Bounds checking

Like many modern programming languages, Julia uses bounds checking to ensure program safety when accessing arrays. In tight inner loops or other performance critical situations, you may wish to skip these bounds checks to improve runtime performance. For instance, in order to emit vectorized (SIMD) instructions, your loop body cannot contain branches, and thus cannot contain bounds checks. Consequently, Julia includes an @inbounds(...) macro to tell the compiler to skip such bounds checks within the given block. User-defined array types can use the @boundscheck(...) macro to achieve context-sensitive code selection.

Eliding bounds checks

The @boundscheck(...) macro marks blocks of code that perform bounds checking. When such blocks are inlined into an @inbounds(...) block, the compiler may remove these blocks. The compiler removes the @boundscheck block only if it is inlined into the calling function. For example, you might write the method sum as:

function sum(A::AbstractArray)
    r = zero(eltype(A))
    for i in eachindex(A)
        @inbounds r += A[i]
    return r

With a custom array-like type MyArray having:

@inline getindex(A::MyArray, i::Real) = (@boundscheck checkbounds(A,i);[to_index(i)])

Then when getindex is inlined into sum, the call to checkbounds(A,i) will be elided. If your function contains multiple layers of inlining, only @boundscheck blocks at most one level of inlining deeper are eliminated. The rule prevents unintended changes in program behavior from code further up the stack.


It is easy to accidentally expose unsafe operations with @inbounds. You might be tempted to write the above example as

function sum(A::AbstractArray)
    r = zero(eltype(A))
    for i in 1:length(A)
        @inbounds r += A[i]
	return r

Which quietly assumes 1-based indexing and therefore exposes unsafe memory access when used with OffsetArrays:

julia> using OffsetArrays

julia> sum(OffsetArray([1,2,3], -10))
9164911648 # inconsistent results or segfault

While the original source of the error here is 1:length(A), the use of @inbounds increases the consequences from a bounds error to a less easily caught and debugged unsafe memory access. It is often difficult or impossible to prove that a method which uses @inbounds is safe, so one must weigh the benefits of performance improvements against the risk of segfaults and silent misbehavior, especially in public facing APIs.

Propagating inbounds

There may be certain scenarios where for code-organization reasons you want more than one layer between the @inbounds and @boundscheck declarations. For instance, the default getindex methods have the chain getindex(A::AbstractArray, i::Real) calls getindex(IndexStyle(A), A, i) calls _getindex(::IndexLinear, A, i).

To override the "one layer of inlining" rule, a function may be marked with Base.@propagate_inbounds to propagate an inbounds context (or out of bounds context) through one additional layer of inlining.

The bounds checking call hierarchy

The overall hierarchy is:

  • checkbounds(A, I...) which calls

    • checkbounds(Bool, A, I...) which calls

      • checkbounds_indices(Bool, axes(A), I) which recursively calls

        • checkindex for each dimension

Here A is the array, and I contains the "requested" indices. axes(A) returns a tuple of "permitted" indices of A.

checkbounds(A, I...) throws an error if the indices are invalid, whereas checkbounds(Bool, A, I...) returns false in that circumstance. checkbounds_indices discards any information about the array other than its axes tuple, and performs a pure indices-vs-indices comparison: this allows relatively few compiled methods to serve a huge variety of array types. Indices are specified as tuples, and are usually compared in a 1-1 fashion with individual dimensions handled by calling another important function, checkindex: typically,

checkbounds_indices(Bool, (IA1, IA...), (I1, I...)) = checkindex(Bool, IA1, I1) &
                                                      checkbounds_indices(Bool, IA, I)

so checkindex checks a single dimension. All of these functions, including the unexported checkbounds_indices have docstrings accessible with ? .

If you have to customize bounds checking for a specific array type, you should specialize checkbounds(Bool, A, I...). However, in most cases you should be able to rely on checkbounds_indices as long as you supply useful axes for your array type.

If you have novel index types, first consider specializing checkindex, which handles a single index for a particular dimension of an array. If you have a custom multidimensional index type (similar to CartesianIndex), then you may have to consider specializing checkbounds_indices.

Note this hierarchy has been designed to reduce the likelihood of method ambiguities. We try to make checkbounds the place to specialize on array type, and try to avoid specializations on index types; conversely, checkindex is intended to be specialized only on index type (especially, the last argument).

Emit bounds checks

Julia can be launched with --check-bounds={yes|no|auto} to emit bounds checks always, never, or respect @inbounds declarations.