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In Part 1 of this post, I evaluated the 8 Nuget packages currently available that list support for the BLAKE2 hashing algorithm(s). My original goal was to identify the best ones, to see if I could improve on them by using the new X86 SIMD Intrinsics support in .NET Core 2.1. I found that of those 8 published packages, exactly one was both RFC-compliant and acceptably fast. That was an implementation of BLAKE2s (blake2s-net), which is the lesser-used of the BLAKE2 variants. There were zero acceptable implementations of BLAKE2b available on Nuget, although there was a good implementation (Blake2Sharp) available in source form on GitHub.

With the current state being such a mess, it would be difficult to not improve on it, but I’ll have a go anyway.

How fast is BLAKE2?

To start, though, I want to take a step back and look at where things stand using those current best .NET implementations of BLAKE2. If you read up on the benefits of BLAKE2, one of its selling points is that it is simple to implement and has excellent performance in software-only implementations. In fact, it’s claimed to be faster than the much-less-secure MD5, which is still commonly used for file fingerprinting because of its low calculation cost.

I figured I would check that claim out by comparing those winning C# implementations of BLAKE2 against MD5, SHA-256 and SHA-512 to see how they stack up. One factor that’s often overlooked is that different hashing algorithms are designed for optimal processing on different architectures. BLAKE2b is supposed to be faster than BLAKE2s on 64-bit platforms and the opposite should be true on 32-bit. Similarly, SHA512 should be faster in 64-bit while SHA256 should be faster in 32-bit. I decided to test all the algorithms head-to-head on both platforms using BenchmarkDotNet to see if all those assumptions were true in .NET land.

My environment (updated to .NET Core 2.1 final after Part 1):

BenchmarkDotNet=v0.10.14, OS=Windows 10.0.17134
Intel Xeon CPU E3-1505M v6 3.00GHz, 1 CPU, 8 logical and 4 physical cores
Frequency=2929685 Hz, Resolution=341.3336 ns, Timer=TSC
.NET Core SDK=2.1.300
  [Host]     : .NET Core 2.1.0 (CoreCLR 4.6.26515.07, CoreFX 4.6.26515.06), 64bit RyuJIT
  DefaultJob : .NET Core 2.1.0 (CoreCLR 4.6.26515.07, CoreFX 4.6.26515.06), 64bit RyuJIT

And the results:

      Method | Platform |      Mean |     Error |    StdDev | Allocated |
------------ |--------- |----------:|----------:|----------:|----------:|
 Blake2Sharp |      X64 |  16.91 ms | 0.3498 ms | 0.4164 ms |     864 B |
 blake2s-net |      X64 |  22.54 ms | 0.1468 ms | 0.1301 ms |     536 B |
         MD5 |      X64 |  21.13 ms | 0.2073 ms | 0.1939 ms |       0 B |
      SHA256 |      X64 |  46.57 ms | 0.4872 ms | 0.4557 ms |       0 B |
      SHA512 |      X64 |  28.16 ms | 0.2036 ms | 0.1905 ms |     304 B |
             |          |           |           |           |           |
 Blake2Sharp |      X86 | 170.02 ms | 1.0865 ms | 1.0163 ms |     712 B |
 blake2s-net |      X86 |  37.44 ms | 0.1919 ms | 0.1602 ms |       0 B |
         MD5 |      X86 |  20.21 ms | 0.1491 ms | 0.1395 ms |       0 B |
      SHA256 |      X86 |  52.78 ms | 0.4144 ms | 0.3876 ms |       0 B |
      SHA512 |      X86 |  44.76 ms | 0.4982 ms | 0.4416 ms |       0 B |

I ran only the 10MiB data set here to keep the test results brief. The x64 results are in line with expectations. BLAKE2b (using Blake2Sharp) is, in fact, faster than anything else in 64-bit, but it performs particularly poorly in 32-bit. BLAKE2s (using blake2s-net) does admirably on both platforms, but it still trails the performance of MD5, especially on 32-bit.

One wrinkle in these tests is that the built-in hashing algorithms in .NET Core use platform-native implementations. See the HashProviderDispenser variants for details. I’m on Windows, so I’m getting the CNG implementations.

I can’t find any references at the moment, but I’m fairly certain I’ve read before that Windows CNG has at least some SIMD-accelerated code in some of the algorithms. That might explain why SHA512 is faster on both platforms than SHA256. Either way, since those native implementations are what you get in the box in .NET Core, I think you have to try to beat them if you’re considering BLAKE2 for its performance benefits.

The other wrinkle is that RyuJIT-32 in .NET Core 2.1 performs particularly poorly at generating optimal code for BLAKE2b. I raised an issue regarding that on the coreclr repo, and it is currently under investigation. The Blake2Sharp timings with the legacy jit32 were closer to 100ms.

And keep in mind that because not a single one of the BLAKE2b implementations available on Nuget was properly optimized, they came in anywhere from 3-17000x(!) slower than Blake2Sharp on x64, meaning they aren’t actually competitive with SHA512 at all.

Finally, it’s important to remember that when it comes to cryptographic hashing, performance problems can be security problems. It’s common when hashing passwords, for example, to use an iterative hashing function like PBKDF2 and to base the iteration count on a balance between making things difficult for an attacker to brute-force your hashes and making the application responsive to users attempting to log on. Someone attacking your password hashes will most certainly be using optimized code, so if you’re not, you’re giving the attacker the advantage.

