the Chromium logo

The Chromium Projects

Time Safety and Code Readability

As someone that's written a ton of code using the src/base/time classes, and have made significant contributions in src/base/time, there are "holes" where these types can be too-easily used in semantically incorrect ways. In addition, there are opportunities to improve readability.

My "wish list" for changes (live document) follows:

One C++ class for each Clock/Timeline

base::Time represents values that have been sampled/computed from the local system calendar clock. However, base::TimeTicks values may have come from several different clocks. A recent bug revealed the mixing of values from different clocks was actually happening in the code base, and this was resolved via The solution eliminated the possibility of having separate "high-res" versus "low-res" clock sources for TimeTicks.

Two other TimeTicks clock sources remain: "ThreadNow" time and "SystemTrace" time. We should provide separate classes for these so that compile-time checking enforces semantically correct time math.

Eliminate From/ToInternalValue()

Code throughout Chromium subverts the compile-time type-checking of time math by illegally using these public methods. The code only works under an assumption that, internally, the time classes use a one-microsecond timebase with values stored internally in a 64-bit signed integer type. The stated purpose of these methods is only to allow (de)serialization of the time types (e.g., for IPC), and not to provide direct access to private members.

These methods should be eliminated altogether and replaced with From/ToMicroseconds(). Code that (de)serializes time values should also simply use the From/ToMicroseconds() methods, since that is the highest-resolution timebase currently supported; and so (de)serialization can be performed without introducing any rounding error.

Fix Time::is_null() and TimeTicks::is_null()

These methods make an incorrect assumption: That a zero-valued Time is the same as an "unset" or "undefined" Time. However, this has caused bugs abound (e.g. The reason is because "negative" Time values can represent a point-in-time before epoch (e.g, kernel boot time for TimeTicks). These negative values can then increment over time and become zero at some point. This then fools code into thinking a Time value is "unset" when it has actually been assigned/incremented to zero.

Instead of 0LL, which is dirt-smack in the middle of the range of possible values, a boundary value should represent the "unset" value: kint64min. The default constructors for base::Time and base::TimeTicks should then initialize to kint64min as well. We will have to be careful that this does not break any assumptions in client code.

"Zero" TimeDelta Operations

Currently, a lot of code does stuff like this:

if (last_foo_offset_ < base::TimeDelta())
  last_foo_offset_ = base::TimeDelta();
DCHECK_GT(duration, base::TimeDelta());

These lines of code are poor for readability. Instead, the TimeDelta class should provide convenience methods for a global "zero" constant as well "compare-to-zero". Then, the example above becomes:

if (last_foo_offset_.is_negative())
  last_foo_offset_ = base::TimeDelta::Zero();

After migrating code to use the new convenience methods, a PRESUBMIT check should be added to make sure future code changes don't regress the code base. (Note: The no-arg base::TimeDelta constructor must remain public to allow for using this type in STL containers.)