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CUB Documentation

Table of Contents

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(1) What is CUB?

CUB provides state-of-the-art, reusable software components for every layer of the CUDA programming model:

(2) CUB's collective primitives

Collective software primitives are essential for constructing high-performance, maintainable CUDA kernel code. Collectives allow complex parallel code to be re-used rather than re-implemented, and to be re-compiled rather than hand-ported.

Orientation of collective primitives within the CUDA software stack
As a SIMT programming model, CUDA engenders both scalar and collective software interfaces. Traditional software interfaces are scalar : a single thread invokes a library routine to perform some operation (which may include spawning parallel subtasks). Alternatively, a collective interface is entered simultaneously by a group of parallel threads to perform some cooperative operation.
CUB's collective primitives are not bound to any particular width of parallelism or data type. This flexibility makes them:
  • Adaptable to fit the needs of the enclosing kernel computation
  • Trivially tunable to different grain sizes (threads per block, items per thread, etc.)
Thus CUB is CUDA Unbound.

(3) An example (block-wide sorting)

The following code snippet presents a CUDA kernel in which each block of BLOCK_THREADS threads will collectively load, sort, and store its own segment of (BLOCK_THREADS * ITEMS_PER_THREAD) integer keys:
#include <cub/cub.cuh>
// Block-sorting CUDA kernel
__global__ void BlockSortKernel(int *d_in, int *d_out)
// Specialize BlockLoad, BlockStore, and BlockRadixSort collective types
typedef cub::BlockLoad<
typedef cub::BlockStore<
// Allocate type-safe, repurposable shared memory for collectives
__shared__ union {
typename BlockLoadT::TempStorage load;
typename BlockStoreT::TempStorage store;
typename BlockRadixSortT::TempStorage sort;
} temp_storage;
// Obtain this block's segment of consecutive keys (blocked across threads)
int thread_keys[ITEMS_PER_THREAD];
int block_offset = blockIdx.x * (BLOCK_THREADS * ITEMS_PER_THREAD);
BlockLoadT(temp_storage.load).Load(d_in + block_offset, thread_keys);
__syncthreads(); // Barrier for smem reuse
// Collectively sort the keys
__syncthreads(); // Barrier for smem reuse
// Store the sorted segment
BlockStoreT( + block_offset, thread_keys);
// Elsewhere in the host program: parameterize and launch a block-sorting
// kernel in which blocks of 128 threads each sort segments of 2048 keys
int *d_in = ...;
int *d_out = ...;
int num_blocks = ...;
BlockSortKernel<128, 16><<<num_blocks, 128>>>(d_in, d_out);
In this example, threads use cub::BlockLoad, cub::BlockRadixSort, and cub::BlockStore to collectively load, sort and store the block's segment of input items. Because these operations are cooperative, each primitive requires an allocation of shared memory for threads to communicate through. The typical usage pattern for a CUB collective is:
  1. Statically specialize the primitive for the specific problem setting at hand, e.g., the data type being sorted, the number of threads per block, the number of keys per thread, optional algorithmic alternatives, etc. (CUB primitives are also implicitly specialized by the targeted compilation architecture.)
  2. Allocate (or alias) an instance of the specialized primitive's nested TempStorage type within a shared memory space.
  3. Specify communication details (e.g., the TempStorage allocation) to construct an instance of the primitive.
  4. Invoke methods on the primitive instance.
In particular, cub::BlockRadixSort is used to collectively sort the segment of data items that have been partitioned across the thread block. To provide coalesced accesses to device memory, we configure the cub::BlockLoad and cub::BlockStore primitives to access memory using a striped access pattern (where consecutive threads simultaneously access consecutive items) and then transpose the keys into a blocked arrangement of elements across threads. To reuse shared memory across all three primitives, the thread block statically allocates a union of their TempStorage types.

(4) Why do you need CUB?

Writing, tuning, and maintaining kernel code is perhaps the most challenging, time-consuming aspect of CUDA programming. Kernel software is where the complexity of parallelism is expressed. Programmers must reason about deadlock, livelock, synchronization, race conditions, shared memory layout, plurality of state, granularity, throughput, latency, memory bottlenecks, etc.
With the exception of CUB, however, there are few (if any) software libraries of reusable kernel primitives. In the CUDA ecosystem, CUB is unique in this regard. As a SIMT library and software abstraction layer, CUB provides:
  1. Simplicity of composition. CUB enhances programmer productivity by allowing complex parallel operations to be easily sequenced and nested. For example, cub::BlockRadixSort is constructed from cub::BlockExchange and cub::BlockRadixRank. The latter is composed of cub::BlockScan which incorporates cub::WarpScan.
  2. High performance. CUB simplifies high-performance program and kernel development by taking care to implement the state-of-the-art in parallel algorithms.

