C++ was a victim of its own success

I came across an interesting paragraph when reading Bjarne Stroustrup’s 15-year retrospective, Evolving a language in and for the real world: C++ 1991-2006. This notion hadn’t occurred to me before, but it rings quite plausible.

There was also a curious problem with performance: C++ was too efficient for any really significant gains to come easily from research. This led many researchers to migrate to languages with glaring inefficiencies for them to eliminate. Elimination of virtual function calls is an example: You can gain much better improvements for just about any object-oriented language than for C++. The reason is that C++ virtual function calls are very fast and that colloquial C++ already uses non-virtual functions for time-critical operations. Another example is garbage collection. Here the problem was that colloquial C++ programs don’t generate much garbage and that the basic operations are fast. That makes the fixed overhead of a garbage collector looks far less impressive when expressed as a percentage of run time than it does for a language with less efficient basic operations and more garbage. Again, the net effect was to leave C++ poorer in terms of research and tools.

— Bjarne Stroustrup

For a peek at an example of “glaring inefficiencies,” check out what two IBM researchers have found about memory use in Java, and prepare to throw up in your mouth a little.

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