4.11. Optimisation (code improvement)

The -O* options specify convenient “packages” of optimisation flags; the -f* options described later on specify individual optimisations to be turned on/off; the -m* options specify machine-specific optimisations to be turned on/off.

4.11.1. -O*: convenient “packages” of optimisation flags.

There are many options that affect the quality of code produced by GHC. Most people only have a general goal, something like “Compile quickly” or “Make my program run like greased lightning.” The following “packages” of optimisations (or lack thereof) should suffice.

Once you choose a -O* “package,” stick with it—don't chop and change. Modules' interfaces will change with a shift to a new -O* option, and you may have to recompile a large chunk of all importing modules before your program can again be run safely (see Section 4.9.4).

No -O*-type option specified:

This is taken to mean: “Please compile quickly; I'm not over-bothered about compiled-code quality.” So, for example: ghc -c Foo.hs


Means “turn off all optimisation”, reverting to the same settings as if no -O options had been specified. Saying -O0 can be useful if eg. make has inserted a -O on the command line already.

-O or -O1:

Means: “Generate good-quality code without taking too long about it.” Thus, for example: ghc -c -O Main.lhs


Means: “Apply every non-dangerous optimisation, even if it means significantly longer compile times.”

The avoided “dangerous” optimisations are those that can make runtime or space worse if you're unlucky. They are normally turned on or off individually.

At the moment, -O2 is unlikely to produce better code than -O.

-Ofile <file>:

(NOTE: not supported yet in GHC 5.x. Please ask if you're interested in this.)

For those who need absolute control over exactly what options are used (e.g., compiler writers, sometimes :-), a list of options can be put in a file and then slurped in with -Ofile.

In that file, comments are of the #-to-end-of-line variety; blank lines and most whitespace is ignored.

Please ask if you are baffled and would like an example of -Ofile!

We don't use a -O* flag for day-to-day work. We use -O to get respectable speed; e.g., when we want to measure something. When we want to go for broke, we tend to use -O -fvia-C (and we go for lots of coffee breaks).

The easiest way to see what -O (etc.) “really mean” is to run with -v, then stand back in amazement.

4.11.2. -f*: platform-independent flags

These flags turn on and off individual optimisations. They are normally set via the -O options described above, and as such, you shouldn't need to set any of them explicitly (indeed, doing so could lead to unexpected results). However, there are one or two that may be of interest:


When this option is given, intermediate floating point values can have a greater precision/range than the final type. Generally this is a good thing, but some programs may rely on the exact precision/range of Float/Double values and should not use this option for their compilation.


Causes GHC to ignore uses of the function Exception.assert in source code (in other words, rewriting Exception.assert p e to e (see Section 7.13). This flag is turned on by -O.


Turns off the strictness analyser; sometimes it eats too many cycles.


Turns off the CPR (constructed product result) analysis; it is somewhat experimental.


This option causes all constructor fields which are marked strict (i.e. “!”) to be unboxed or unpacked if possible. For example:

data T = T !Float !Float

will create a constructor T containing two unboxed floats if the -funbox-strict-fields flag is given. This may not always be an optimisation: if the T constructor is scrutinised and the floats passed to a non-strict function for example, they will have to be reboxed (this is done automatically by the compiler).

This option should only be used in conjunction with -O, in order to expose unfoldings to the compiler so the reboxing can be removed as often as possible. For example:

f :: T -> Float
f (T f1 f2) = f1 + f2

The compiler will avoid reboxing f1 and f2 by inlining + on floats, but only when -O is on.

Any single-constructor data is eligible for unpacking; for example

data T = T !(Int,Int)

will store the two Ints directly in the T constructor, by flattening the pair. Multi-level unpacking is also supported:

data T = T !S
data S = S !Int !Int

will store two unboxed Int#s directly in the T constructor.


Switches on an experimental "optimisation". Switching it on makes the compiler a little keener to inline a function that returns a constructor, if the context is that of a thunk.
   x = plusInt a b
If we inlined plusInt we might get an opportunity to use update-in-place for the thunk 'x'.


(Default: 45) Governs the maximum size that GHC will allow a function unfolding to be. (An unfolding has a “size” that reflects the cost in terms of “code bloat” of expanding that unfolding at at a call site. A bigger function would be assigned a bigger cost.)

Consequences: (a) nothing larger than this will be inlined (unless it has an INLINE pragma); (b) nothing larger than this will be spewed into an interface file.

Increasing this figure is more likely to result in longer compile times than faster code. The next option is more useful:


(Default: 8) This is the magic cut-off figure for unfolding: below this size, a function definition will be unfolded at the call-site, any bigger and it won't. The size computed for a function depends on two things: the actual size of the expression minus any discounts that apply (see -funfolding-con-discount).