As some readers might be aware, in PostgreSQL, we have been working on adding a new build system using Meson. The new Meson build system has support for precompiled headers. I wanted to find out how useful that is.

Here is an explanation of precompiled headers from GCC: Here is the description of how they work in Meson: (Note, however, that as someone compiling PostgreSQL with Meson now, this is all taken care of and you don’t need to do anything to be able to use this, other than turning it on.1)

Lore has it that this is mainly useful for Windows. So let’s check that. The following are the run times2 of the “build” step (i.e., just the compiling, no setup, no tests) of the task “Windows - Server 2019, VS 2019 - Meson & ninja” in the Cirrus CI configuration (“pch” = precompiled headers):

  pch off pch on
VM (current3) 2:04 min 1:13 min
container (old) 4:19 min 2:45 min

The exact times will obviously vary, but this shows the relative effects pretty well.

So it’s useful on Windows.

Is it useful elsewhere?

I gave it a try on the macOS I had handy. These are the run times of meson compile:

  pch off pch on
ccache off 1:34 min 1:26 min
ccache on4 9.8 s 10.7 s

I also tried it on a Linux (Debian) host; the results were essentially identical to these.

So without ccache it is around 10% faster, but with ccache it is around 10% slower.

To summarize, precompiled headers are definitely useful on Windows, but on other platforms the impact might not be important enough to bother with it, and there might even be a slightly negative impact.

  1. meson setup ... -Db_pch=true and false respectively. Note that unlike the Meson defaults, pch is off by default in PostgreSQL. 

  2. All timings in this article are the middle of three runs. 

  3. The “current” values are from commit 98811323c8 (“ci: Use windows VMs instead of windows containers”), the “old” ones from just before that. As you can see, that change is also very effective. 

  4. When using ccache with pch, you need to set CCACHE_SLOPPINESS=pch_defines,time_macros. To be fair/sure, I set this also for the pch off test. I also did one caching run before taking timings. Note that if you don’t set this, then ccache will be ineffective if pch is enabled.