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Profiling is the process of determining how a program is using the resources that it is consuming.

Resource that can be Profiled

Profiling produces a clear view of the call graph -- the hierarchy of function/procedure/method calls that takes place during the execution of the program.

Resources consumption that can be analyzed during profiling include:

  • Time (both clock time (total real time, user time, and the amount of time the kernel spent on behalf of the program)
  • Memory
  • Temporary storage
  • Energy (this is a relatively new area of profiling)

Profiling Granularity and Techniques

Most profiling systems determine resource usage on a per-function basis. Data may be gathered through two different techniques:

  1. Sampling - interrupting the program frequently (such as 10 000 times/second) and determining which function is currently executing (by comparing the program counter to the debuginfo of the program).
  2. Instrumentation - adding code to the binary or using debug controls (such as breakpoints) to determine when and how often specific actions take place, such as entry/exit to/from a function/procedure/method.

Profiling Tools

There are many profiling tools available. Open source options include:

  • gprof
  • perf
  • oprofile
  • SystemTap

These tools provide different combinations of profiling capabilities, and may provide additional functions.

An example: Profiling with 'gprof'

The gprof tool provides basic profiling capability using a combination of sampling (for times) and instrumentation (for call graph and counts). To use it:

  1. Build the software to be profiled using the -pg (profile generation) option to the gcc compiler. This may require that you modify the makefile or other build instructions, but it can often be done using the CFLAGS or CCOPTS variables -- for example, make CFLAGS="-g -pg -O2"
  2. Execute the program. Ensure that you give it a typical to long execution time; if it is an interactive program, run through most of the commonly-used features, and if it is non-interactive, invoke it with common options and give it a good amount of data to process.
  3. Check that a file named gmon.out was produced when the program ran. If not, recheck the previous steps.
  4. Run the gprof program to generate a report: gprof filenameOfExecutableBeingProfiled

The output from gprof is a text report. It can be converted to a graphical representation, which is often more useful, using the gprof2dot script to convert it to the GraphViz "dot" format, then using the dot utility to output it in the desired graphics format.


# produce a PDF
gprof nameOfExecutable | gprof2dot | dot -Tps | ps2pdf - gprof.pdf 

# produce a PNG file
gprof nameOfExecutable | gprof2dot | dot -Tps | convert - gprof.png

# produce an SVG file
gprof nameOfExecutable | gprof2dot | dot -Tsvg > gprof.svg

# display on the screen
gprof nameOfExecutable | gprof2dot | dot -Tps | display

Function vs. Method vs. Procedure
In procedural languages, called code blocks are often called functions. When programming in an object-oriented language, called code blocks may be called methods. Older or more general documentation may refer to called code blocks as procedures. The distinction between functions, methods, and procedures is effectively one of terminology and "packaging" only - at the machine code level, the distinction effectively disappears.

Optional Lab

The SPO600 Profiling Lab was used in previous semesters in the SPO600 course. It is not a required lab in the current version of the course.