Automatic Flamegraphs for Benchmarks in Rust

Andreas Zimmerer
4 min readJan 23, 2021

This is just a short post about something I recently discovered in the Rust ecosystem:

Criterion + pprof = 🔥

Update: Based on this blog post, pprof now ships with a custom profiler for Criterion since version 0.4.2! Make sure to check out this example and enable "criterion" and "flamegraph" crate features.


Criterion is a well-known and often-used benchmarking framework in the Rust ecosystem. If you’ve not yet heard of it, definitely check it out!

Since v0.3, Criterion supports in-process profiling hooks. They allow us to use a custom profiler while running benchmarks. After registering a custom profiler, we can enable them by running the benchmark suite with the --profile-time flag.

Having hooks for a custom profiler for your benchmarks allows you to do awesome stuff, for example generating flamegraphs for every benchmark with pprof.


One question I often ask myself when looking at benchmarks is:

“These numbers are great. But how can we do this faster? Where do we spend the most time?”

This question can often be answered by looking at flamegraphs.

Previously, I got my hands dirty using cargo-flamegraph, which is a really good tool on its own. But the problem is that when using cargo-flamegraph with benchmarks, you will usually get some unnecessary clutter, e.g. the setup routine for your benchmark and the enclosing framework code from Criterion.

And here comes another cool Rust library into play: pprof with the flamegraph feature!

pprof is a CPU profiler that can be used to profile specific parts of your program on Linux. The best of all: It even supports generating flamegraphs with the feature flag flamegraph.

Let’s directly dive in and create a pprof integration for Criterion!


We will now create a custom profiler for criterion with pprof that will print flamegraphs for each benchmark.

First, add the following dependencies to your Cargo.toml:

pprof = { version = "0.3", features = ["flamegraph"] }
criterion = "0.3"
# criterion-macro = "0.3" # if using custom test frameworks

Now create a new file in your benches/ folder. Let’s call it Here we will implement our new FlamegraphProfiler.

The interface for implementing a custom profiler is actually quite straight-forward. We only need to implement the criterion::profiler::Profiler trait from Criterion and we are good to go.

use std::{fs::File, os::raw::c_int, path::Path};use criterion::profiler::Profiler;
use pprof::ProfilerGuard;
/// Small custom profiler that can be used with Criterion to create
/// a flamegraph for benchmarks.
/// Also see [the Criterion documentation on this][custom-profiler].
/// ## Example on how to enable the custom profiler:
/// ```
/// mod perf;
/// use perf::FlamegraphProfiler;
/// fn fibonacci_profiled(criterion: &mut Criterion) {
/// // Use the criterion struct as normal here.
/// }
/// fn custom() -> Criterion {
/// Criterion::default()
/// .with_profiler(FlamegraphProfiler::new())
/// }
/// criterion_group! {
/// name = benches;
/// config = custom();
/// targets = fibonacci_profiled
/// }
/// ```
/// The neat thing about this is that it will sample _only_ the
/// benchmark, and not other stuff like
/// the setup process.
/// Further, it will only kick in if `--profile-time <time>` is
/// passed to the benchmark binary.
/// A flamegraph will be created for each individual benchmark in
/// its report directory under
/// `profile/flamegraph.svg`.
/// [custom-profiler]:
pub struct FlamegraphProfiler<'a> {
frequency: c_int,
active_profiler: Option<ProfilerGuard<'a>>,
impl<'a> FlamegraphProfiler<'a> {
pub fn new(frequency: c_int) -> Self {
FlamegraphProfiler {
active_profiler: None,
impl<'a> Profiler for FlamegraphProfiler<'a> {
fn start_profiling(&mut self, _benchmark_id: &str, _benchmark_dir: &Path) {
self.active_profiler = Some(ProfilerGuard::new(self.frequency).unwrap());
fn stop_profiling(&mut self, _benchmark_id: &str, benchmark_dir: &Path) {
let flamegraph_path = benchmark_dir.join("flamegraph.svg");
let flamegraph_file = File::create(&flamegraph_path)
.expect("File system error while creating flamegraph.svg");
if let Some(profiler) = self.active_profiler.take() {
.expect("Error writing flamegraph");

To use the new profiler, we need to register it with Criterion. See also Criterion’s advanced configuration.

If you are using the custom test framework feature with criterion-macro, you can configure it with:

use criterion::{Criterion, black_box};
use criterion_macro::criterion;
mod perf;
fn fibonacci(n: u64) -> u64 {
match n {
0 | 1 => 1,
n => fibonacci(n - 1) + fibonacci(n - 2),
fn custom_criterion() -> Criterion {
fn bench_custom(c: &mut Criterion) {
c.bench_function("Fibonacci-Custom", |b| b.iter(|| fibonacci(black_box(20))));

Else, you can do it like:

mod perf;criterion_group!{
name = benches;
// This can be any expression that returns a `Criterion` object.
config = Criterion::default().with_profiler(perf::FlamegraphProfiler::new(100);
targets = bench

Now that we have set up our custom profiler we can actually use it for our benchmarks as described in the next section.

Running the Benchmarks and Getting Results

Enable Performance Profiling for Unprivileged Users

To enable performance profiling without running the benchmarks as root, you may need to adjust the value of perf_event_paranoid in the Linux kernel to an appropriate value for your environment. The most permissive value is -1.

echo -1 | sudo tee /proc/sys/kernel/perf_event_paranoid

Running the Benchmarks

Now that everything is set up, we can run our benchmark with

cargo bench --bench my_bench -- --profile-time=5

This command will run the benchmarks in benches/ for 5 seconds with the use of our custom FlamegraphProfiler.

Note: You need to specify the name of your benchmark because otherwise you might get the error Unrecognized option: 'profile-time'. See also cargo bench gives “Unrecognized Option” errors for valid command-line options.

Viewing the Flamegraph

We will now find a file called flamegraph.svg in target/criterion/<name-of-benchmark>/profile/flamegraph.svg.

For the above example, we get the following result:

Flamegraph for the fibonacci benchmark

Cool feature. I really like it 😊

Please leave a clap if this post helped you. This gives me always a lot of joy and it takes only 1 second for you ;)