[LLVMdev] optimization assumes malloc return is non-null

David Vandevoorde daveed at vandevoorde.com
Wed Apr 30 15:26:39 PDT 2008

On Apr 30, 2008, at 5:20 PM, Jonathan S. Shapiro wrote:
> On Wed, 2008-04-30 at 15:25 -0400, David Vandevoorde wrote:
>> On Apr 30, 2008, at 2:47 PM, Jonathan S. Shapiro wrote:
>>> Daveed:
>>> Perhaps I am looking at the wrong version of the specification.
>>> Section
>>> appears to refer to objects having volatile-qualified type.
>>> The
>>> type of malloc() is not volatile qualified in the standard library
>>> definition.
>> ...malloc() is not specified to access a volatile
>> object, modify an object, or modifying a file (directly or
>> indirectly); i.e., it has no side effect from the language point of
>> view.
> Daveed:
> Good to know that I was looking at the correct section. I do not agree
> that your interpretation follows the as-if rule, because I do not  
> agree
> with your interpretation of the C library specification of malloc().

Before I go on, let me state that this is not a contentious issue  
among WG14: There is no doubt that the intent of the standard is that  
this be a valid optimization.

So at most we're debating whether the wording implements the intent in  
this case (which it does IMO).

> The standard library specification of malloc() clearly requires that  
> it
> allocates storage, and that such allocation is contingent on storage
> availability.

(I think that's a contradiction: A perfectly standard-conforming  
implementation of malloc is:

	void *malloc(size_t size) { return 0; }

Admittedly a moot point here.)

> Storage availability is, in turn, a function (in part) of
> previous calls to malloc() and free().

While that's certainly true of every reasonable implementation, it's  
not a requirement (see above).

> Even if free() is not called, the
> possibility of realloc() implies a need to retain per-malloc() state.

Realloc is permitted to fail on every call.

> In
> either case, it follows immediately that malloc() is stateful, and
> therefore that any conforming implementation of malloc() must modify  
> at
> least one object in the sense of the standard.

For every useful implementation malloc will indeed be stateful (but  
again, that's not a language requirement).  So in practice malloc will  
indeed have side effects.  However even in the practical cases, still allows the optimization on the example shown:

<begin quote>
3 In the abstract machine, all expressions are evaluated as speciļ¬ed
by the semantics. An actual implementation need not evaluate part of
an expression if it can deduce that its value is not used and that no
needed side effects are produced (including any caused by calling a
function or accessing a volatile object).
<end quote>

(I should have been more careful in my earlier response and clarify  
that modifying a nonvolatile object is a side-effect that can be  
optimized away in many cases.)

> If I understand your position correctly, your justification for the
> optimization is that the C library standard does not say in so many
> words that malloc() modifies an object. I do not believe that any such
> overt statement is required in order for it to be clear that  
> malloc() is
> stateful. The functional description of malloc() and free() clearly
> cannot be satisfied under the C abstract machine without mutation of  
> at
> least one object.

I shown above, that isn't actually correct.

> Also, I do not read in the way that you do. Paragraph 2  
> defines
> "side effect", but it does not imply any requirement that side effects
> be explicitly annotated. What Paragraph 3 gives you is leeway to
> optimize standard functions when you proactively know their  
> behavior. A
> standard library procedure is not side-effect free for optimization
> purposes by virtue of the absence of annotation. It can only be  
> treated
> as side-effect free by virtue of proactive knowledge of the
> implementation of the procedure.

I agree with that, and in this case a compiler can know that malloc  
won't change a volatile object or write to a non-temporary file.   
(Alternatively, it can just "use" a strange malloc implementation for  
this particular case -- a platonic exercise since the optimization  
that allows then makes the implementation unneeded.)

(It might also be worth noting that standard library functions can be  
"magical macros".  That also opens the door to all kinds of  
optimizations; perhaps

> In this case, we clearly have knowledge
> of the implementation of malloc, and that knowledge clearly precludes
> any possibility that malloc is simultaneously side-effect free and
> conforming.
> So it seems clear that this optimization is wrong. By my reading, not
> only does the standard fail to justify it under paragraph 3,  
> it
> *prohibits* this optimization under under Paragraph 1 because
> there is no conforming implementation that is side-effect free.

I'm afraid I don't understand how applies there, nor why (which I assume was the intended reference) would not  
apply.  Even if malloc changes some state, that side effect isn't a  
"needed side effect" in the sense of

> Exception: there are rare cases where, under whole-program  
> optimization,
> it is possible to observe that free() is not called, that there is an
> upper bound on the number of possible calls to malloc() and also an
> upper bound on the total amount of storage allocated. In this very
> unusual case, the compiler can perform a hypothetical inlining of the
> known implementation of malloc and then do partial evaluation to
> determine that no heap size tracking is required. If so, it can then
> legally perform the optimization that is currently being done.

Right.  And this is such a case.

However, the optimization is allowed even without that: Just by noting  
that the return value of malloc isn't used (nor leaked); I suspect  
that's what the compiler does in this case (though I don't know).

> But I don't think that the current compiler is actually doing that
> analysis in this case...

I cannot speak to that.

>>> In general, calls to procedures that are outside the current unit of
>>> compilation are presumed to involve side effects performed in the  
>>> body
>>> of the external procedure (at least in the absence of annotation).
>> That may often be done in practice, but it's not a language
>> requirement.  In particular, for standard library functions (like
>> malloc) an optimizer can exploit the known behavior of the function.
> I disagree. In the malloc() case, the known behavior is side  
> effecting.

See above.

> In the general case, the compiler cannot assume side-effect freedom
> unless it can prove it, and in the absence of implementation knowledge
> the standard requires conservatism.

Except for the leeway offered by

This is no different from not requiring that an actual store operation  
happen in something like:

	void f(int x) { x = 3; }

>> The same concept exists in C++, and we often refer to it as the "as
>> if" rule; i.e., implementations can do all kinds of things, as long  
>> as
>> the effect is "as if" specified by the abstract machine.
> Yes. But the C++ version of this is quite different, because in any
> situation where new would return NULL it would instead be raising an  
> out
> of memory exception. In consequence, the optimization is correct for
> operator new whether or not operator new is side effecting.

I wasn't talking about malloc vs. new: C++ also has malloc.  I was  
only talking about C++ because I actively work on that standard, so  
I'm more familiar with the "jargon" that applies to it.

> Setting the matter of the standard entirely aside, the currently
> implemented behavior deviates so blatantly from common sense and
> universal convention that it really must be viewed as a bug.

That's a different topic, and perhaps a matter of opinion.  I  
personally think it's a perfectly decent optimization, though this  
particular instance of it isn't very useful as far as I can tell.

> Finally, I strongly suspect that LLVM will fail the standard  
> conformance
> suites so long as this optimization is retained.

I'm quite familiar with the significant suites out there, and I can  
assure you that this won't be an issue.  (Though I don't believe the  
gcc front end is fully conforming either -- for other reasons.)


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