Crate slipstream

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This library helps writing code in a way that incentives the compiler to optimize the results better (without really doing anything itself).

Modern compilers, including rustc, are able to come up with impressive ways to speed up the resulting code, using techniques like loop unrolling and autovectorization, routinely outperforming what one would hand-craft. Nevertheless, each optimisation has some assumptions that must be proven to hold before it can be applied.

This library offers „vector“ types, like u16x8, which act in a very similar way as little fixed-sized arrays (in this case it would be [u16; 8]), but with arithmetics defined for them. They also enforce alignment of the whole vectors. Therefore, one can write the algorithm in a way that works on these groups of data and make it easier for the compiler to prove the assumptions. This can result in multiple factor speed ups by giving the compiler these proofs „for free“ and allowing it to apply aggressive optimizations.

Unlike several other SIMD libraries, this one doesn’t do any actual explicit SIMD. That results in relatively simpler interface while still working on stable compiler. It also works in no-std environment. However, the optimisations are not guaranteed. In particular, while the crate may allow for a significant speed-ups, it can also make your code slower. When using the crate, you’re strongly advised to benchmark.

Anatomy of the crate

Vector types

On the surface, there are types like u16x8, which is just an wrapper around [u16; 8]. These wrappers act a bit like arrays (they can be dereferenced to a slice, they can be indexed) and have common arithmetic traits implemented. The arithmetic is applied to each index separately, eg:

let a = u8x2::new([1, 2]);
let b = u8x2::new([3, 4]);
assert_eq!(a + b, u8x2::new([4, 6]));

All these types are backed by the generic Vector type. See the methods there to see how they can be created and how they interact.

All these can be imported by importing prelude:

use slipstream::prelude::*;

The names are based on primitive types, therefore there are types like u8x2, i8x2, f32x4, f64x2.

There are some more types:

  • wu8x2 is based on Wrapping<u8>, wi8x2 is based on Wrapping<i8>.
  • bx2 are vectors of bools.
  • m8x2 are mask vectors. They act a bit like booleans, but they have width and use all bits set to 1 for true. These can be used to blend vectors together, mask loads and stores and are results of comparisons. The representation is inspired by what the vector instructions actually use, so they should be possible for the compiler to autovectorize. The widths match the types they work with ‒ comparing two u32x2s will result in m32x2. The lanes can be converted to/from bool with methods on the Mask trait, but usually these are just fed back to some other vector operations.

Vectorization of slices

While it might be better for performance to store all data already in the vector types, it oftentimes happen that the input is in form of a slice or multiple slices of the primitive types. It would be possible to chunk the input and load them into the vectors one at a time, either manually or by using something like the chunks_exact and zip. Nevertheless, it turns out to be inconvenient and often too complex for the compiler to make sense of and vectorize properly.

Therefore, the crate provides its own means for splitting the data into vectors, using the Vectorizable trait. This is implemented on const and mutable slices as well as tuples and small (fixed-sized) arrays of these. The trait adds the vectorize and vectorize_pad methods.

As the methods can’t know into how wide vectors the input should be split, it is often needed to provide a type hint somewhere.

fn dot_product(l: &[f32], r: &[f32]) -> f32 {
    let mut result = f32x8::default();
    // This assumes l and r are of the same length and divisible by 8
    for (l, r) in (l, r).vectorize() {
        // Force the exact type of l and r vectors
        let (l, r): (f32x8, f32x8) = (l, r);
        result += l * r;
    // Sum the 8 lanes together

Multiversioning and dynamic instruction set selection

If used as in the examples above, the compiler chooses an instruction set at compile time, based on the command line arguments. By default these are conservative, to run on arbitrary (old) CPU. It is possible to either enable newer instructions at compile time (at the cost of not being able to run the program on the older CPUs) or compile multiple versions of the same function and choose the right one at runtime, depending on what the CPU actually supports.

While this library doesn’t provide any direct support for multiversioning, it has been observed to work reasonably well in combination with the multiversion crate.

Note that using a newer and richer instruction set is not always a win. In some cases it can even lead to performance degradation. In particular:

  • Wide enough vectors must be used to take advantage of the 256 or more bits of the newer instruction set (using these with older instruction set is not a problem; the vector operations will simply translate to multiple narrower instructions). This might create larger „leftovers“ on the ends of slices that need to be handled in non-vectorized manner.
  • The CPU may need to switch state, possibly negotiate a higher power supply. This might lead to slow down before that happens and might degrade performance of neighboring cores.
  • Some AMD processors (Buldozers) know the instructions, but simulate them by dispatching the narrower instructions internally (at least it seems so, one 256bit instruction takes a bit longer than two 128bit ones).

Depending on the workload, both slowdowns and full 2* speedups were observed. The chances of speedups are higher when there’s a lot of data to crunch „in one go“ (so the CPU has time to „warm up“, the leftovers don’t matter that much, etc).

Performance tuning tips

The sole purpose of this library is to get faster programs, so here are few things to keep in mind when trying.

