[LLVMdev] templates vs code to generate IR

Terence Parr parrt at cs.usfca.edu
Wed Apr 23 11:04:52 PDT 2008

Gordon reminded me that most people seem to generate code using code,  
whereas it has become natural for me to use templates to generate  
code. Let me include an example from an article I'm working on (Java  
centric).  The same argument goes for LLVM IR templates versus using  
the C++ interface.  Generating LLVM IR for me is super simple. Here  
are a few of my templates for generating IR from simple expressions  
with arrays (only i32 in this example):

load(id,reg) ::= "<reg> = load i32* %<id>"

/** reg = *(id+a) and addr is a temporary register name. a is the  
template with code to compute the index */
index(reg,addr,size,id,a) ::= <<
<addr> = getelementptr [<size> x i32]* %<id>, i32 0, i32 <a.reg>;
<reg> = load i32* <addr>

intval(reg,v) ::= "<reg> = add i32 <v>,0"

Creating instances of those templates and setting the attribute that  
fill in the holes is very simple from an ANTLR grammar. :)

Just a few thoughts in case people are wondering about the various  

Imagine that you would like to generate the Java byte codes using a  
program for the following java code:


The javac byte code compiler will generate the following byte codes:

getstatic java/lang/System/out Ljava/io/PrintStream;
ldc "Hello"
invokevirtual java/io/PrintStream/println(Ljava/lang/String;)V

Either you use templates that render to text or you use a library such  
as BCEL to create a data structure that will render to text. Here is a  
StringTemplate template definition that will generated byte codes to  
print any string.

println(s) ::= <<
getstatic java/lang/System/out Ljava/io/PrintStream;
ldc "<s>"
invokevirtual java/io/PrintStream/println(Ljava/lang/String;)V

Then, to generate the byte codes above, just create an instance of
template println and set its attribute to the appropriate
string. Using ANTLR, this is particularly easy

/** Match things like print "hi"; */
     :   'print' STRING ';' -> println(s={$STRING.text})

Now compare that to what you would have to do using Java code to
create a data structure:

InstructionHandle start =
   il.append(factory.createFieldAccess("java.lang.System", "out",
il.append(new PUSH(cp, "Hello"));
il.append(factory.createInvoke("java.io.PrintStream", "print",
                                new Type[] { Type.STRING },

Templates differ from code snippets in that templates specify exactly
what the output looks like whereas you have to imagine the emergent
behavior of code snippets. Certainly writing templates is much
faster. The byte code template is one third the size of the Java code
necessary to build the structure representing the byte codes.

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