Can dwarf_getscopes{,_die} performance be improved?

Milian Wolff
Sat Jun 13 17:40:06 GMT 2020

Hey all!

In perfparser we are running into a performance issue with elfutils when we 
try to resolve inline frames. We are following the procedure outlined by eu-
addr2line, i.e. for every IP we basically do:

Dwarf_Addr bias = 0;
Dwarf_Die *cudie = dwfl_module_addrdie(module, ip, &bias);

Dwarf_Die *subroutine = nullptr;
Dwarf_Die *scopes = nullptr;
int nscopes = dwarf_getscopes(cudie, ip - bias, &scopes);
for (int i = 0; i < nscopes; ++i) {
    Dwarf_Die *scope = &scopes[i];
    const int tag = dwarf_tag(scope);
    if (tag == DW_TAG_subprogram || tag == DW_TAG_inlined_subroutine) {
        subroutine = scope;

Dwarf_Die *scopes_die = nullptr;
int nscopes_die = dwarf_getscopes_die(subroutine, &scopes_die);
for (int i = 0; i < nscopes_die; ++i) {
    Dwarf_Die *scope = &scopes_die[i];
    const int tag = dwarf_tag(scope);
    if (tag == DW_TAG_subprogram || tag == DW_TAG_inlined_subroutine) {
        // do stuff


Profiling shows that both, the calls to dwarf_getscopes and 
dwarf_getscopes_die can take a really long time. I have seen cases (in where a single call can take up to ~50ms on a fast desktop 
machine (Ryzen 3900X CPU, fast SSD, 32GB of RAM).

Now while 50ms may not sound sound too problematic, we have to repeat these 
calls for every IP we encounter in a file. We already apply heavy 
caching, but even then we can easily encounter tens of thousands of individual 
addresses, which can add up to minutes or even hours of time required to 
process the data - only to get information on inlined frames.

I have learned that the DWARF format is mostly meant for efficient storage and 
that one cannot assume that it is efficient for such mass post processing. 
This is the reason why I'm writing this email:

Has anyone an idea on how to to post-process the DWARF data to optimize the 
lookup of inlined frames?

Or is there some room for optimizations / caching within elfutils to amortize 
the repeated DWARF hierarchy walking that happens when one calls 
dwarf_getscopes{,_die}? From what I'm understanding, both calls will start a 
top-down search within the CU DIE via __libdw_visit_scopes. Once a match is 
found, the DIE scope chain is reported. I guess many times (parts of the) DIE 
scope chain will be shared across different IPs, but I don't see any way to 
leverage this to speed up the processing task.

Thanks, any input would be welcome
Milian Wolff
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