Optimizations Enabled by -ffast-Math

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  • Duktape

    Duktape - embeddable Javascript engine with a focus on portability and compact footprint

    Fast math optimizations can break code like this by breaking isNaN.

    I was porting a C++ project to a certain platform - and that platform enabled a -ffast-math equivalent by default in Release (but not Debug) builds! This broke duktape, a JS engine said project embedded, in some nasty and subtle ways. Instead of storing a number/pointer/??? (8 bytes) + type tag (4? bytes) for each dynamically typed JS value, duktape can bit-pack values into a single 8 byte "double" value by storing object/string handles as NaN values - this isn't an uncommon trick for dynamically typed scripting stuff:

    https://github.com/svaarala/duktape/blob/c3722054ea4a4e50f48...

    Naturally, the -ffast-math equivalent broke isNaN checks, which caused random object/string handles to be mistakenly reinterpreted as "numbers" - but only in Release builds, for this one particular platform, in one rarely taken branch, so neither QA nor CI caught it, leading to hours of manufacturing a repro case, stepping through an absurd amount of code, and then finally looking at the default build rules and facepalming.

    Cursing the platform vendor under my breath, I overrode the defaults to align with the defaults of every other config x platform combination we already had: no fast math. If you want those optimizations, use SSE-friendly NaN-avoiding intrinsics - or, if you must use the compiler flags, ensure you do so consistently across build configs and platforms, perhaps limited to a few TUs or modules if possible. This allows you to have a chance at using your Debug builds to debug the resulting "optimizations".

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