Ruby 2.6 and Ahead-Of-Time Compilation

Ruby 2.6 preview 1 has optional JIT that you can turn on with a command-line switch. It also has a mode where you can tell it to wait for JIT before running your code, which is marked as a "test" option. But can you just turn it on and get Ruby AoT for our Rails Apps?

Let's check!

I maintain Rails Ruby Bench, so that's what I'll be playing with here, but the JIT and AOT advice should apply to most large Ruby apps. Also, keep in mind that JIT has only just happened and it's not recommended for Rails apps yet - you should expect things to change a lot after April 2018, when this article was written.

How Can We Do It?

For current Ruby 2.6, you have to turn on JIT explicitly. I use this:

export RUBYOPT=--jit

But any way you set the command-line option is just fine.

Then you run your app. For longer-running, smaller-size apps, JIT should just magically make it faster. If that's what you were after - congratulations! You can skip the rest of this article and play Plants Vs Zombies. You have my permission, as long as it's the first one - the sequels aren't as good.

But I found that this slowed down Rails Ruby Bench instead of speeding it up, just like the preview announcement said it would. D'oh!

If you run "ruby --help" you'll see some new JIT-related options:

MJIT options (experimental):
  --jit-warnings  Enable printing MJIT warnings
  --jit-debug     Enable MJIT debugging (very slow)
  --jit-wait      Wait until JIT compilation is finished everytime (for testing)
                  Save MJIT temporary files in $TMP or /tmp (for testing)
                  Print MJIT logs of level num or less to stderr (default: 0)
                  Max number of methods to be JIT-ed in a cache (default: 1000)
                  Number of calls to trigger JIT (for testing, default: 5)

Hey, "--jit-wait" looks like exactly what we're looking for. So then we turn it on and we have Ruby AoT compilation? Not quite.

If we run RRB with just "--jit --jit-wait", it will hang forever as far as I can tell.

It turns out the new JIT has a cache of compiled methods, and that cache has a maximum size. And a Rails app is generally too big for it, and Rails Ruby Bench is definitely, no question, way too big for it and it winds up basically hanging. But we can turn the size up with --jit-max-cache!

So we set it up like this:

export RUBYOPT='--jit --jit-wait --jit-max-cache=100000'

And then we run the benchmark. And we get our next indicator that something's wrong.

It doesn't hang, exactly. It just starts up veeeeeery slowly. Like, getting to the point where it would make an HTTP request takes multiple minutes. And then it fails, probably because Puma's HTTP delays aren't set up for HTTP requests taking that long.

A Little Bit About Ruby's New JIT

You may remember from some of the previous writing about Ruby's new JIT that it works in an unusual way. It writes out C source files to a temp directory, compiles them to shared libraries and then loads them in a bit like native extensions for gems. That's a perfectly good approach, and it doesn't cause any problems here.

Ruby waits to compile a method until it has called that method a few times. Sure. Takashi pointed out that it's better not to tell it to compile the method the very first time we hit it (which we aren't, but we could with --jit-min-calls above) because if we wait a bit, we'll get better invocation data so the final result will be faster. Okay, but that's still not the problem.

We have a background thread that sits and compiles methods, one at a time, in this way. This is closer to the problem we're seeing...

If we run Rails Ruby Bench and tell it to wait until we have compiled tens of thousands of methods, one at a time, in a single background thread that runs the C compiler for every individual method... Yeah, okay. That looks like the problem.

Just to add insult to injury, we're also loading a lot of stuff into that cache and it eventually gets big. But don't worry - you don't have enough patience to wait until it gets really huge. You were hoping to speed up your Rails app... And this isn't going to feel very fast to you. It adds minutes of time to startup, which causes enough race conditions that the resulting app won't run anyway.

So when the Ruby option said it was just for testing, it meant it.

I Just Skipped To The End - Does This Do AoT Or Not?

The short version is: there's not really an AoT compile option in Ruby 2.6. The JITting options simply don't do that in a useful or acceptable way. You're far better off using it in the recommended way.

And for now, the recommended way for Rails apps is: don't. But that's likely to change soon. The Ruby release (2.6) with JIT is still in preview. There's a lot of polishing-up to do yet.