  3. Performance portability. CUB primitives are specialized to match the diversity of NVIDIA hardware, continuously evolving to accommodate new architecture-specific features and instructions. And because CUB's device-wide primitives are implemented using flexible block-wide and warp-wide collectives, we are able to performance-tune them to match the processor resources provided by each CUDA processor architecture. As a result, our CUB implementations demonstrate much better performance-portability when compared to more traditional, rigidly-coded parallel libraries such as Thrust:

  4. Simplicity of performance tuning:
    • Resource utilization. CUB primitives allow developers to quickly change grain sizes (threads per block, items per thread, etc.) to best match the processor resources of their target architecture
    • Variant tuning. Most CUB primitives support alternative algorithmic strategies. For example, cub::BlockHistogram is parameterized to implement either an atomic-based approach or a sorting-based approach. (The latter provides uniform performance regardless of input distribution.)
    • Co-optimization. When the enclosing kernel is similarly parameterizable, a tuning configuration can be found that optimally accommodates their combined register and shared memory pressure.

  5. Robustness and durability. CUB just works. CUB primitives are designed to function properly for arbitrary data types and widths of parallelism (not just for the built-in C++ types or for powers-of-two threads per block).

  6. Reduced maintenance burden. CUB provides a SIMT software abstraction layer over the diversity of CUDA hardware. With CUB, applications can enjoy performance-portability without intensive and costly rewriting or porting efforts.

  7. A path for language evolution. CUB primitives are designed to easily accommodate new features in the CUDA programming model, e.g., thread subgroups and named barriers, dynamic shared memory allocators, etc.

(5) How do CUB collectives work?

Four programming idioms are central to the design of CUB:
  1. Generic programming. C++ templates provide the flexibility and adaptive code generation needed for CUB primitives to be useful, reusable, and fast in arbitrary kernel settings.
  2. Reflective class interfaces. CUB collectives statically export their their resource requirements (e.g., shared memory size and layout) for a given specialization, which allows compile-time tuning decisions and resource allocation.
  3. Flexible data arrangement across threads. CUB collectives operate on data that is logically partitioned across a group of threads. For most collective operations, efficiency is increased with increased granularity (i.e., items per thread).
  4. Static tuning and co-tuning. Simple constants and static types dictate the granularities and algorithmic alternatives to be employed by CUB collectives. When the enclosing kernel is similarly parameterized, an optimal configuration can be determined that best accommodates the combined behavior and resource consumption of all primitives within the kernel.

5.1 Generic programming

We use template parameters to specialize CUB primitives for the particular problem setting at hand. Until compile time, CUB primitives are not bound to any particular:
  • Data type (int, float, double, etc.)
  • Width of parallelism (threads per thread block)
  • Grain size (data items per thread)
  • Underlying processor (special instructions, warp size, rules for bank conflicts, etc.)
  • Tuning configuration (e.g., latency vs. throughput, algorithm selection, etc.)

5.2 Reflective class interfaces

Unlike traditional function-oriented interfaces, CUB exposes its collective primitives as templated C++ classes. The resource requirements for a specific parameterization are reflectively advertised as members of the class. The resources can then be statically or dynamically allocated, aliased to global or shared memory, etc. The following illustrates a CUDA kernel fragment performing a collective prefix sum across the threads of a thread block:
#include <cub/cub.cuh>
__global__ void SomeKernelFoo(...)
// Specialize BlockScan for 128 threads on integer types
typedef cub::BlockScan<int, 128> BlockScan;
// Allocate shared memory for BlockScan
__shared__ typename BlockScan::TempStorage scan_storage;
// Obtain a segment of consecutive items that are blocked across threads
int thread_data_in[4];
int thread_data_out[4];
// Perform an exclusive block-wide prefix sum
BlockScan(scan_storage).ExclusiveSum(thread_data_in, thread_data_out);
Furthermore, the CUB interface is designed to separate parameter fields by concerns. CUB primitives have three distinct parameter fields:
  1. Static template parameters. These are constants that will dictate the storage layout and the unrolling of algorithmic steps (e.g., the input data type and the number of block threads), and are used to specialize the class.
  2. Constructor parameters. These are optional parameters regarding inter-thread communication (e.g., storage allocation, thread-identifier mapping, named barriers, etc.), and are orthogonal to the functions exposed by the class.
  3. Formal method parameters. These are the operational inputs/outputs for the various functions exposed by the class.
This allows CUB types to easily accommodate new programming model features (e.g., named barriers, memory allocators, etc.) without incurring a combinatorial growth of interface methods.

