Coding for Performance : P/Invoke


P/Invoke is used to make calls from managed code into native methods. It involves some fixed overhead plus the cost of marshalling the arguments. Marshalling is the process of converting types from one format to another.

You can see a simple benchmark of P/Invoke cost vs. a normal managed function call cost with the MeasureIt program mentioned in Chapter 1. On my computer, a P/Invoke call takes about 6-10 times the amount of time it takes to call an empty static method. You do not want to call a P/Invoked method in a tight loop if you have a managed equivalent, and you definitely want to avoid making multiple transitions between native and managed code. However, a single P/Invoke calls is not so expensive as to prohibit it in all cases.

There are a few ways to minimize the cost of making P/Invoke calls:

  1. First, avoid having a “chatty” interface. Make a single call that can work on a lot of data, where the time spent processing the data is significantly more than the fixed overhead of the P/Invoke call.
  2.  Use blittable types as much as possible. Blittable types are those that have the same binary value in managed and native code, mostly numeric and pointer types. These are the most efficient arguments to pass because the marshalling process is basically a memory copy.
  3. Avoid calling ANSI versions of Windows APIs. For example, the CreateProcess function is actually a macro that resolves to one of two real functions, CreateProcessA for ANSI strings, and CreateProcessW for Unicode strings. Which version you get is determined by the compilation settings for the native code. You want to ensure that you are always calling the Unicode versions of APIs because all .NET strings are already Unicode, and having a mismatch here will cause an expensive, possibly lossy, conversion to occur.
  4. Don’t pin unnecessarily. Primitives are never pinned anyway and the marshalling layer will automatically pin strings and arrays of primitives. If you do need to pin something else, keep the object pinned for as short a duration as possible to. See Chapter 2 for a discussion of how pinning can negatively impact garbage collection. With pinning, you will have to balance this need for a short duration with the first recommendation of avoiding chatty interfaces. In all cases, you want the native code to return as fast as possible.
  5. If you need to transfer a large amount of data to native code, consider pinning the buffer and having the native code operate on it directly. It does pin the buffer in memory, but if the function is fast enough this may be more efficient than a large copy operation. If you can ensure that the buffer is in gen 2 or the large object heap, then pinning is much less of an issues because the GC is unlikely to need to move the object anyway.

Finally, you can reduce some of the cost of P/Invoke by disabling some security checks on the P/Invoke method declarations.


[DllImport("kernel32.dll", SetLastError=true)] [System.Security.SuppressUnmanagedCodeSecurity]

static extern bool GetThreadTimes(IntPtr hThread, out long lpCreationTime,

out long lpExitTime, out long lpKernelTime, out long lpUserTime);

This attribute declares that the method can run with full trust. This will cause you to receive some Code Analysis (FxCop) warnings because it is disabling a large part of .NET’s security model. However, if your application runs only trusted code, you sanitize the inputs, and you prevent public APIs from calling the P/Invoke methods, then it can gain you some performance.

source :  , Writing High-Performance .NET Code

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