Let’s Get Optimizin’

As I mentioned in Part 1, the Blake2Sharp reference repo has some incomplete code related to optional BLAKE2b features, and those extra features complicate the code unnecessarily. The blake2s-net code is derived from that same base, and it has some of the same issues. For my versions, I decided to start from the RFC implementations and optimize from there, keeping things as simple as possible. My first goal was to be at least as fast as those benchmark reference versions with only scalar code.

I was able to make some nice improvements by simplifying the initialization code, by using a bit of unsafe code to avoid making an unnecessary copy of the data during hash updates, and by re-ordering some operations to avoid CPU pipeline stalls.

Here are the numbers from my scalar implementations (I call them Blake2Fast) compared with the fastest versions previously available.

3-byte input

      Method |       Hash |     Mean |     Error |    StdDev |  Gen 0 | Allocated |
------------ |----------- |---------:|----------:|----------:|-------:|----------:|
 Blake2Sharp | 44229FC0EF | 521.9 ns | 5.5792 ns | 5.2188 ns | 0.2050 |     864 B |
 Blake2bFast | 44229FC0EF | 225.8 ns | 1.3251 ns | 1.2395 ns | 0.0074 |      32 B |
             |            |          |           |           |        |           |
 blake2s-net | FE4D57BA07 | 359.6 ns | 3.0930 ns | 2.8932 ns | 0.1273 |     536 B |
 Blake2sFast | FE4D57BA07 | 180.1 ns | 0.5917 ns | 0.5245 ns | 0.0074 |      32 B |

3.19KiB input

      Method |       Hash |     Mean |     Error |    StdDev |  Gen 0 | Allocated |
------------ |----------- |---------:|----------:|----------:|-------:|----------:|
 Blake2Sharp | 61EB59036B | 5.537 us | 0.0286 us | 0.0267 us | 0.1984 |     864 B |
 Blake2bFast | 61EB59036B | 4.243 us | 0.0222 us | 0.0186 us |      - |      32 B |
             |            |          |           |           |        |           |
 blake2s-net | 62320CA3FC | 7.331 us | 0.0593 us | 0.0555 us | 0.1221 |     536 B |
 Blake2sFast | 62320CA3FC | 6.554 us | 0.0296 us | 0.0276 us |      - |      32 B |

10MiB input

      Method |       Hash |     Mean |     Error |    StdDev | Allocated |
------------ |----------- |---------:|----------:|----------:|----------:|
 Blake2Sharp | 7B6AB409B7 | 16.60 ms | 0.1319 ms | 0.1234 ms |     864 B |
 Blake2bFast | 7B6AB409B7 | 13.19 ms | 0.0533 ms | 0.0472 ms |       0 B |
             |            |          |           |           |           |
 blake2s-net | 6500962DE3 | 22.24 ms | 0.1427 ms | 0.1335 ms |     536 B |
 Blake2sFast | 6500962DE3 | 20.66 ms | 0.1719 ms | 0.1436 ms |       0 B |

As you can see, the changes give my Blake2Fast versions a nice speed advantage over the existing best implementations, using only scalar code. The lower initialization overhead makes them roughly twice as fast with the smallest input, and the other optimizations show their benefits on the larger inputs.

One other change I made was to store the hash working state in a struct rather than a class. This makes Blake2Fast allocation-free (except for the array it allocates for the hash result itself) when using it in an all-at-once call. BLAKE2 is optimized to use very little memory for its hash state, so there’s no risk to keeping it on the stack when possible.

Bring on the Intrinsics

Having made the scalar code as fast as I could get it, it was time to see what could be done with the new Intrinsics support in .NET Core 2.1. But First a bit of background for those not familiar…

In .NET, a JIT Intrinsic is a method that is specially recognized by RyuJIT and has its IL implementation replaced with an optimized bit of machine code during JIT compilation. These first came into wide use in the System.Numerics.Vectors assembly, where Vector3, Vector4, Matrix4x4, Vector<T> and friends have Intrinsic methods that are replaced by the JIT with SIMD instructions on platforms that support them. System.Numerics.Vectors opened up a new world of performance in .NET code, and I made heavy use of its Intrinsics in the resizing, sharpening, and pixel format conversion code in MagicScaler. But it wasn’t without its problems.

First, not everything in System.Numerics.Vectors is JIT Intrinsic. For example, Vector4.Min() is implemented with a single SSE instruction that operates on 4 floats at once, as is Vector4.Max(). But Vector4.Clamp(), rather than using those two SSE instructions, has a complicated (and much slower) managed implementation designed to preserve compatibility with the Direct3D HLSL behavior. The documentation makes no mention of the difference, so the only way to know what you’re getting is to look at the source code for the method or to view the generated assembly language from the JIT. Those sorts of performance traps can be very confusing.

Second, the optimized versions of the methods are only emitted by the JIT if optimizations are enabled when you build your assembly. This means that normally, you’ll get a managed (and very slow) version in Debug mode and the optimized SIMD instructions in Release mode. Further, there can be differences in the results between the managed and Intrinsic versions of the code, so you may get different results in Debug and Release builds.

Third, Vector<T> can be very complicated to use because its size is different in different environments. Vector<float>, for example, holds 4 floats in its managed implementation or in the Intrinsic implementation on older hardware. On newer hardware that supports the AVX2 instruction set, Vector<float> holds 8 floats. That makes it difficult to design algorithms since you have to account for both possible sizes.

