Daniel Lemire's blog

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Trimming spaces from strings faster with SVE on an Amazon Graviton 3 processor

Programmers sometimes need to trim, or remove, characters, such as spaces from strings. It might be a surprising expensive task. In C/C++, the following function is efficient:

size_t trimspaces(const char *s, size_t len, char *out) {
  char * init_out{out};
  for(size_t i = 0; i < len; i++) {
    *out = s[i];
    out += (s[i] != ' ');
  return out - init_out;

Basically, we write all characters from the input, but we only increment the pointer if the input is not a space.

Amazon makes available new ARM-based systems relying on their Graviton 3 processors. These processors support advanced instructions called “SVE”. One very nice family of instructions to ‘compact’ values (effectively, remove unwanted values). I put it to good use when filtering out integer values from arrays.

Unfortunately, the SVE compact instructions cannot be directly applied to the problem of pruning spaces in strings, because they only operate on larger words (e.g., 32-bit words). But, fortunately, it is possible to load bytes directly into 32-bit values so that each byte value occupies 32-bit in memory using intrinsics functions such as svld1sb_u32. As you would expect, you can also do the reverse, and take an array of 32-bit values, and automatically convert it to a byte array (e.g., using svst1b_u32).

Thus I can take my byte array (a string), load it into temporary 32-bit vectors, prune these vectors, and then store the result as a byte array, back to a string. The following C code is a reasonable implementation of this idea:

size_t sve_trimspaces(const char *s, size_t len, char *out) {
  uint8_t *out8 = reinterpret_cast<uint8_t *>(out);
  size_t i = 0;
  for (; i + svcntw() <= len; i += svcntw()) {
   svuint32_t input = svld1sb_u32(svptrue_b32(), (const int8_t *)s + i);
   svbool_t matches = svcmpne_n_u32(svptrue_b32(), input, 32);
   svuint32_t compressed = svcompact_u32(matches, input);
   svst1b_u32(svptrue_b32(), out8, compressed);
   out8 += svcntp_b32(svptrue_b32(), matches);
  if (i < len) {
   svbool_t read_mask = svwhilelt_b32(i, len);
   svuint32_t input = svld1sb_u32(read_mask, (const int8_t *)s + i);
   svbool_t matches = svcmpne_n_u32(read_mask, input, 32);
   svuint32_t compressed = svcompact_u32(matches, input);
   svst1b_u32(read_mask, out8, compressed);
   out8 += svcntp_b32(read_mask, matches);
  return out8 - reinterpret_cast<uint8_t *>(out);

Is it faster? Using GCC 12 on a Graviton 3, I get that the SVE approach is 3.6 times faster and it uses 6 times fewer instructions. The SVE code is not six times faster, because it is retiring fewer instructions per cycle. My code is available.

conventional code 1.8 cycles/bytes 7 instructions/byte
SVE code 0.5 cycles/bytes 1.1 instructions/byte

You can achieve a similar result with ARM NEON, but you require large tables to emulate the compression instructions. Large tables lead to code bloat which, at the margin, is not desirable.