In C++, am I paying for what I am not eating?

Let's consider the following hello world examples in C and C++:

main.c

#include <stdio.h>

int main()
{
    printf("Hello world\n");
    return 0;
}

main.cpp

#include <iostream>

int main()
{
    std::cout<<"Hello world"<<std::endl;
    return 0;
}

When I compile them in godbolt to assembly, the size of the C code is only 9 lines (gcc -O3):

.LC0:
        .string "Hello world"
main:
        sub     rsp, 8
        mov     edi, OFFSET FLAT:.LC0
        call    puts
        xor     eax, eax
        add     rsp, 8
        ret

But the size of the C++ code is 22 lines (g++ -O3):

.LC0:
        .string "Hello world"
main:
        sub     rsp, 8
        mov     edx, 11
        mov     esi, OFFSET FLAT:.LC0
        mov     edi, OFFSET FLAT:_ZSt4cout
        call    std::basic_ostream<char, std::char_traits<char> >& std::__ostream_insert<char, std::char_traits<char> >(std::basic_ostream<char, std::char_traits<char> >&, char const*, long)
        mov     edi, OFFSET FLAT:_ZSt4cout
        call    std::basic_ostream<char, std::char_traits<char> >& std::endl<char, std::char_traits<char> >(std::basic_ostream<char, std::char_traits<char> >&)
        xor     eax, eax
        add     rsp, 8
        ret
_GLOBAL__sub_I_main:
        sub     rsp, 8
        mov     edi, OFFSET FLAT:_ZStL8__ioinit
        call    std::ios_base::Init::Init() [complete object constructor]
        mov     edx, OFFSET FLAT:__dso_handle
        mov     esi, OFFSET FLAT:_ZStL8__ioinit
        mov     edi, OFFSET FLAT:_ZNSt8ios_base4InitD1Ev
        add     rsp, 8
        jmp     __cxa_atexit

... which is much larger.

It is famous that in C++ you pay for what you eat. So, in this case, what am I paying for?


What you are paying for is to call a heavy library (not as heavy as printing into console). You initialize an ostream object. There are some hidden storage. Then, you call std::endl which is not a synonym for \n. The iostream library helps you adjusting many settings and putting the burden on the processor rather than the programmer. This is what you are paying for.

Let's review the code:

.LC0:
        .string "Hello world"
main:

Initializing an ostream object + cout

    sub     rsp, 8
    mov     edx, 11
    mov     esi, OFFSET FLAT:.LC0
    mov     edi, OFFSET FLAT:_ZSt4cout
    call    std::basic_ostream<char, std::char_traits<char> >& std::__ostream_insert<char, std::char_traits<char> >(std::basic_ostream<char, std::char_traits<char> >&, char const*, long)

Calling cout again to print a new line and flush

    mov     edi, OFFSET FLAT:_ZSt4cout
    call    std::basic_ostream<char, std::char_traits<char> >& std::endl<char, std::char_traits<char> >(std::basic_ostream<char, std::char_traits<char> >&)
    xor     eax, eax
    add     rsp, 8
    ret

Static storage initialization:

_GLOBAL__sub_I_main:
        sub     rsp, 8
        mov     edi, OFFSET FLAT:_ZStL8__ioinit
        call    std::ios_base::Init::Init() [complete object constructor]
        mov     edx, OFFSET FLAT:__dso_handle
        mov     esi, OFFSET FLAT:_ZStL8__ioinit
        mov     edi, OFFSET FLAT:_ZNSt8ios_base4InitD1Ev
        add     rsp, 8
        jmp     __cxa_atexit

Also, it is essential to distinguish between the language and the library.

BTW, this is just a part of the story. You do not know what is written in the functions you are calling.

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So, in this case, what am I paying for?

std::cout is more powerful and complicated than printf. It supports things like locales, stateful formatting flags, and more.

If you don't need those, use std::printf or std::puts - they're available in <cstdio>.


It is famous that in C++ you pay for what you eat.

I also want to make it clear that C++ != The C++ Standard Library. The Standard Library is supposed to be general-purpose and "fast enough", but it will often be slower than a specialized implementation of what you need.

On the other hand, the C++ language strives to make it possible to write code without paying unnecessary extra hidden costs (e.g. opt-in virtual, no garbage collection).

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You are not comparing C and C++. You are comparing printf and std::cout, which are capable of different things (locales, stateful formatting, etc).

Try to use the following code for comparison. Godbolt generates the same assembly for both files (tested with gcc 8.2, -O3).

main.c:

#include <stdio.h>

int main()
{
    int arr[6] = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6};
    for (int i = 0; i < 6; ++i)
    {
        printf("%d\n", arr[i]);
    }
    return 0;
}

main.cpp:

#include <array>
#include <cstdio>

int main()
{
    std::array<int, 6> arr {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6};
    for (auto x : arr)
    {
        std::printf("%d\n", x);
    }
}

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It is famous that in C++ you pay for what you eat. So, in this case, what am I paying for?

That's simple. You pay for std::cout. "You pay for only what you eat" doesn't mean "you always get best prices". Sure, printf is cheaper. One can argue that std::cout is safer and more versatile, thus its greater cost is justified (it costs more, but provides more value), but that misses the point. You don't use printf, you use std::cout, so you pay for using std::cout. You don't pay for using printf.

A good example is virtual functions. Virtual functions have some runtime cost and space requirements - but only if you actually use them. If you don't use virtual functions, you don't pay anything.

A few remarks

  1. Even if C++ code evaluates to more assembly instructions, it's still a handful of instructions, and any performance overhead is still likely dwarfed by actual I/O operations.

  2. Actually, sometimes it's even better than "in C++ you pay for what you eat". For example, compiler can deduce that virtual function call is not needed in some circumstances, and transform that into non-virtual call. That means you may get virtual functions for free. Isn't that great?

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