Version 25 (modified by jstolarek, 13 months ago) (diff)


Code Generator

This page describes code generator ("codegen") in GHC. It is meant to reflect current state of the implementation. If you notice any inacurracies please update the page (if you know how) or complain on ghc-devs.

A brief history of code generator

You might ocasionally hear about "old" and "new" code generator. GHC 7.6 and earlier used the old code generator. New code generator was being developed since 2007 and it was enabled by default on 31 August 2012 after the release of GHC 7.6.1. The first stable GHC to use the new code generator is 7.8.1 released in early 2014. The commentary on the old code generator can be found here. Notes from the development process of the new code generator are located in a couple of pages on the wiki - go to Index and look for pages starting with "NewCodeGen".

There are some plans for the future development of code generator. One plan is to expand the capability of the pipeline so that it does native code generation too so that existing backends can be discarded - see IntegratedCodeGen for discussion of the design. It is hard to say if this will ever happen as currently there is no work being done on that subject and in the meanwhile there was an alternative proposal to replace native code generator with LLVM.


The goal of the code generator is to convert program from STG representation to Cmm representation. STG is a functional language with explicit stack. Cmm is a low-level imperative language - something between C and assembly - that is suitable for machine code generation. Note that terminology might be a bit confusing here: the term "code generator" can refer both to STG->Cmm pass and the whole STG->Cmm->assembly pass. The Cmm->assembly conversion is performed by one the backends, eg. NCG (Native Code Generator or LLVM.

The top-most entry point to the codegen is located in compiler/main/HscMain.hs in the tryNewCodegen function. Code generation is done in two stages:

  1. Convert STG to Cmm with implicit stack, and native Cmm calls. This whole stage lives in compiler/codeGen directory with the entry point being codeGen function in compiler/codeGen/StgCmm.hs module.
  2. Optimise the Cmm, and CPS-convert it to have an explicit stack, and no native calls. This lives in compiler/cmm directory with the cmmPipeline function from compiler/cmm/CmmPipeline.hs module being the entry point.

The CPS-converted Cmm is fed to one of the backends. This is done by codeOutput function (compiler/main/CodeOutput.lhs called from hscGenHardCode after returning from tryNewCodegen.

First stage: STG to Cmm conversion

  • Code generator converts STG to CmmGraph. Implemented in StgCmm* modules (in directory codeGen).
    • Cmm.CmmGraph is pretty much a Hoopl graph of CmmNode.CmmNode nodes. Control transfer instructions are always the last node of a basic block.
    • Parameter passing is made explicit; the calling convention depends on the target architecture. The key function is CmmCallConv.assignArgumentsPos.
      • Parameters are passed in virtual registers R1, R2 etc. [These map 1-1 to real registers.]
      • Overflow parameters are passed on the stack using explicit memory stores, to locations described abstractly using the ''Stack Area'' abstraction..
      • Making the calling convention explicit includes an explicit store instruction of the return address, which is stored explicitly on the stack in the same way as overflow parameters. This is done (obscurely) in StgCmmMonad.mkCall.

Second stage: the Cmm pipeline

The core of the Cmm pipeline is implemented by the cpsTop function in compiler/cmm/CmmPipeline.hs module. The pipeline consists of following passes:

  • Simple control flow optimisation, implemented in CmmContFlowOpt, simplifies the control flow graph by:
    • Eliminating blocks that have only one predecessor by concatenating them with that predecessor
    • Shortcuting targets of branches and calls (see Note [What is shortcutting]) Note that if a block becomes unreachable because of shortcutting it is eliminated from the graph. However, it is theoretically possible that this pass will produce unreachable blocks. The reason is the label renaming pass performed after block concatenation has been completed.
    This pass might be optionally called for the second time at the end of the pipeline.
  • More control flow optimisations.
    • Common Block Elimination (like CSE). This essentially implements the Adams optimisation, we believe.
    • Consider (sometime): block duplication. branch to K; and K is a short block. Branch chain elimination is just a special case of this.
  • Proc-point analysis and transformation, implemented in CmmProcPoint. The transformation part adds a function prologue to the front of each proc-point, following a standard entry convention.
    • The analysis produces a set of BlockId that should become proc-points
    • The transformation inserts a function prologue at the start of each proc-point, and a function epilogue just before each branch to a proc-point.
  • Remove dead assignments and stores, implemented in CmmLive, removes assignments to dead variables and things like a = a or I32[Hp] = I32[Hp]. The latter may more appropriately be done in a general optimization pass, as it doesn't take advantage of liveness information.
  • Figure out the stack layout, implemented in CmmStackLayout.
    • Each variable 'x', and each proc-point label 'K', has an associated Area, written SS(x) and SS(k) resp, that names a contiguous portion of the stack frame.
    • The stack layout pass produces a mapping of: (Area -> StackOffset). For more detail, see the description of stack layout.
    • A StackOffset is the byte offset of a stack slot from the old end (high address) of the frame. It doesn't vary as the physical stack pointer moves.
  • Manifest the stack pointer, implemented in CmmStackLayout. Once the stack layout mapping has been determined, a second pass walks over the graph, making the stack pointer, Sp explicit. Before this pass, there is no Sp at all. After this, Sp is completely manifest.
    • replacing references to Areas with offsets from Sp.
    • adding adjustments to Sp.

  • Split into multiple CmmProcs, implemented in CmmProcPointZ. At this point we build an info-table for each of the CmmProcs, including SRTs. Done on the basis of the live local variables (by now mapped to stack slots) and live CAF statics.
    • LastCall and LastReturn nodes are replaced by Jumps.
  • Build info tables, implemented in CmmBuildInfoTables..
    • Find each safe MidForeignCall node, "lowers" it into the suspend/call/resume sequence (see Note [Foreign calls] in CmmNode.hs.), and build an info table for them.
    • Convert the CmmInfo for each CmmProc into a [CmmStatic], using the live variable information computed just before "Figure out stack layout".

Dumping Cmm


write about Hoopl (link paper, mention which modules are implemented with Hoopl)