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malloc + memset vs calloc: which is better?


Permalink 08:41:03 pm, by lano1106, 236 words, 2243 views   English (CA)
Categories: Linux

malloc + memset vs calloc: which is better?

I always had the intuition that allocating and initializing the memory to 0 in a single step could be faster than doing it yourself even if modern C compilers replace the memset() calls with inline assembly instructions. By browsing the glibc malloc source code for another problem, I had the perfect opportunity to validate my intuition and it turns out that my intuition was correct!

On Linux, the glibc heap manager is using the sbrk() system call to grow the heap. The fresh memory returned by sbrk() is initialized to, guess which value??, 0. glibc heap manager keeps track of memory in its heap that is freshly returned by sbrk() and calloc() can leverage this information to return memory already containing zeros and skipping totally the memset() step!

I did benchmark what I was writing and I did find out that, with glibc 2.18, it is true only for allocation size > ~ 64KB. Smaller than that malloc + memset is faster. I have reported this finding to the glibc mailing list. I still advocate to prefer calloc() as the current result is probably temporary and I expect future version to remove this anomaly.

for those desiring to play with the test, you can get these files:


to build do:

gcc -O3 -c calloc_emul.c

Play with the various define values and

gcc -O3 -c tst-calloc.c
gcc -o tst-calloc tst-calloc.o calloc_emul.o


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Olivier Langlois's blog

I want you to find in this blog informations about C++ programming that I had a hard time to find in the first place on the web.

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