This document will introduce the performance of bitproto encoding and decoding, along with the optimization mechanism.

Performance Benchmark

Benchmark of bitproto encoding/decoding shows that it runs very fast.

Unix OS

On unix like systems (mac, ubuntu etc.), a single encoding/decoding call costs for a 100 bytes message:

  • < 2μs in C

  • < 10μs in Go

  • < 1ms in Python

You can checkout the detail benchmark results for unix on github.


I have tested the benchmark on a stm32 board (arm cortex-m3 72MHz cpu) for a 100 bytes message, a single encoding/decoding call costs around 120~140 μs, and can be optimized to around 15 μs in the optimization mode.

You can checkout the detail benchmark results for stm32 on github.

The Optimization Mode

For most cases, the performance may meet the requirements. But if you are not satisfied with this, there’s still a way to go, the called “optimization mode” in bitproto, by adding an option -O to the bitproto compiler:

$ bitproto c example.bitproto -O

By this way, bitproto will generate code for you in optimization mode.

The mechanism behind optimization mode is to generate plain encoding/decoding code statements directly at code-generation time. We known that all types are fixed-sized in bitproto, so the encoding and decoding processing can be totally determined at code-generation time, bitproto just iterates all the fields of a message and generate bits coping statements.


The optimization mode doesn’t work for extensible messages. Because extensible messages decoding requires dynamic calculation.

For an instance in C, the generated code in optimization mode looks like this:

int EncodeDrone(struct Drone *m, unsigned char *s) {
    s[0] |= (((unsigned char *)&((*m).position.latitude))[0] << 3) & 248;
    s[1] = (((unsigned char *)&((*m).position.latitude))[0] >> 5) & 7;

int DecodeDrone(struct Drone *m, unsigned char *s) {
    ((unsigned char *)&((*m).position.latitude))[0] = (s[0] >> 3) & 31;
    ((unsigned char *)&((*m).position.latitude))[0] |= (s[1] << 5) & 224;

See the generated code example above, there’s no loops, no if-else, all statements are plain bit operations. In this way, bitproto’s optimization mode gives us a maximum performance improvement on encoding/decoding.

It’s fine of course to use optimization mode on one end and non-optimization mode (the standard mode) on another end in message communication. The optimization mode only changes the way how to execute the encoder and decoder, without changing the format of the message encoding.

In fact, using the optimization mode is also a trade-off sometimes. In this mode, we have to drop the benefits of extensibility , it’s not friendly to the compatibility design of the protocol. Optimization mode is designed for performance-sensitive scenarios, such as low power consumption embedded boards, compute-intensive microcontrollers. I recommend to use the optimization mode when:

  • Performance-sensitive scenarios, where 100μs means totally different with 10μs.

  • The firmwares of communication ends are always upgraded together, thus the forward-compatibility is not so important.

  • Firmware updates are not frequent, even only once for a long time.

Specially, for the scenario that firmware-upgrading of communication ends have to be processed partially, such as the typical one-to-many client-server artitecture, I recommend to stick to the standard mode rather than the optimization mode.

The optimization mode is currently supported for language C and Go, (not yet Python).

Another benefit of optimization mode is that the bitproto libraries are no longer required to be dropped in. The bitproto compiler in optimization mode already throws out the final encoding and decoding statements, so the bitproto libraries aren’t required. The libraries are designed to use with standard mode, where protocol extensibility is a feature.

Smaller Code Size

Embedded firmware may be limited in program size. Bitproto provides another compiler option -F to filter messages to generate in optimization mode:

$ bitproto example.bitproto -O -F "Packet"

The command above tells bitproto only to generate encoder and decoder functions for message Packet, other messages’s encoder and decoder functions will be skpped without generating.

The -F trick is useful because in most scenarios we just exchange a single “top-level” bitproto message in communication. This option can also be used with multiple message names:

$ bitproto example.bitproto -O -F "PacketA,PacketB"

Finally to note that, the -F option can be only used together with option -O.