[LLVMdev] Initial thoughts on an LLVM backend for N-address generic assembly

Justin Holewinski justin.holewinski at gmail.com
Thu Jan 24 07:29:02 PST 2013

On Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 7:20 AM, Ahmed Bougacha <ahmed.bougacha at gmail.com>wrote:

> On Thu, Jan 24, 2013 at 12:46 PM,  <nkavv at physics.auth.gr> wrote:
> > Hi all,
> >
> > i'm just starting out with LLVM (although i've been observing its
> evolution
> > since that first release some years ago :)
> >
> > I would like to develop a backend for a generic assembly-like language,
> > called NAC (N-Address Code). More info on NAC can be found here:
> > http://www.nkavvadias.com/hercules/nac-refman.html (HTML)
> > http://www.nkavvadias.com/hercules/nac-refman.pdf (PDF)
> >
> > You can consider NAC similar to an LLVM subset for hardware synthesis.
> > Although NAC was developed independently, certain decisions taken when
> > designing it, may or may not defer from other textual IRs like LLVM or
> PTX.
> >
> > I have a number of questions:
> >
> > 1) It seems to me that a template backend either the C backend or NVPTX
> are
> > possible starting points. However, only NVPTX makes use of tblgen which
> > removes some burder from the backend developer. I also think that a
> > tblgen-based backend like NVPTX is easier to maintain in the long term.
> What
> > do you think?
> Hi Nikolaos,
> The C backend (that is by the way deprecated) is the exception rather
> than the rule: most targets use TableGen extensively (look at all the
> lib/Target/**/*.td).

It really depends on your goals and the abstractions provided by the target
IR.  For NVPTX, we use a traditional LLVM back-end approach (using TableGen
and the SelectionDAG/MachineInstr/MC infrastructure) because PTX is
low-level enough to be treated as an assembly language.  There are some
higher-level features available in the language, but we do not use those.
If your IR is more like LLVM IR, then it may make sense to do some kind of
direct translation from LLVM IR to your IR and bypass the traditional
codegen approach.

Another point to consider is how much optimization you want.  For PTX, we
have to walk a fine line compared to other back-ends because PTX is not the
machine ISA.  A separate assembler is used to convert to the real machine
ISA, and that assembler performs optimizations of its own!  We want to
optimize the PTX we generate, but we also do not want to prevent
optimizations that may be performed by the assembler.  If your IR is meant
for optimization passes, then it may not make sense to perform all of the
back-end optimizations available through LLVM, but just use the middle-end
optimizations performed on LLVM IR directly.

> As for your other questions, I'm no expert, but you might want to take
> a look at the available tutorials
> (http://llvm.org/docs/WritingAnLLVMBackend.html and
> http://jonathan2251.github.com/lbd/).
> -- Ahmed Bougacha
> > 2) NAC uses the following statement form (for any given statement):
> >
> > dst1, dst2, ..., dstm <= op src1, src2, ..., srcn;
> >
> > which expresses an operation op with n source operands and m destination
> > operands. Do you think that tblgen supports such form or should I
> sanitize
> > it?
> >
> > 3) The NAC memory model uses separate address spaces per array. A
> > general-use stack/heap might also be supported. Should I use dot
> directives
> > to declare each address space in use for a given translation unit/module?
> >
> > 4) What is the maximum that I can get from tblgen? Which C++ source files
> > cannot be generated by .td files and always have to be coded by hand?
> >
> > In the end, source code for the LLVM->NAC backend and a NAC interpreter
> will
> > be released, probably as third-party BSD-licensed tools.
> >
> >
> > Best regards
> > Nikolaos Kavvadias
> >
> >
> >
> > _______________________________________________
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Justin Holewinski
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