Provide a pointerfree wrapper for Julia Symbols
Author eschnett
8 Stars
Updated Last
2 Years Ago
Started In
August 2016


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The module ValueSymbols provides a wrapper type ValueSymbol for Julia Symbols, implemented as pointerfree "bitstype". This allows storing ValueSymbol objects very efficiently in immutable types or tuples with other bitstype types. Regular Symbol objects are stored as pointers, hence are not bitstypes, and hence currently require heap allocation.

using ValueSymbols
sym = :car
vsym = ValueSymbol(sym)

ValueSymbol is a bitstype, while Symbol is not.

This is the practical consequence:

@time Pair{Symbol,Int}[:car => i for i in 1:1000000];
  0.082046 seconds (1.00 M allocations: 38.147 MB, 79.57% gc time)

@time Pair{ValueSymbol,Int}[ValueSymbol(:car) => i for i in 1:1000000];
  0.006780 seconds (2 allocations: 15.259 MB)

Creating tuples or pairs containing symbols requires one heap allocation per tuple or pair. If you use a ValueSymbol instead, these allocations are avoided.


Convert between symbols and value symbols:

using ValueSymbols
sym = :car
vsym = ValueSymbol(sym)
sym2 = Symbol(vsym)
@assert sym2 === sym

Converting to a value symbol and back gives the original symbol.


using ValueSymbols
sym = :car
vsym = ValueSymbol(sym)
@assert vsym == sym

Value symbols and symbols can be compared directly. Note that this works only with the regular comparison operator ==, not with the object identity comparison ===, as the latter is always different for different types.

Value symbols also define an ordering. This ordering is based on the symbols' name, same as for Julia's regular symbols:

@assert :car < :plane
@assert ValueSymbol(:car) < ValueSymbol(:plane)