And finally, System.Numerics.Vectors implements only a tiny fraction of the SIMD instructions available on modern processors. Its API surface was designed with 3D game development in mind, so anything not useful for 3D graphics is almost certainly absent.

Enter System.Runtime.Intrinsics

In order to properly expose the complete set of SIMD instructions supported by modern processors, the CoreCLR team, along with help from Intel and Samsung (hooray for open source!), have been working on a lower-level set of APIs for .NET, implemented as JIT Intrinsics. Unlike the abstracted classes and methods in System.Numerics.Vectors, these new Intrinsics map directly to individual SIMD instruction sets and instructions. These are beginning to come together, and .NET Core 2.1 has the first useable bits in it, although they are designated ‘Experimental’ at this time.

Interestingly, the new Intrinsics support wasn’t listed among the new features in the .NET Core 2.1 RC1 release announcement, but Microsoft did publish a Nuget package with the reference assemblies, and the support is present in the JIT in both the RC1 and RTM/RTW versions of .NET Core 2.1.

Unfortunately, it appears the Nuget package was published to nuget.org by mistake, and now that .NET Core 2.1 has been released in its final version, the package has been de-listed. Its RTM version exists only on myget.org.

Let that serve as a warning to you; this is all experimental. The APIs that work work, but not all of them do work. And the APIs may change in .NET Core 2.2 or 3.0.

Unlike System.Numerics.Vectors, nothing in System.Runtime.Intrinsics has a managed implementation. The Nuget package contains only a reference assembly, and all the methods in that assembly will throw a PlatformNotSupportedException unless the JIT recognizes and substitutes them with the appropriate instructions. This means that the new Intrinsics can’t be used without a compatible JIT, which means they will only work in .NET Core 2.1 (and the 2.2 previews) for now.

Fortunately, the Experimental version does have nearly complete support for SSE-SSE4.1, and quite a bit of AVX is present. That allows for a lot of algorithms to be implemented, including some existing optimized versions of BLAKE2. Since there’s already a good SSE4.1 implementation of BLAKE2 available in the reference repo, all I had to do was port the existing code over to see how well it performed on .NET Core 2.1.

I’ve published that code on GitHub, so I’ll jump straight into the benchmarks, comparing with the previous best BLAKE2 implementations and the built-in hashing algorithms. This is the same 10MiB benchmark from the beginning of this post, on both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the .NET Core 2.1 runtime.

      Method | Platform |      Mean |     Error |    StdDev | Allocated |
------------ |--------- |----------:|----------:|----------:|----------:|
 Blake2Sharp |      X64 |  16.56 ms | 0.1586 ms | 0.1484 ms |     864 B |
*Blake2bFast |      X64 |  12.13 ms | 0.0870 ms | 0.0771 ms |       0 B |
 blake2s-net |      X64 |  22.26 ms | 0.1443 ms | 0.1350 ms |     536 B |
*Blake2sFast |      X64 |  16.27 ms | 0.1362 ms | 0.1274 ms |       0 B |
         MD5 |      X64 |  21.22 ms | 0.1190 ms | 0.1113 ms |       0 B |
      SHA256 |      X64 |  46.16 ms | 0.2564 ms | 0.2398 ms |       0 B |
      SHA512 |      X64 |  27.89 ms | 0.0982 ms | 0.0871 ms |     304 B |
             |          |           |           |           |           |
 Blake2Sharp |      X86 | 168.31 ms | 0.5426 ms | 0.4810 ms |     712 B |
*Blake2bFast |      X86 |  16.56 ms | 0.0879 ms | 0.0779 ms |       0 B |
 blake2s-net |      X86 |  37.46 ms | 0.2728 ms | 0.2552 ms |       0 B |
*Blake2sFast |      X86 |  16.36 ms | 0.1103 ms | 0.1032 ms |       0 B |
         MD5 |      X86 |  20.06 ms | 0.0996 ms | 0.0931 ms |       0 B |
      SHA256 |      X86 |  52.47 ms | 0.3252 ms | 0.3042 ms |       0 B |
      SHA512 |      X86 |  44.07 ms | 0.1643 ms | 0.1372 ms |       0 B |

The SSE4.1 versions (marked with *) of both Blake2Fast algorithms improve on the previous best versions and are faster than all the common built-in hashing algorithms from .NET (Windows CNG). The 32-bit runtime is where the SIMD advantage really shows up, though. Blake2sFast with SIMD is over twice as fast as blake2s-net, and Blake2bFast is 10x faster than Blake2Sharp. Both are faster than even CNG’s MD5.

So, there you have it. Proper SIMD is coming to .NET, and you can get started experimenting with it today. System.Runtime.Intrinsics will not be officially supported by Microsoft until at least .NET Core 2.2, but the more useful feedback they get now, the sooner they can be sure they’ve got it right.

Update: I’ve published my Blake2Fast implementation to Nuget since it’s a significant improvement over anything else previously available there. Because the Intrinsics support makes such a large performance difference and because RyuJIT-32 in .NET Core 2.1 does so poorly with BLAKE2b, I’ve included the SIMD version of the code in the .NET Core 2.1 build. Other build targets will get the optimized scalar code. I’ve tested it quite thoroughly and am confident that it’s reliable (on Windows, at least), but I must reiterate that the Intrinsics support is not officially supported, so if you pick up the .NET Core 2.1 version, you do so at your own risk.

