[LLVMdev] exact semantics of 'nounwind'

Duncan Sands baldrick at free.fr
Thu Mar 13 06:56:15 PDT 2008


> as a language front end developer I am a bit terrified by any "unwind  
> here will call terminate" semantics in the IR.

in fact there aren't any.  Suppose you mark a function call with the
'nounwind' flag.  What happens is that when the code generators output
the dwarf exception handling info into the object file (basically a
sequence of instruction address ranges plus a "handler" address to jump
to if an exception unwinds through an instruction in that range), they
don't include that call instruction in any addess range.  That's always
fine if the call never results in an exception being unwound.  If an
exception does try to unwind through that call, what happens depends on
the exception handling personality function.  So what is this personality
function and where does it come from?  It is provided by the front-end,
which needs to output an llvm.selector intrinsic call in the IR in the
destination block of any invoke call.  The llvm.selector intrinsic takes a
pointer to the personality function as an argument.  Thus the C++ front-end
provides a pointer to the C++ personality function, the Ada front-end
provides a pointer to the Ada personality function, and your front-end
provides a pointer to your personality function.  When an exception unwinds,
the personality function is queried by the unwinder to decide what should
be done.  It is the personality function that decides what to do if it
sees that the call is not contained in any address range.  The Ada personality
just keeps on unwinding in this case.  The C++ personality function calls
terminate.  Your personality function makes its own decision.  LLVM doesn't
know about what the personality is going to do, and doesn't actually care.
It just provides a means of communication between the front-end code generator
and the personality function (part of the front-end's runtime library) by
noting in the unwind table if the front-end set the nounwind flag on a call.

> I'd prefer the LLVM IR   
> to be free from any assumptions about the languages compiled to it and  
> this looks like C++ semantics sneaking into LLVM. Thus I'm under the  
> expression the calling terminate semantics should be implemented by  
> the front end.

It is - by the front-end's runtime.

> > Chris and I also couldn't agree on what the semantics ought to be  
> > going
> > forward. He suggested having two bits, one to memoize an analysis
> > proving that it can't unwind, and one to mean that an unwind triggers
> > terminate. I happen to think that this ought to be explicitly modelled
> > in the IR by arcing to another BB that calls terminate.
> Having two bits might probably be a viable compromise.
> Just out of interest: how much does a will-not-throw-flag improve the  
> generated code?

It allows you to eliminate invokes.  For example llvm-gcc outputs "sin"
with the nounwind flag set.  Thus any call to "sin" will not throw an
exception.  Thus (the prune-eh pass does this) any function which only
calls "sin" does not throw any exceptions, and thus can be marked nounwind
too.  Thus any function that only calls that function and "sin" cannot
throw exceptions either and can also be marked nounwind.  In this way the
nounwind attribute is propagated throughout the call-graph.  Then any invoke
that calls one of these nounwind functions can be turned into a normal call,
meaning that the unwind basic block can be discarded leading to further
simplifications and a code size reduction etc.  The final effect is quite
significant for Ada, which tends to have a lot of exception handling code.



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