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C++ - Timer Class

Timer Class

In C++ we often need to measure execution time of a small block or function call.
There are several ways to do this in C++, and it is a real pain to come up with both a portable and accurate version.
Using standard C++ only we can write a simple timer class in a few lines only using std::clock(). This function returns the number of clock ticks elapsed since the program was launched. Unfortunately, on some systems the precision of this function is terrible.

class Timer
  Timer(const std::string& name)
    : name_ (name),
      start_ (std::clock())
      double elapsed = (double(std::clock() - start_) / double(CLOCKS_PER_SEC));
      std::cout << name_ << ": " << int(elapsed * 1000) << "ms" << std::endl;
  std::string name_;
  std::clock_t start_;
#define TIMER(name) Timer timer__(name);

An instance of the Timer class is created by providing a name. The constructor initializes the timer by using std::clock(). When the object is destroyed we compute the elapsed time and print it on standard output. We also define a macro TIMER(name) for convenience.


As the timer is initialized in the constructor and terminated in the destructor, we need to isolate the part of the code we want to measure in a block. When the end of the block is reached, we exit the scope of the timer variable and the destructor is called.
For example:

  int i = ...;
  for (...)
    TIMER("Huge Loop"); // initialize timer
    for (...)
    // timer variable is destroyed: print elapsed time.

The output can be something like this: Huge Loop: 352ms

User time VS Wall time

Good to know: by using std::clock() (instead of date-based methods) we measure user time, that is to say time actually spent by the CPU for the execution of the current program. If the process is put to sleep for a long time, we won't notice any change. For example the following code:

  sleep(2); // go to sleep for 2s

should print this: sleep: 0ms.
If wall clock time was measured we would have approximately 2000ms here.