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Free as in…

Before I get in to the titular topic of this post, I’d like to discuss my motivation for writing it. Free software has become increasingly important in the business world over the last couple of decades, and the industry has adopted phrases like “free as in beer” and “free as in speech” to define what ‘free’ even means.

For those not familiar, “free as in beer” speaks to the acquisition cost of the software. In the old days, closed-source freeware and shareware were common. They were free (of cost) to download and use, but using them was all you could do. You were not free (as in freedom) to see or modify the code. In light of that, it became important to differentiate software that was truly free, in that you can use it in any way you please, modify it, or enhance it. That software is “free as in speech”.

In the Microsoft world, the .NET Framework has always been “free as in beer” – assuming you discounted the Windows license you had to pay for in order to have a place to run it. With .NET Core, .NET finally became “free as in speech”, and it has improved at an unprecedented pace as people use that freedom to give back to the project. That change has accelerated (or at the very least coincided with) the uptake of Free Open Source Software (FOSS) in the corporate world as well, especially among the ‘Microsoft shops’ that typically eschewed open source. And that has led to more conversations about the true cost and true value of FOSS.

When talking about overall cost, another phrase now in common use is “free as in puppy”. That phrase is somewhat less well-defined than the others. To some, it means that adopting free software comes with some responsibility. It has to be cared for on an ongoing basis, or else it may grow unhealthy and eventually die. That’s true to some extent, but I do agree with Jeff’s take on it as well. If a piece of software requires as much maintenance as a puppy, you shouldn’t be using it, free or not.

Another way of looking at it is that the acquisition cost of the software is inconsequential compared to the cost of evaluation, training, integration, testing, and maintenance of said software within a larger system. It doesn’t matter whether you pick up a stray puppy off the street or buy a fancy $1k designer puppy from a breeder; the cost of caring for that puppy over its lifetime will dwarf the acquisition cost. Likewise, in a business environment, whether you pay $10k for a piece of software or get it for free, if you use it long enough, the acquisition cost will become largely irrelevant.

Which brings me to another phrase I saw recently: “free as in mattress”. I think many of us with a corporate development background have learned to view free software in this way. For small bits of functionality (like a simple hashing algorithm), a corporate team often has the choice to build or buy – whether at zero acquisition cost or some higher number. If the team is good, the cost to build can be estimated fairly accurately as can the maintenance cost. So, like a new mattress, it has a known upfront cost and known risks. When you buy (or take for free) a piece of software, you often don’t know what you’re getting into – not unlike a used mattress. Maybe that free mattress looks nice on the outside. But when you’re dealing with a bedbug infestation a few months later, ‘free’ is a much less good deal. Many would prefer to avoid the risk altogether and buy the new mattress every time.

I’ve seen enough bad code offered up in blog posts, CodeProject articles, StackOverflow answers, and SourceForge/GitHub projects to be very wary of all but the largest corporate-sponsored projects. I don’t mean to pick on the people who write that code. It takes courage to publish the code you write for the world to see (and criticize). And it takes generosity to offer up something you worked hard on for others to use, with no benefit (and likely added headaches) to you. But it also takes a lot of trust to bring that mattress into your house – or code into your project. And, of course, as an author of open source projects myself, I do appreciate the irony in having that attitude.

Caveat Implementor

Despite the benefits that come with the larger swing in the direction of embracing FOSS, maybe sometimes it’s good to remember the lessons we’ve learned over the years when it comes to software quality and maintenance cost. I was reminded of that recently when evaluating implementations of the BLAKE2 hashing algorithm.

I had looked at BLAKE2 a few years ago when choosing a hashing algorithm to use for the cache file naming in WebRSize. I use a base-32 encoded 40-bit hash of the settings used to generate an image when naming its cache file. One neat thing about BLAKE2 is that the spec allows for hashes of any length between 1 and 64 bytes, and the hash length is fed into the parameter block that is mixed with the initialization vector, so a 40-bit hash is not just the first 40 bits of the full-length hash; it’s a different value altogether.

Although I wanted to use the BLAKE2 algorithm, Microsoft doesn’t supply one in .NET, and the only Nuget packages available were a random assortment from developers I don’t know or trust. It was a perfect example of a “free as in mattress” problem, if that’s how you tend to view these things. I didn’t want to take the time to evaluate the available libraries properly nor to write my own, so I decided to simply take the first 40 bits of a SHA256 hash instead, using the hash algorithm built in to .NET (which uses CNG on Windows) .

When .NET Core 2.1 RC1 was released a couple of weeks ago, I was trying to come up with a small project I could use to try out the new X86 Intrinsics support. The reference BLAKE2 implementation includes SSE-optimized versions of the algorithms, so I though porting those would let me test out the new functionality while getting the trustworthy BLAKE2 implementation I had wanted. And since I had to set up a reference implementation and test harness for checking correctness and for benchmarking, I decided to go all out and check all the Nuget packages I could find using the same tests/standards. What I found was that the “free as in mattress” view of things is as legit as ever.

BLAKE2 in a Nutshell

BLAKE2 is derived from the BLAKE algorithm, which was one of the leading candidates from the SHA-3 competition. Ultimately, it wasn’t chosen (that honor went to Keccak), but it has some interesting properties that make it useful for general-purpose secure hashing. The short version is, they claim it’s more secure than SHA-2, and the modifications in BLAKE2 make it faster than MD5 when calculated in software. Basically, anywhere people use MD5 today, BLAKE2 is a definite upgrade.

