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Uses new Rust 2021

1.0.2 Jun 16, 2022

#44 in Profiling

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Efficient sampling with uniform probability

When gathering statistics about a program's behavior, we may be observing events that occur very frequently (e.g., function calls or memory allocations) and we may be gathering information that is somewhat expensive to produce (e.g., call stacks). Sampling all the events could have a significant impact on the program's performance.

Why not just sample every N'th event? This technique is called "systematic sampling"; it's simple and efficient, and it's fine if we imagine a patternless stream of events. But what if we're sampling allocations, and the program happens to have a loop where each iteration does exactly N allocations? You would end up sampling the same allocation every time through the loop; the entire rest of the loop becomes invisible to your measurements! More generally, if each iteration does M allocations, and M and N have any common divisor at all, most allocation sites will never be sampled. If they're both even, say, the odd-numbered allocations disappear from your results.

Ideally, we'd like each event to have some probability P of being sampled, independent of its neighbors and of its position in the sequence. This is called "Bernoulli sampling", and it doesn't suffer from any of the problems mentioned above.

One disadvantage of Bernoulli sampling is that you can't be sure exactly how many samples you'll get: technically, it's possible that you might sample none of them, or all of them. But if the number of events N is large, these aren't likely outcomes; you can generally expect somewhere around P * N events to be sampled.

The other disadvantage of Bernoulli sampling is that you have to generate a random number for every event, which can be slow.

<significant pause>


FastBernoulli lets you do true Bernoulli sampling, while generating a fresh random number only when we do decide to sample an event, not on every trial. When it decides not to sample, a call to FastBernoulli::trial is nothing but decrementing a counter and comparing it to zero. So the lower your sampling probability is, the less overhead FastBernoulli imposes.

Finally, probabilities of 0 and 1 are handled efficiently. (In neither case need we ever generate a random number at all.)


use fast_bernoulli::FastBernoulli;
use rand::Rng;

// Get the thread-local random number generator.
let mut rng = rand::thread_rng();

// Create a `FastBernoulli` instance that samples events with probability 1/20.
let mut bernoulli = FastBernoulli::new(0.05, &mut rng);

// Each time your event occurs, perform a Bernoulli trail to determine whether
// you should sample the event or not.
let on_my_event = || {
    if bernoulli.trial(&mut rng) {
        // Record the sample...


This crate uses the same technique that Jim Blandy used for the FastBernoulliTrial class in Firefox. This implementation is not a direct transcription of that C++ to Rust, however I did copy (and lightly edit) some documentation and comments from the original (for example, most of this README / crate-level documentation).