CGContextSelectFont is slow

We’ve heard it countless times: Before you spend any time optimizing, profile your code. And yet we always think we know where the performance problems are without testing.

Earlier this year I started some extra work to help a company port their Windows software to the Mac. It turned into a large project, and when the app ships I will write more about it here. But for now let’s just say that it involves a lot of Windows bitmaps.

Performance had been a problem almost from the start. It is a very drawing-intensive application, and I spent time optimizing the path to Quartz. Eventually everything goes through a CGImage, but there is some overhead getting there. I knew more could be done.

Eventually I bothered to run Shark on it. Within 30 seconds it revealed that almost 50% of the application time was being spent inside CGContextSelectFont, which was called very frequently for the very basic text drawing that was needed. I had not even suspected that code. I rewrote it to use ATSUI and all the performance problems immediately melted away. And it wasn’t even optimized ATSUI — just brain-dead create a text layout, font size, and draw.

It was not obvious to me that CGContextSelectFont would be so slow, so I’m posting this one for Google to pick up. Happy coding!

Manton Reece @manton