BLAKE2 comes in two flavors: BLAKE2b and BLAKE2s. BLAKE2b produces a 512-bit hash using an internal state made up of 8 64-bit values and is optimized for 64-bit platforms. BLAKE2s uses 8 32-bit values to produce a 256-bit hash so it can be faster on 32-bit platforms. In Part 2 of this post, we’ll see that use of the SSE instruction sets can make BLAKE2b perform nearly equally in 32-bit and 64-bit, but let’s not jump ahead…

The Reference

The designers of BLAKE2 published several reference implementations in a GitHub repo, so that’s a natural place to start.

Among those is a C# implementation (Blake2Sharp), which should be the perfect reference to use for my testing. The only thing that gave me pause was that the code is incomplete. Not all the BLAKE2 functionality is finished. Tree hashing mode, for example, is partially there but commented out. And there are three different versions of the core algorithm implementation, with two of those commented out – both slower than the ‘unrolled’ version that is enabled. It’s also missing the BLAKE2s variant. Bottom line: it looks like a work in progress and hasn’t been updated in years. I decided to include it in my testing but figured I should bring along some backup just to be safe…

The C reference implementation is complete, including both the BLAKE2b and BLAKE2s variants. And there are the aforementioned SSE-optimized versions. I decided to compile the scalar version into a DLL and call it via PInvoke as a baseline performance reference.

Finally, there are simpler and tidier implementations of both variants available in the RFC that describes BLAKE2. Although they’re written in C, it was very easy to port those over to C# to serve as another set of backup references. Those implementations are designed to be simple and correct, with no optimization. The RFC versions omit the optional features like tree mode hashing, but the implementations are less than 200 lines of code each and very easy to follow. My C# conversion is as true to the C reference as possible, including the lack of optimization.

The Tests

With those references chosen (3 for BLAKE2b and 2 for BLAKE2s), I set about methodically testing every Nuget package I could find. My requirements were simple: the implementation had to support the basic features defined in the RFC. That is, keyed and non-keyed hashing with variable digest length from 8 bits up to 256 or 512, as appropriate. I tested the qualifying implementations for speed and correctness.

Benchmarking was performed with BenchmarkDotNet under .NET Core 2.1-rc1 on Windows 10, using the following inputs.

  1. The ASCII string ‘abc’
  2. The contents the of sRGB ICC profile that ships with Windows 10 (3.19KiB)
  3. 10MiB of random data.

I also tested each implementation with other data sizes and with keyed hashes, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll just include the results for the three listed above. The output was a 40-bit hash, and I included a custom column in the BenchmarkDotNet output to allow for a quick check of output correctness. Note that BLAKE2b and BLAKE2s are different algorithms and produce different outputs by design. Test code is published here, and this is my test environment:

BenchmarkDotNet=v0.10.14, OS=Windows 10.0.17134
Intel Xeon CPU E3-1505M v6 3.00GHz, 1 CPU, 8 logical and 4 physical cores
Frequency=2929692 Hz, Resolution=341.3328 ns, Timer=TSC
.NET Core SDK=2.1.300-rc1-008673
  [Host]     : .NET Core 2.1.0-rc1 (CoreCLR 4.6.26426.02, CoreFX 4.6.26426.04), 64bit RyuJIT
  DefaultJob : .NET Core 2.1.0-rc1 (CoreCLR 4.6.26426.02, CoreFX 4.6.26426.04), 64bit RyuJIT

Here’s what I found:

The Good

Of the 8 Nuget packages I found that list BLAKE2 support, only one had an implementation that was complete and correct according to the RFC as well as being fast enough for general-purpose hashing. The winner is blake2s-net

This implementation appears to be a straight conversion of the Blake2Sharp reference code to support the BLAKE2s algorithm, with original credit going to Dustin Sparks.

Here are its benchmark results compared with the 2 references:

3-byte input

           Method |       Hash |     Mean |    Error |   StdDev |  Gen 0 | Allocated |
----------------- |----------- |---------:|---------:|---------:|-------:|----------:|
 Blake2sRefNative | FE4D57BA07 | 259.8 ns | 1.444 ns | 1.351 ns | 0.0072 |      32 B |
       Blake2sRFC | FE4D57BA07 | 794.8 ns | 4.051 ns | 3.789 ns | 0.0067 |      32 B |
      blake2s-net | FE4D57BA07 | 366.0 ns | 2.053 ns | 1.921 ns | 0.1273 |     536 B |

3.19KiB input

           Method |       Hash |      Mean |     Error |    StdDev |  Gen 0 | Allocated |
----------------- |----------- |----------:|----------:|----------:|-------:|----------:|
 Blake2sRefNative | 62320CA3FC |  9.818 us | 0.0503 us | 0.0446 us |      - |      32 B |
       Blake2sRFC | 62320CA3FC | 39.240 us | 0.3034 us | 0.2689 us |      - |      32 B |
      blake2s-net | 62320CA3FC |  7.274 us | 0.0326 us | 0.0305 us | 0.1221 |     536 B |

10MiB input

           Method |       Hash |      Mean |     Error |    StdDev | Allocated |
----------------- |----------- |----------:|----------:|----------:|----------:|
 Blake2sRefNative | 6500962DE3 |  30.87 ms | 0.1184 ms | 0.0989 ms |       0 B |
       Blake2sRFC | 6500962DE3 | 122.67 ms | 0.5827 ms | 0.5451 ms |       0 B |
      blake2s-net | 6500962DE3 |  22.27 ms | 0.1013 ms | 0.0898 ms |     536 B |

This is exactly what you’d expect from a version that’s correctly implemented and optimized. The only knock on this package is that it is compiled with a .NET Framework target, so it can’t be used with older .NET Core or .NET Standard projects. It does work, however, with the .NET Framework library support in .NET Core 2.0 and up. And this one only implements the BLAKE2s variant, so for BLAKE2b, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

[Note that in Part 2 of this post, I’ll cover my own optimized BLAKE2s implementation which does better than this one.]

