so I'll tag out of the 
ring, in hopes of someone else bringing new arguments to bear.


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