2022 APFS Advent Challenge Day 17 - Blazingly Fast Checksums with SIMD

Friday, December 23, 2022

Today’s post will take on a bit of a different style than the previous posts in this series. Among other things, I spent my day putting off writing the final APFS encryption blog post by pursuing another one of my New Year goals. Along the way, I wrote a Fletcher64 hashing function that can validate APFS objects at over 31 GiB/s on my 2017 iMac Pro. Rather than fighting my procrastination, I decided it would be better to share my findings. Given that my chosen learning path was directly relevant to APFS, I’m counting this as a valid APFS Advent Challenge post (and you can’t stop me!). I hope you enjoy this brief detour into the dark arts of cross-platform SIMD programming.

SIMD Background

I’ve recently become interested in learning more about SIMD programming and how to utilize it to make my code faster. SIMD stands for “Single Instruction, Multiple Data.” It is a technique used in computer architectures to perform the same operation on multiple data elements in parallel, using a single instruction.

Here’s an example to help illustrate the concept:

Imagine that you have a list of numbers and want to add 1 to each of them. Without SIMD, you would have to write a loop that goes through each number in the list and performs an increment operation. This may be a very time-consuming process if the list is long.

On the other hand, if your computer has SIMD support, it can simultaneously perform the same operation on multiple numbers using a single instruction. This process, known as vectorization, can significantly speed things up, especially for long lists of numbers. We’re not limited to simple increment operations; SIMD supports many arithmetic and logical operations on most architectures.

Speeding up Fletcher64

During my journey, I came across some prior work by James D Guilford and Vinodh Gopal describing using SIMD for the Fast Computation of Fletcher Checksums in ZFS. While ZFS uses a different variant of a Fletcher checksum than APFS, this seemed like a great first project to get my hands dirty with vectorization.

Portability Concerns

The authors of the Intel whitepaper use hand-coded AVX assembly instructions to perform their vectorization. OpenZFS seems to have taken the same approach. They have independent implementations full of inline assembly for Intel’s SSE, AVX2, AVX-512, and ARM’s NEON architectures. Apple takes a similar approach. The Intel version of apfs.kext contains an SSE, AVX, and AVX2 vectorized implementations and a fallback serialized version if, for some reason, none of these instruction sets are supported. The arm64 version of the KEXT uses NEON vectorization instructions.

While these approaches work and produce high-performing and optimized code, having to hand-code an implementation for each instruction set seems to defeat the purpose of writing code in a portable language like C++. Besides, I’m a programmer, and programmers, by our very nature, are lazy. The compiler knows what it’s doing and usually can generate better-performing code that I could hand optimize, so let’s find a way to let it do its job.

C++ TS N4808 and std::experimental::simd

It turns out that the C++ standardization committee, along with many brilliant minds, has been working on this problem for years. Document N4808, the Working Draft, C++ Extensions for Parallelism Version 2, is a proposal to add (among other things) support for portable data parallel types to the C++ standard library.

This technical document proposes a generalized model of the most common SIMD operations that standard library implementations can use to allow programmers to write vectorized code that can be compiled to architecture-specific instructions without requiring architecture-specific inline assembly. That sounds like exactly what we want! While this has not officially been added to the language, GCC’s libstdc++ and Clang’s libc++, have at least partial implementations in their std::experimental namespace. GCC support seems the most complete, so I decided to experiment with gcc-12.

The Implementation

std::experimental::simd allows you to define native C++ vector types whose storage capacity depends on the underlying target architecture. For example, NEON supports 128-bit SIMD registers, holding two 64-bit or four 32-bit integers. AVX2 supports twice the storage with 256-bit registers, and the aptly named AVX-512 supports 512-bit registers. We can write code once, and the size of the vectors will be architecture specific.

namespace stdx = std::experimental;

// SIMD vector of 64-bit unsigned integers
using vu64 = stdx::native_simd<uint64_t>;

// SIMD vector of 32-bit unsigned integers
using vu32 = stdx::native_simd<uint32_t>;