You can also see here that the RFC implementation is, as expected, very slow. It’s correct, but I wouldn’t use it in any real project. Remember that speed is one of the main reasons for choosing BLAKE2 over other hashing algorithms, so a slow implementation makes it rather pointless.

The Bad

I can’t say I was surprised to find that one of the 8 packages contained an incorrect implementation of the BLAKE2 algorithm, but I was surprised to find that it was the one with the highest download count. If you search ‘BLAKE2’ on nuget.org today, the top match will likely be Konscious.Security.Cryptography.Blake2

This appears to be a from-scratch implementation of BLAKE2b based on the RFC but with a mistake that will show up shortly. Let’s jump straight into the benchmark results.

3-byte input

           Method |       Hash |       Mean |    Error |   StdDev |  Gen 0 | Allocated |
----------------- |----------- |-----------:|---------:|---------:|-------:|----------:|
 Blake2bRefNative | 44229FC0EF |   330.2 ns | 2.326 ns | 2.176 ns | 0.0072 |      32 B |
       Blake2bRFC | 44229FC0EF | 1,134.0 ns | 8.745 ns | 8.180 ns | 0.0057 |      32 B |
      Blake2Sharp | 44229FC0EF |   519.0 ns | 3.886 ns | 3.635 ns | 0.2050 |     864 B |
        Konscious | 44229FC0EF | 1,524.1 ns | 9.384 ns | 8.318 ns | 0.2213 |     936 B |

3.19KiB input

           Method |       Hash |      Mean |     Error |    StdDev |  Gen 0 | Allocated |
----------------- |----------- |----------:|----------:|----------:|-------:|----------:|
 Blake2bRefNative | 61EB59036B |  6.143 us | 0.0276 us | 0.0244 us |      - |      32 B |
       Blake2bRFC | 61EB59036B | 26.434 us | 0.1139 us | 0.1010 us |      - |      32 B |
      Blake2Sharp | 61EB59036B |  5.549 us | 0.0295 us | 0.0276 us | 0.1984 |     864 B |
        Konscious | 61EB59036B | 20.954 us | 0.1704 us | 0.1510 us | 0.2136 |     936 B |

10MiB input

           Method |       Hash |     Mean |     Error |    StdDev | Allocated |
----------------- |----------- |---------:|----------:|----------:|----------:|
 Blake2bRefNative | 7B6AB409B7 | 18.94 ms | 0.1008 ms | 0.0894 ms |       0 B |
       Blake2bRFC | 7B6AB409B7 | 83.18 ms | 0.6921 ms | 0.6135 ms |       0 B |
      Blake2Sharp | 7B6AB409B7 | 16.61 ms | 0.1297 ms | 0.1214 ms |     864 B |
        Konscious | 1636541AC6 | 63.99 ms | 0.4153 ms | 0.3885 ms |     936 B |

First, I’ll point out that the Blake2Sharp reference implementation does slightly better than the native reference version on all but the tiniest input, just as the blake2s-net conversion from that same base did better than its native reference. And the RFC version, once again, is the slowest.

Check out the Konscious version, though. Not only is it 3-4x slower than the Blake2Sharp implementation, it produced a bad hash on the 10MiB input. It turns out, that implementation has a bug that affects any input that is an even multiple of the [128 byte] block size. At an even 10MiB, that last test input triggered the bug.

I have reported the bug to the owner of that package/project, and it may be fixed by the time you read this. But that may not be a good thing for anyone already using this library. If you generate hashes and then save them somewhere with the intention of validating things against them later, you can’t just ‘fix’ a problem in the hash implementation, because you will invalidate any hashes created with the broken version. And because the hash, by definition, reveals nothing about its input data, there’s no way to identify which hashes are correct and which are incorrect after the fact. You may be better off keeping it broken, bad as that may be.

The Ugly

Sorry, I had to do it.

Although it doesn’t have any logic bugs, there isn’t much else nice I can say about System.Data.HashFunction.Blake2

This looks like another from-scratch implementation.  And although it produces good hash values, check out the benchmarks:

3-byte input

           Method |       Hash |       Mean |     Error |    StdDev |  Gen 0 | Allocated |
----------------- |----------- |-----------:|----------:|----------:|-------:|----------:|
       Blake2bRFC | 44229FC0EF | 1,154.3 ns | 12.779 ns | 11.954 ns | 0.0057 |      32 B |
      Blake2Sharp | 44229FC0EF |   523.7 ns |  4.712 ns |  4.408 ns | 0.2050 |     864 B |
 S.D.HashFunction | 44229FC0EF | 2,364.9 ns | 27.715 ns | 25.925 ns | 0.4120 |    1744 B |