This library (or SIMD in general) is not a silver bullet. It’s good to tackle a lot of data crunching by sheer force (the hammer style approach), but can yield only multiplicative speedups (depending on the width of the instructions, on the size of the base type, etc, one can’t expect more than 10 or 20 times speedup, usually less). Oftentimes, more high level optimizations bring significantly better results ‒ choosing a better algorithm, reordering the data in memory to avoid cache misses. These can give you orders of magnitude in some cases. Also, besides instruction level parallelism, one can try using threads to parallelize across cores (for example using rayon). Therefore, vectorization should be used in the latter stages of performance tuning.

Also note that when used on a platform without any SIMD support, it can lead to both speed ups (due to loop unrolling) and slowdowns (probably due to exhaustion of available CPU registers).

It is important to measure and profile. Not only because you want to spend the time optimizing the hot parts of the program which actually take significant amount of time, but because the autovectorizer and compiler optimizations sometimes produce surprising results.

Performance characteristics

In general, simple lane-wise operations are significantly faster than horizontal operations (when neighboring lanes may interact) and complex ones. Therefore, adding two vectors using the + operator is likely to end up being faster than the horizontal_sum or the gather_load constructor.

It is advisable to keep as much in vectors as possible instead of operating on separate lanes.

Therefore, to compute a sum of bunch of numbers, split the input into vectors, sum these up and do single horizontal_sum at the very end.

fn sum(data: &[f32x8]) -> f32 {
        .sum::<f32x8>() // Summing up whole f32x8 vectors, result is also f32x8
        .horizontal_sum() // Summing individual lanes of that vector

Also keep in mind that there’s usually some „warm up“ for vectorized part of code. This partly comes from the need to somehow deal with uneven ends (if the input is not divisible by the vector size). Also, some instructions require the CPU to switch state, possibly lower frequency and negotiate higher power supply, which may even hinder performance of neighboring cores (this is more of a problem for „newer“ instruction sets like AVX-512 than eg. SSE).

Therefore, there’s little advantage of interspersing otherwise non-vectorized code with occasional vector variable. The best results are for crunching big inputs all at once.

Suggested process

  • Write the non-vectorized version first. Make sure to use the correct algorithm, avoid unnecessary work, etc.
  • Parallelize it across threads where it makes sense.
  • Prepare a micro-benchmark exercising the hot part.
  • Try rewriting it using the vector types in this crate, but keep the non-vectorized version around for comparison. Make sure to run the benchmark for both.
  • If the vectorized version doesn’t meet the expectations (or even make things slower), you can check these things:
    • If using the multiversion crate, watch out for (not) inlining. The detected instruction set is not propagated to other functions called from the multiversioned one, only to the inlined ones.
    • Make sure to use reasonably sized vector type. On one side, it needs to be large enough to fill the whole SIMD register (128 bit for SSE and NEON, 256 for AVX, 512 bits for AVX-512). On the other side, it should not be too large ‒ while wider vectors can be simulated by executing multiple narrower instructions, they also take multiple registers and that may lead to unnecessary „juggling“.
    • See the profiler output if any particular part stands out. Oftentimes, some constructs like the zip iterator adaptor were found to be problematic. If a construct is too complex for rustc to „see through“, it can be helped by rewriting that particular part manually in a simpler way. Pulling slice range checks before the loop might help too, as rustc no longer has to ensure a panic from the violation would happen at the right time in the middle of processing.
    • Check the assembler output if it looks sane. Seeing if it looks vectorized can be done without extensive assembler knowledge ‒ SIMD instructions have longer names and use different named registers (xmm? ones for SSE, ymm? ones for AVX).

See if the profiler can be configured to show inlined functions instead of counting the whole runtime to the whole function. Some profilers can even show annotated assembler code, pinpointing the instruction or area that takes long time. In such case, be aware that an instruction might take a long time because it waits on a data dependency (some preceding instruction still being executed in the pipeline) or data from memory.

For the perf profile, this can be done with perf record --call-graph=dwarf <executable>, perf report and perf annotate. Make sure to profile with both optimizations and debug symbols enabled (but if developing a proprietary thing, make sure to ship without the debug symbols).

debug = 2

When all else fails, you can always rewrite only parts of the algorithm using the explicit intrinsics in core::arch and leave the rest for autovectorizer. The vector types should be compatible for transmuting to the low-level vectors (eg. __m128).


There are other crates that try to help with SIMD:

  • packed_simd: This is the official SIMD library. The downside is, this works only on nighty compiler and the timeline when this could get stabilized is unclear.
  • faster: Works only on nightly and looks abandoned.
  • simdeez: Doesn’t have unsigned ints. Works on stable, but is unsound (can lead to UB without writing a single line of user unsafe code).
  • safe_simd: It has somewhat more complex API than this library, because it deals with instruction sets explicitly. It supports explicit vectorization (doesn’t rely on autovectorizer). It is not yet released.


pub use iterators::Vectorizable;
pub use mask::Mask;
pub use vector::Vector;
pub use types::*;


The Vectorizable trait and a lot of its service types.
Bool-like types used for masked operations.
Commonly used imports
Type aliases of the commonly used vector types.
Low-level definitions of the vector types and their traits.


Free-standing version of Vectorizable::vectorize.