The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

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Monday, March 25, 2013

On tail call optimization in certain C compilers

Sean Conner <>
Tail calls.
Sun, 24 Mar 2013 12:35:18 PM -0500

But here, I can't rely on the C compiler to optimize tail calls (GCC can, but only with certain options; I don't know about the Solaris C compiler). I could have the routines return the next function to call and use a loop:

I haven't verified it but it probably does. It's a pretty easy optimization (compared to what compilers do today) so I'd be surprised if the Sun C compiler doesn't handle this. At least for C code (C++ exceptions can throw some wrinkles in this in some cases).


I decided to check. And yes, the Solaris C compiler does support tail call optimizations. So I figured I would play around with this a bit, both under gcc and the Solaris C compiler.

Final results: gcc and the Solaris C compiler both support tail call optimizations (some restrictions apply; void where prohibited; your mileage may vary; results presented are not typical and yours might vary; use only as directed; this program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE; do not taunt Happy Fun Ball).

First off, the number of parameters must match among the functions; the types don't appear to matter that much, just the number. Second, the number (or size) of locally defined variables also matters. I'm not sure what the upper size (or number) for variables is (and it may differ between the two compilers) but it does appear to be a factor. Third, the only safe way to determine if tail call optimizations are being performed is to check the assembly code and check for calls (or, just run it and see if it crashes after a period of time).

So I can, kind of, assume tail call optimization in C code. It'll be something to keep in mind.

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