3.19KiB input

           Method |       Hash |      Mean |     Error |    StdDev |  Gen 0 | Allocated |
----------------- |----------- |----------:|----------:|----------:|-------:|----------:|
       Blake2bRFC | 61EB59036B | 26.745 us | 0.1249 us | 0.1168 us |      - |      32 B |
      Blake2Sharp | 61EB59036B |  5.682 us | 0.0397 us | 0.0331 us | 0.1984 |     864 B |
 S.D.HashFunction | 61EB59036B | 36.869 us | 0.1811 us | 0.1513 us | 2.1973 |    9344 B |

10MiB input

           Method |       Hash |      Mean |     Error |    StdDev |     Gen 0 |  Allocated |
----------------- |----------- |----------:|----------:|----------:|----------:|-----------:|
       Blake2bRFC | 7B6AB409B7 |  82.62 ms | 0.3159 ms | 0.2800 ms |         - |        0 B |
      Blake2Sharp | 7B6AB409B7 |  16.59 ms | 0.1275 ms | 0.1193 ms |         - |      864 B |
 S.D.HashFunction | 7B6AB409B7 | 113.15 ms | 0.3898 ms | 0.3646 ms | 5937.5000 | 24905120 B |

I dropped the native DLL version from this run since we’ve already shown Blake2Sharp is faster, which makes it the proper reference to use going forward.

Notice that this implementation, in addition to being much slower than even the slow RFC version, uses several times more memory than the size of the input data. A hashing function should only read the input and perform computations on it, not make multiple copies of it. I didn’t dig into the code to see what went wrong here, but this is a hidden performance trap waiting to get anyone who dares use this library.

Sadly, I’m sure some people will pick this one from Nuget either because they mistake it for a Microsoft package or simply because they like the naming that looks like the Microsoft packages. There is a new policy in place on Nuget that prevents third-party packages named starting with ‘System.’, but Microsoft is allowing any existing packages to stay put. Beware.

This one also has a sibling package called System.Data.HashFunction.Blake2.Net40Async

I wasn’t able to get that one to work in my benchmark app, although I’ll admit I didn’t try very hard. It appears to be the same basic thing as the one above but with the added trap of a ComputeHashAsync method. Hashing is a CPU-bound operation, so there’s no place for async in it. Trying to run the hash itself asynchronously just adds extra thread context-switching overhead.

If you are receiving data from somewhere asynchronously, simply use a hashing implementation that allows for incremental updates (the BLAKE2 algorithms support this) and update the hash synchronously with each data packet you receive asynchronously.

The Butfor

But for one simple mistake, there would be 2 libraries in the ‘Good’ section. I like the honesty in the readme for Blake2Core

“This is quite literally a copy/paste from BLAKE2 and built into a Nuget package, available here. I needed it in my .Net Core project, and I'm sure other people as well.”

This is an exact copy of the Blake2Sharp reference code, and it would have been exactly as good as my reference copy except that the Nuget package contains a debug build of the DLL, with optimizations disabled. In many cases, there isn’t much difference in performance between Release and Debug builds of .NET code, but for something computation-heavy like hashing, it can make a huge difference.

3-byte input

      Method |       Hash |       Mean |     Error |    StdDev |  Gen 0 | Allocated |
------------ |----------- |-----------:|----------:|----------:|-------:|----------:|
  Blake2bRFC | 44229FC0EF | 1,134.2 ns |  5.146 ns |  4.814 ns | 0.0057 |      32 B |
 Blake2Sharp | 44229FC0EF |   524.6 ns |  4.869 ns |  4.316 ns | 0.2050 |     864 B |
  Blake2Core | 44229FC0EF | 1,877.0 ns | 11.314 ns | 10.583 ns | 0.2041 |     864 B |

3.19KiB input

      Method |       Hash |      Mean |     Error |    StdDev |  Gen 0 | Allocated |
------------ |----------- |----------:|----------:|----------:|-------:|----------:|
  Blake2bRFC | 61EB59036B | 26.367 us | 0.1776 us | 0.1661 us |      - |      32 B |
 Blake2Sharp | 61EB59036B |  5.652 us | 0.0292 us | 0.0259 us | 0.1984 |     864 B |
  Blake2Core | 61EB59036B | 26.023 us | 0.1694 us | 0.1584 us | 0.1831 |     864 B |

10MiB input

      Method |       Hash |     Mean |     Error |    StdDev | Allocated |
------------ |----------- |---------:|----------:|----------:|----------:|
  Blake2bRFC | 7B6AB409B7 | 83.79 ms | 0.4101 ms | 0.3636 ms |       0 B |
 Blake2Sharp | 7B6AB409B7 | 16.58 ms | 0.1105 ms | 0.1033 ms |     864 B |
  Blake2Core | 7B6AB409B7 | 78.03 ms | 0.3949 ms | 0.3694 ms |     864 B |

Without JIT optimization, this library is almost as slow as the RFC version. The only place it has an advantage is that it doesn’t do all the byte shuffling to ensure the words are in little-endian order as required by BLAKE2. The RFC code does that shuffling whether it’s needed or not. The Blake2Sharp code copies the data without shuffling if it’s already ordered correctly, and that savings shows up in the 10MiB run.

By the way, BenchmarkDotNet has a validator that detects this problem and actually refuses to run benchmarks unless you override it. I had to do that for this run so we could see the impact.

Ultimately, this one counts as another performance trap, so don’t use it unless it gets an update.

[Once again, I’ll detail a better BLAKE2b implementation in the second part of this post]

This library also uses a .NET Standard 1.6 build target, so it can’t be used with older versions of .NET Framework (including 4.6). There’s no reason it wouldn’t be compatible; it’s just not multi-targeted.

