Version 18 (modified by simonpj, 8 years ago) (diff)


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The compilation pipeline

When GHC compiles a module, it calls other programs, and generates a series of intermediate files. Here's a summary of the process. (source reference: ghc/compiler/main/DriverPipeline.hs)

We start with Foo.hs or Foo.lhs, the "l" specifing whether literate style is being used.

  • Run the unlit pre-processor, unlit, to remove the literate markup, generating Foo.lpp. The unlit processor is a C program kept in utils/unlit.
  • Run the C preprocessor, cpp, (if -cpp is specified), generating Foo.cpp or Foo.hspp respectively.
  • Run the compiler itself. This does not start a separate process; it's just a call to a Haskell function. This step always generates an interface file Foo.hi, and depending on what flags you give, it also generates a compiled file:
    • Assembly code: flag -S, file Foo.s
    • C code: flag -fviaC, file Foo.hc
    • C-- mode: flag -fcmm, file Foo.cmm, believed not to work
  • In the -fviaC case, run the C compiler, followed by the Evil Mangler, generating Foo.s
  • If -fsplit-objs is in force, run the splitter on Foo.s. This splits Foo.s into lots of small files, Foo/Foo1.s, Foo/Foo2.s, etc. The idea is that the static linker will thereby avoid linking dead code.
  • Run the assembler on Foo.s or, if -fsplit-objs in in force, on each individual assembly file.

Interface files

An interface file supports separate compilation by recording the information gained by compiling M.hs in its interface file M.hi. Morally speaking, the interface file M.hi is part of the object file M.o; it's like a super symbol-table for M.o.

Interface files are kept in binary, GHC-specific format. The format of these files changes with each GHC release, but not with patch-level releases. The contents of the interface file is, however, completely independent of the back end you are using (-fviaC, -fasm, -fcmm etc).

Although interface files are kept in binary format, you can print them in human-readable form using the command:

  ghc --show-iface M.hi

This textual format is not particularly designed for machine parsing. Doing so might be possible, but if you want to read GHC interface files you are almost certainly better off using the GHC API to do so.

Here are some of the things stored in an interface file M.hi

  • A list of what M exports.
  • The types of exported functions, definition of exported types, and so on.
  • Version information, used to drive the smart recompilation checker.
  • The strictness, arity, and unfolding of exported functions. This is crucial for cross-module optimisation; but it is only included when you compile with -O.

The contents of an interface file is the result of serialising the IfaceSyn family of data types. The data types are in compiler/iface/IfaceSyn and compiler/iface/IfaceType; the binary serialisation code is in compiler/iface/BinIface.