These SIMD vectors can be used almost exactly like native integer types, and once I got over the lack of documentation, I found that they were pretty easy to use. By taking lessons from the existing vectorized implementations and making some improvements of my own, this is what I was able to come up with:

// N, N-2, N-4, ..., 2
static const vu64 even_m{[](const auto i) { return vu32::size() - (2 * i); }};

// N-1, N-3, N-5, ..., 1
static const vu64 odd_m = even_m - 1;

static constexpr auto max32 = std::numeric_limits<uint32_t>::max();

static uint64_t fletcher64_simd(std::span<const uint32_t, 1024> words) {
  vu64 sum1{};
  sum1[0] = -(static_cast<uint64_t>(words[0]) + words[1]);

  vu64 sum2{};
  sum2[0] = words[1];

  for (size_t n = 0; n < words.size(); n += vu32::size()) {
    sum2 += vu32::size() * sum1;

    const vu64 all{reinterpret_cast<const uint64_t*>(std::addressof(words[n])),

    const vu64 evens = all & max32;
    const vu64 odds = all >> 32;

    sum1 += evens + odds;
    sum2 += evens * even_m + odds * odd_m;

  // Fold the 64-bit overflow back into the 32-bit value
  const auto fold = [&](uint64_t x) {
    x = (x & max32) + (x >> 32);
    return (x == max32) ? 0 : x;

  const uint64_t low = fold(stdx::reduce(sum1));
  const uint64_t high = fold(stdx::reduce(sum2));

  const uint64_t ck_low = max32 - ((low + high) % max32);
  const uint64_t ck_high = max32 - ((low + ck_low) % max32);

  return ck_low | ck_high << 32;


Below are the speed comparisons between the above SIMD function and the following serialized implementation (non-threaded, single core performance). The times reported are the average time per checksum calculation of a 4KiB APFS object.

static uint64_t fletcher64_serial(std::span<const uint32_t, 1024> words) {
  uint64_t sum1 = -(static_cast<uint64_t>(words[0]) + words[1]);
  uint64_t sum2 = words[1];

  for (const uint32_t word : words) {
    sum1 += word;
    sum2 += sum1;

  sum1 %= max32;
  sum2 %= max32;

  const uint64_t ck_low = max32 - ((sum1 + sum2) % max32);
  const uint64_t ck_high = max32 - ((sum1 + ck_low) % max32);

  static constexpr size_t high_shift = 32;
  return ck_low | ck_high << high_shift;

My 2017 iMac Pro supports enabling 128-bit SSE, 256-bit AVX2, and 512-bit AVX-512, so it’s a great candidate to show the speedups that can be achieved via vectorization.

Target Architecture Time per Checksum Throughput Speedup
Serialized 730ns 5.21734 GiB/s -
SSE 509ns 7.49126 GiB/s 1.4x
AVX2 292ns 13.0277 GiB/s 2.5x
AVX-512 122ns 31.1448 GiB/s 6x

The relative performance of my 2021 M1 Max MacBook Pro is somewhat less impressive due to the ARM NEON architecture being limited to only 128-bit vector registers. This computer is still very fast, and I love it.

Target Architecture Time per Checksum Throughput Speedup
Serialized 458ns 8.31391 GiB/s -
NEON 368ns 10.3417 GiB/s 1.2x


For the proper application, SIMD vectorization can provide fantastic performance benefits. In my testing, I demonstrated a 6x speedup and hashed APFS objects at over 31 Gigabytes per second on an iMac Pro from 2017! The proposed SIMD additions to the C++ standard library are easy to use and generate high-performing, portable code. I absolutely will be using this whenever I can.

Update (December 24, 2022)

I further improved this code’s performance to achieve even better performance!

This post is part of my 2022 APFS Advent Challenge

Every weekday in the month of December, I will attempt to post a blog about APFS internals. For each day that I miss a post, I will donate $100 to support humanitarian aid for the Ukrainian people. If you find value in this series, and would like to support this effort, please consider donating to the GoFundMe. Slava Ukraini! 🇺🇦

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