The Weird

I’m honestly not sure what to make of Isopoh.Cryptography.Blake2b

The hashing implementation itself is taken straight from the Blake2Sharp reference. This library, however, adds a feature that uses a ‘SecureArray’ during the hashing. From what I understand, the SecureArray uses PInvoke to request that the OS lock access to memory during hashing, and then it securely zeroes that memory before returning. This is not without overhead, however, as the benchmarks show.

3-byte input

      Method |       Hash |           Mean |          Error |           StdDev |     Gen 0 |     Gen 1 |     Gen 2 |   Allocated |
------------ |----------- |---------------:|---------------:|-----------------:|----------:|----------:|----------:|------------:|
  Blake2bRFC | 44229FC0EF |     1,142.3 ns |       7.136 ns |         6.326 ns |    0.0057 |         - |         - |        32 B |
 Blake2Sharp | 44229FC0EF |       534.7 ns |       4.650 ns |         4.349 ns |    0.2050 |         - |         - |       864 B |
      Isopoh | 44229FC0EF | 9,187,594.5 ns | 386,206.608 ns | 1,114,294.368 ns | 2332.5195 | 2314.4531 | 2314.4531 | 710953144 B |

3.19KiB input

      Method |       Hash |         Mean |       Error |        StdDev |     Gen 0 |     Gen 1 |     Gen 2 |   Allocated |
------------ |----------- |-------------:|------------:|--------------:|----------:|----------:|----------:|------------:|
  Blake2bRFC | 61EB59036B |    26.880 us |   0.1841 us |     0.1722 us |         - |         - |         - |        32 B |
 Blake2Sharp | 61EB59036B |     5.629 us |   0.0273 us |     0.0256 us |    0.1984 |         - |         - |       864 B |
      Isopoh | 61EB59036B | 8,094.502 us | 727.7956 us | 2,134.4986 us | 1724.1211 | 1710.4492 | 1710.4492 | 524302827 B |

10MiB input

      Method |       Hash |     Mean |     Error |    StdDev | Allocated |
------------ |----------- |---------:|----------:|----------:|----------:|
  Blake2bRFC | 7B6AB409B7 | 82.77 ms | 0.4741 ms | 0.4202 ms |       0 B |
 Blake2Sharp | 7B6AB409B7 | 16.63 ms | 0.1210 ms | 0.1132 ms |     864 B |
      Isopoh | 7B6AB409B7 | 16.67 ms | 0.1183 ms | 0.1106 ms |     984 B |

I can’t tell whether the ridiculous amount of memory allocated is a bug or by design. It’s very odd that it’s highest with the smallest input. And I can’t tell whether the lack of extra allocation on the 10MiB input is because it simply skips the extra processing past a certain size threshold or because the memory use is related to partially-filled blocks.

Although it would be accurate to say it’s more than 17000x slower than Blake2Sharp with small inputs, it might be more fair to say it has a high fixed overhead. Either way, it’s not suitable for general-purpose hashing. But unlike the libraries I’ve reviewed so far, this one doesn’t necessarily claim to be. I’m not sure of the value of securing the hash state memory when both the key and message data have been passed around unsecurely before the library has a chance to use them, but I might be missing something.

I’d recommend you stay away from this library unless you truly need whatever specialized benefit it offers and have good explanations for the issues I pointed out above.

The Others

I have to give an honorable mention to NSec.Cryptography

This library is based on libsodium, which is a relatively mature platform-native security library. It didn’t meet my criteria in that in explicitly disallows hashes less than 32 bytes and is, therefore, not RFC-compliant. I couldn’t tell whether this was a limitation of libsodium or of its .NET wrapper. I also didn’t see a way to do a keyed hash, but I might have just missed it. I can say that for general-purpose hashing, if you don’t need to use a key and can use a full-length digest, this library works and is slightly faster than the best I could do with managed code. In fact, the only thing I found that’s faster is an AVX2 version of the BLAKE2 reference code. I’ll be doing a port of that AVX2 version once support is available (should be coming in .NET Core 2.2) so check back for that later.

And finally, there’s Multiformats.Hash

This one lists BLAKE2 among its algorithms, but to quote from its readme:

“This is not a general purpose hashing library, but a library to encode/decode Multihashes which is a "container" describing what hash algorithm the digest is calculated with. The library also support calculating the digest, but that is not it's main purpose. If you're looking for a library that supports many algorithms and only want the raw digest, try BouncyCastle or the built-ins of the .net framework.”

Enough said there. It may or may not be any good at what it does, but it definitely does not do what I need it to do.

The Conclusion

Obviously, this was a very small sample size from the 115k+ packages on Nuget today and may not be representative of packages of all types. But the lesson is clear: there are no quality checks on Nuget, and download count is absolutely no indication of quality. In fact, download count tends to be self-reinforcing. People gravitate toward the “popular” packages, making it even more dangerous when one of these has a serious bug or design flaw. Not to mention, nuget.org seems to sort by popularity.

It’s dangerous to bring a library into your project without proper testing, and the presence of unit tests in a project or a lack of open issues are no guarantee that the code isn’t broken. As I like to say, “bad coders code bad tests that test their bad code badly”. Always test for yourself.

Tune in next time for some details on my own improved BLAKE2 implementations using the new X86 Intrinsics in .NET Core 2.1. Until then, sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite…