[LLVMdev] Casting between address spaces and address space semantics

Matthijs Kooijman matthijs at stdin.nl
Wed Aug 6 09:24:42 PDT 2008

Hi all,

I've been a tad busy in the last few weeks, but I don't think this issue is
settled yet.

> > the relations between each address space (equivalent, disjoint, subset/
> > superset).
> > Any thoughts on that? Should they also belong in TargetData?
> Only if absolutely required, see below.
Is there any other place they would fit in better? What piece of below were
you referring to exactly? Would it be useful to have a class that works just
like TargetData does? Ie, an immutable pass that can be added to the
passmanager in addition to TargetData? Anyway, let's see what the result of
the below discussion is first, I guess.

> > Specifically, I would  like instcombining to be able to use this info to
> > remove useless  bitcasts. Also, this information is useful for clang to
> > know when inserting an  implicit cast makes sense and when it would be an
> > error.
> Clang should just reject implicit casts in *any* case when the addr  
> spaces differ IMO.  In any case, clang has it's own parameterization  
> of the target which is richer than TargetData already, so if it really  
> wanted to allow implicit casts between address space subsets, it could  
> do so based on its own info.
I think that adding this info to Clang's targetinfo code would indeed make
sense, though perhaps disallowing implicit casts entirely is also acceptable
(provided that you can still do explicit casts).

However, what I find more important (this discussion is greatly helping me in
finding out what exactly it is that I find important :-p) is that instcombine
(or some other pass, for all I care) can remove bitcasts that are not strictly

I will focus on address spaces that are nested, since that is the most
interesting and general case. Say we have address spaces SubA, SubB and Super, and
SubA and SubB are subsets of Super (but disjoint to each other).

When is bitcast between address spaces really needed? I can see two main
 1) A function gets passed pointers into both SubA and SubB (which then need
    to be bitcasted to pointer-into-Super).
 2) A pointer variable is assigned pointers into both SubA and SubB. In LLVM
    this would probably mean a phi node that joins pointers into different
		address spaces (which is not possible, hence a bitcast is needed and the
		phi node would be of type pointer-into-super).

However, after some transformations (mainly code duplication AFAICS), the
above situations might get removed, making the bitcasts redundant. The patch I
attached a few posts back implements this by removing the bitcast when
possible. This does mean that any users of the bitcast now have one of their
operands changed (the address space gets changed).

Take for example a load instruction, that directly uses a bitcasted pointer.

When removing the bitcast, the load instruction can be replaced by a new one
that takes a pointer into another (smaller) address space. The result of the
load instruction will still be the same value, but a bitcast was removed (and
the load instruction was possibly improved as well).

Let's look at two use cases I can see for nested address spaces.

 1) Different address spaces translate to different accessing instructions at
    code generation time. Instructions that access smaller address spaces
		(SubA, SubB) can execute faster than instructions that access the Super
		address space. Because of this, removing unneeded bitcasts to Super (and
		then replacing, for example, load instructions with their SubA or SubB
		variants) can result in faster code. This is currently not our use case,
		but depending on where our hardware design goes might become so.
 2) Having the Super address space as an address space that is usable in the
		input C code, but should be optimized away before it hits the backend.
		Removing those redundant bitcasts allows us to prevent a lot of code
		duplication or ugly macro use in our C code, while still ending up with
		code our backend can compile. This is our current use case.

For both these use cases, it would be needed to remove redundant bitcasts. To
be able to do that, the transformation passes (or at least the one the will do
this) needs to know the relations between the different address spaces.

At the very least, redundant bitcasts should be removed. It hacked up a patch
to make instcombine do this, but that only makes sense if removing those
bitcasts allows instcombine to do further optimizations, which again allows
bitcasts to be removed. I have the feeling that propagating address spaces
might be quite orthogonal to the other transformations instcombine does, so a
seperate pass for just this might be better.

I think the main question here is, are there any other transformations that
would need (or benefit from) information on address space relations? If not,
then it might be sufficient to pass an "AddressSpacesDescriptor" to just that
one pass.

If there are other transformations, it would be useful to have one central
place to store this information (like TargetData now).

I've only just realized that this is an essential question, so I haven't given
it too much thought yet.

In either case, we should wonder in what way this information is given to the
tools (opt/llc). If we make it dependent on the target architecture, this only
becomes an issue once we support an architecture where this is relevant.
Alternatively, we could have some way of specifying the relations on the
commandline (either directly or by choosing between a number of models). Which
of these is chosen (if any) would not be too relevant for us, since we have
our own compiler driver which can pass anything to the (instcombine or other)
pass in a hardcoded fashion.


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