The Laws of Software Optimization

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Paul Leyland

Hi Grant,

You are probably aware of the material below, as it has a long history, but it is posted here for the amusement and possible education of others.

Zeroth Law of Optimization: First get it right, then get it fast.

You can do anything arbitrarily quickly as long as your code is not required to get the right answer.

First Law: Intelligence trumps code.

Use a good algorithm. Optimizing a bad algorithm is akin to polishing turds.

Second Law: Know what is going on.

Unless you profile your code and take timing measurements most everywhere, you don’t have a clue what is worth optimizing.

Third Law: Don’t do it.

Only calculate stuff you actually need. You might be surprised at how much extraneous garbage is computed in libraries, etc, without your knowledge.

Fourth Law: Don’t do it now.

Covers a number of issues, including lifting computations outside loops and storing stuff in registers or cache-friendly memory.