Do we really need to “go native”?

David Bryon in his recent post wonders why developers still ask questions about how much OR mappers slow down database applications. He explains that modern ORMs keep the overhead of communicating with the database as low as possible, so in fact use of ORM may (and I believe in many cases will) speed up database access.

When it comes to non-database communication, such as message queuing or inter-process data exchange, there seem to be more reasons to avoid additional layers and transfer data directly, using native protocol. Usually such communication can’t be optimized by discarding redundant messages or removing unaffected parameters. So sometimes suggestion to use WCF as communication platform can cause certain skepticism – “it’s an extra layer, we don’t need this overhead, let’s go native”.

Few years ago I wrote an article about performance implications of exceptions. The metrics in this articles show that while exception management is obviously more costly than returning numerical error codes, it has no real influence on performance of business logic operations. A single database call makes CPU cycles used on exception processing completely insignificant.

The same can be said about overhead associated with WCF. Data that cross processes or machine boundaries take a long trip not to invoke a simple in-memory algorithm – nobody will implement inter-process string concatenation except for demo purpose. And for real world business logic operation the advantages of using WCF infrastructure should outperform its marginal performance overhead.

And it is always measurable how marginal it is. Let’s take named pipes. It’s a good choice for inter-process communication, now with native .NET support. How much can we gain from using it directly? Let’s measure.

I created two sets of client/server applications, each consisting of a server and a client. First application pair communicated using .NET implementation of named pipes (System.IO.Pipes), second used WCF with NetNamedPipeBinding. I tested these applications using different scenarios: an empty operation, reading directory entries and writing 100 bytes in the middle of a 1 megabyte file. Each scenario was executed several thousand times, to calculate an average number of calls per second. The measurements were done on my Dell Latitude D830 notebook.

Operation System.IO.Pipes
(calls per second)
WCF NetNamedPipeBinding
(calls per second)
Difference
(%)
Empty 108695 4770 2179
Read directory entries 5747 1546 272
Write to a file 67 59 14
Write to a file twice 35 34 3

You can see from this table how much faster is native named pipe communication. But… only if an operation consists of the actual call, with no business logic contained. Once an operation starts looking like a real business logic method, all communication overhead is not worth consideration. But what is worth consideration is a unified communication model offered by WCF, with all power of configuration options and tools. There must be really extraordinary reasons to discard them and “go native”.

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