how much memory does vector<bool> take?

Discussion in 'C++' started by zl2k, May 19, 2006.

  1. zl2k

    zl2k Guest

    hi, there
    I am using a big, sparse binary array (size of 256^3). The size may be
    changed in run time. I first thought about using the bitset but found
    its size is unchangeable. If I use the vector<bool>, does each element
    takes 4 bytes instead of 1 bit? I am using gcc3.4.4. There is a
    bit_vector which is kind of old so I wont use that. Any other choices?
    Thanks ahead.
    zl2k, May 19, 2006
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  2. You can always roll your own...

    Victor Bazarov, May 19, 2006
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  3. zl2k

    Marcus Kwok Guest

    Since vector<bool> is required to be a specialization, you should read
    the following articles by Herb Sutter before deciding on using it:

    vector<bool> Is Nonconforming, and Forces Optimization Choice

    vector<bool>: More Problems, Better Solutions

    Technically, even though vector<bool> is mentioned in the Standard,
    its use is unspecified. Quoting from the second article:

    Curiously, vector<bool> is not actually specified, so no current use
    of it invokes well specified behavior. Its declaration appears in
    the standard, but not a single function is specified. Note that the
    argument "it's just the same as vector" fails because a vector<bool>
    is demonstrably not a vector: it has a different interface (i.e.,
    flip()), a different structure (e.g., reference is a class, not a
    typedef for T&), does not meet the same requirements (e.g., container
    and iterator requirements), etc.

    Since you are dealing with a sparse array, maybe you could use a
    std::map<int, bool> or something.
    Marcus Kwok, May 19, 2006
  4. zl2k

    Greg Guest

    Neither of the quoted articles presents an argument against using
    vector<bool>. They are merely criticisms of vector<bool>'s
    classification as a vector - an issue of interest only to those
    designing the C++ standard library.
    Why? Whether vector<bool> should be called a "vector" or not - makes no
    difference to the issue of how well it can solve a particular problem.
    The only question that the programmer needs to decide is whether a
    std:vector<bool> can do what the program needs it to do. And if that
    task is to store a dynamically-resizable container of one-bit boolean
    values - then the answer is clearly "yes." And there would no reason
    for a program not to use a std::vector<bool> in that case.

    Greg, May 20, 2006
  5. zl2k

    Marcus Kwok Guest

    From the first article:

    2. vector<bool>::iterator does not meet the requirements of a
    forward, bidirectional, or random-access iterator, although the
    last is strongly implied by the specialization's naming and
    position. This means that it may not work with a conforming
    implementation of a standard library algorithm.

    The possibility of not being able to use a vector<bool> with standard
    library algorithms is an argument against using it in my book.

    5. vector<bool>'s name is misleading because the things inside aren't

    // Example 1: Works for every T except bool
    template<class T>
    void g( vector<T>& v ) {
    T& r = v.front();
    T* p = &*v.begin();
    // ... do something with r and *p ...

    If something is explicitly stated as being a vector, is it unreasonable
    to assume that it should behave as a vector?

    6. vector<bool> forces a specific optimization choice on all users by
    enshrining it in the standard. That's probably not a good idea,
    even if the actual performance overhead turns out to be negligible
    for a given compiler for most applications; different users have
    different requirements.

    In this case, vector<bool> forces the "favour less space at the
    expense of potentially slower speed" optimization choice on all
    programs. The implicit assumption is that virtually all users of
    a vector of bools will prefer "less space" at the expense of
    "potentially slower speed," that they will be more
    space-constrained than performance-constrained. This is clearly
    The key word that triggered my response was "sparse". If it is known
    that the data is sparse, then it may not be necessary to store all 256^3
    ....unless speed requirements are more important than memory

    Since vector<bool> uses a proxy class instead of storing true bools,
    there is some additional overhead associated with every element access.
    If these values are accessed in a tight loop, performance considerations
    can be substantial.

    I'm not saying not to use vector<bool> at all or that vector<bool> won't
    meet the OP's requirements; I'm just saying that the OP should be aware
    of the issues with it before deciding that he should "clearly" use it.
    Marcus Kwok, May 22, 2006
  6. zl2k

    Jerry Coffin Guest

    [ ... ]
    Although the required specialization of vector<bool> has
    the _potential_ to reduce speed, the reality is that on
    almost any reasonably recent processor, it will generally
    _increase_ speed unless the vector involved is _quite_

    The situation is pretty simple: on most current
    processors, the reduced size also means reduced memory
    access and improved cache utilization. Currently, memory
    is a lot slower than the processor as a rule (and the
    ratio favors processors more strongly all the time). This
    means that even if you have to do quite a lot of
    computation to avoid a memory access, it's usually worth
    it. In this case, there's not really a lot of extra
    computation at all, and you're typically reducing memory
    references by a ratio of at least 8:1 (and 32:1 isn't
    unheard of).

    [ ... ]
    Depending heavily upon your target -- if your target has
    a cache, chances are good that vector<bool> actually
    improves speed (unless your memory use is so low in
    general that even without the reduction in memory usage
    it would all fit in the cache).

    My own advice would be to use a typedef:

    vector<boolean> my_vect;

    And then test and profile with both:

    typedef char boolean;


    typedef bool boolean;

    and possibly even:

    typedef int boolean;

    and see which works better for your situation. The
    conversion rules for bool in C++ are loose enough that
    this will normally work without any extra work on your
    part as to how you use your boolean values. The one place
    you're at all likely to run into a problem is if you want
    to provide separate overloads (or specializations) for
    your booleans and some of the other types mentioned above
    -- the typedef only creates a new name, not a new type.
    Jerry Coffin, May 22, 2006
  7. zl2k

    Marcus Kwok Guest

    Yes, I will agree that performance claims can only truly be determined
    through profiling. Maybe even include tests with std::map<int, boolean>
    (for the various types of "boolean" above) to see how they compare too
    (assuming that the map satisfies the OP's requirements).
    Marcus Kwok, May 22, 2006
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