5.3 Flexible data arrangement across threads

CUDA kernels are often designed such that each thread block is assigned a segment of data items for processing.
Segment of eight ordered data items
When the tile size equals the thread block size, the mapping of data onto threads is straightforward (one datum per thread). However, there are often performance advantages for processing more than one datum per thread. Increased granularity corresponds to decreased communication overhead. For these scenarios, CUB primitives will specify which of the following partitioning alternatives they accommodate:
  • Blocked arrangement. The aggregate tile of items is partitioned evenly across threads in "blocked" fashion with threadi owning the ith segment of consecutive elements. Blocked arrangements are often desirable for algorithmic benefits (where long sequences of items can be processed sequentially within each thread).
Blocked arrangement across four threads
(emphasis on items owned by thread0)
  • Striped arrangement. The aggregate tile of items is partitioned across threads in "striped" fashion, i.e., the ITEMS_PER_THREAD items owned by each thread have logical stride BLOCK_THREADS between them. Striped arrangements are often desirable for data movement through global memory (where read/write coalescing is an important performance consideration).
Striped arrangement across four threads
(emphasis on items owned by thread0)
The benefits of processing multiple items per thread (a.k.a., register blocking, granularity coarsening, etc.) include:
  • Algorithmic efficiency. Sequential work over multiple items in thread-private registers is cheaper than synchronized, cooperative work through shared memory spaces.
  • Data occupancy. The number of items that can be resident on-chip in thread-private register storage is often greater than the number of schedulable threads.
  • Instruction-level parallelism. Multiple items per thread also facilitates greater ILP for improved throughput and utilization.
Finally, cub::BlockExchange provides operations for converting between blocked and striped arrangements.

5.4 Static tuning and co-tuning

This style of flexible interface simplifies performance tuning. Most CUB primitives support alternative algorithmic strategies that can be statically targeted by a compiler-based or JIT-based autotuner. (For example, cub::BlockHistogram is parameterized to implement either an atomic-based approach or a sorting-based approach.) Algorithms are also tunable over parameters such as thread count and grain size as well. Taken together, each of the CUB algorithms provides a fairly rich tuning space.
Whereas conventional libraries are optimized offline and in isolation, CUB provides interesting opportunities for whole-program optimization. For example, each CUB primitive is typically parameterized by threads-per-block and items-per-thread, both of which affect the underlying algorithm's efficiency and resource requirements. When the enclosing kernel is similarly parameterized, the coupled CUB primitives adjust accordingly. This enables autotuners to search for a single configuration that maximizes the performance of the entire kernel for a given set of hardware resources.

(6) How do I get started using CUB?

CUB is implemented as a C++ header library. There is no need to build CUB separately. To use CUB primitives in your code, simply:
  1. Download and unzip the latest CUB distribution
  2. #include the "umbrella" <cub/cub.cuh> header file in your CUDA C++ sources. (Or #include the particular header files that define the CUB primitives you wish to use.)
  3. Compile your program with NVIDIA's nvcc CUDA compiler, specifying a -I<path-to-CUB> include-path flag to reference the location of the CUB header library.
We also have collection of simple CUB example programs

(7) How is CUB different than Thrust and Modern GPU?

CUB and Thrust
CUB and Thrust share some similarities in that they both provide similar device-wide primitives for CUDA. However, they target different abstraction layers for parallel computing. Thrust abstractions are agnostic of any particular parallel framework (e.g., CUDA, TBB, OpenMP, sequential CPU, etc.). While Thrust has a "backend" for CUDA devices, Thrust interfaces themselves are not CUDA-specific and do not explicitly expose CUDA-specific details (e.g., cudaStream_t parameters).
CUB, on the other hand, is slightly lower-level than Thrust. CUB is specific to CUDA C++ and its interfaces explicitly accommodate CUDA-specific features. Furthermore, CUB is also a library of SIMT collective primitives for block-wide and warp-wide kernel programming.
CUB and Thrust are complementary and can be used together. In fact, the CUB project arose out of a maintenance need to achieve better performance-portability within Thrust by using reusable block-wide primitives to reduce maintenance and tuning effort.
CUB and Modern GPU
CUB and Modern GPU also share some similarities in that they both implement similar device-wide primitives for CUDA. However, they serve different purposes for the CUDA programming community. MGPU is a pedagogical tool for high-performance GPU computing, providing clear and concise exemplary code and accompanying commentary. It serves as an excellent source of educational, tutorial, CUDA-by-example material. The MGPU source code is intended to be read and studied, and often favors simplicity at the expense of portability and flexibility.
CUB, on the other hand, is a production-quality library whose sources are complicated by support for every version of CUDA architecture, and is validated by an extensive suite of regression tests. Although well-documented, the CUB source text is verbose and relies heavily on C++ template metaprogramming for situational specialization.
CUB and MGPU are complementary in that MGPU serves as an excellent descriptive source for many of the algorithmic techniques used by CUB.

(8) Stable releases

CUB releases are labeled using version identifiers having three fields: <epoch>.<feature>.<update>. The epoch field corresponds to support for a major change or update to the CUDA programming model. The feature field corresponds to a stable set of features, functionality, and interface. The update field corresponds to a bug-fix or performance update for that feature set. At the moment, we do not publicly provide non-stable releases such as development snapshots, beta releases or rolling releases. (Feel free to contact us if you would like access to such things.)
The following table enumerates prior feature releases as well as update versions for the current feature release.
CUB v1.6.4
  • New Features:
    • API change: Device-, block-, and warp-wide exclusive scans have been revised to now accept an "initial value" (instead of an "identity value") for seeding the computation with an arbitrary prefix.
    • API change: Device-wide reductions and scans can now have input sequence types that are different from output sequence types (as long as they are coercible) value") for seeding the computation with an arbitrary prefix
    • API change: BlockLoad and BlockStore are now templated by the local data type, instead of the Iterator type. This allows for output iterators having void as their value_type (e.g., discard iterators).
  • Reduce repository size (move doxygen binary to doc repository)
  • Minor reductions in block-scan instruction count
  • Updated sm_5x, sm_6x tuning policies for radix sorting (6.2B, 3.5B, and 3.4B 32b keys/s on GP100, TitanX and GTX 1080, respectively)
  • See the change-log for further details, including bug-fixes

CUB v1.5.2
  • New Features:
    • Added new segmented device-wide operations for device-wide sort and reduction primitives.
  • Improved sorting performance for sm6x (Pascal)
  • Improved medium-size scan performance for sm5x (Maxwell)
  • Improved caching allocator for device memory
  • See the change-log for further details, including bug-fixes

CUB v1.4.1
  • New Features:
    • Updated cub::DeviceHistogram implementation that provides the same "histogram-even" and "histogram-range" functionality as IPP/NPP. Provides extremely fast and, perhaps more importantly, very uniform performance response across diverse real-world datasets, including pathological (homogeneous) sample distributions (resilience)
    • New cub::DeviceSpmv methods for multiplying sparse matrices by dense vectors, load-balanced using a merge-based parallel decomposition.
    • New cub::DeviceRadixSort sorting entry-points that always return the sorted output into the specified buffer (as opposed to the cub::DoubleBuffer in which it could end up in either buffer)
    • New cub::DeviceRunLengthEncode::NonTrivialRuns for finding the starting offsets and lengths of all non-trivial runs (i.e., length > 1) of keys in a given sequence. (Useful for top-down partitioning algorithms like MSD sorting of very-large keys.)
  • See the change-log for further details, including bug-fixes

CUB v1.3.2
  • CUB's collective (block-wide, warp-wide) primitives underwent a minor interface refactoring:
    • To provide the appropriate support for multidimensional thread blocks, The interfaces for collective classes are now template-parameterized by X, Y, and Z block dimensions (with BLOCK_DIM_Y and BLOCK_DIM_Z being optional, and BLOCK_DIM_X replacing BLOCK_THREADS). Furthermore, the constructors that accept remapped linear thread-identifiers have been removed: all primitives now assume a row-major thread-ranking for multidimensional thread blocks.
    • To allow the host program (compiled by the host-pass) to accurately determine the device-specific storage requirements for a given collective (compiled for each device-pass), the interfaces for collective classes are now (optionally) template-parameterized by the desired PTX compute capability. This is useful when aliasing collective storage to shared memory that has been allocated dynamically by the host at the kernel call site.
    • Most CUB programs having typical 1D usage should not require any changes to accomodate these updates.
  • Added new "combination scan" methods to cub::WarpScan for efficiently computing both inclusive and exclusive prefix scans (and sums).
  • See the change-log for further details

CUB v1.2.3
  • Added device-wide reduce-by-key (cub::DeviceReduce::ReduceByKey, cub::DeviceReduce::RunLengthEncode)
  • Added MS VC++ project solutions for device-wide and block-wide examples
  • See the change-log for further details, including bug-fixes

CUB v1.1.1

CUB v1.0.1

CUB v0.9.4

CUB v0.9
  • CUB is the first durable, high-performance library of cooperative threadblock, warp, and thread primitives for CUDA kernel programming

(9) Contributors

CUB is developed as an open-source project by NVIDIA Research. The primary contributor is Duane Merrill.

(10) Open Source License

CUB is available under the "New BSD" open-source license:
Copyright (c) 2011, Duane Merrill. All rights reserved.
Copyright (c) 2011-2016, NVIDIA CORPORATION. All rights reserved.
Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without
modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met:
Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright
notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.
Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright
notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the
documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.
Neither the name of the NVIDIA CORPORATION nor the
names of its contributors may be used to endorse or promote products
derived from this software without specific prior written permission.