[LLVMdev] Proposing a new 'alloca' parameter attribute to implement the Microsoft C++ ABI

Reid Kleckner rnk at google.com
Thu Jul 25 14:38:45 PDT 2013

Hi LLVM folks,

To properly implement pass-by-value in the Microsoft C++ ABI, we need to be
to take the address of an outgoing call argument slot.  This is
http://llvm.org/PR5064 .


On Windows, C structs are pushed right onto the stack in line with the other
arguments.  In LLVM, we use byval to model this, and it works for C structs.
However, C++ records are also passed this way, and reusing byval for C++
breaks C++ object identity rules.

In order to implement the ABI properly, we need a way to get the address of
argument slot *before* we start the call, so that we can either construct
object in place on the stack or at least call its copy constructor.

This is further complicated by the possibility of nested calls passing
arguments by
value.  A good general case to think about is a binary tree of calls that
two arguments by value and return by value:

  struct A { int a; };
  A foo(A, A);
  foo(foo(A(), A()), foo(A(), A()));

To complete the outer call to foo, we have to adjust the stack for its
arguments before the inner calls to foo, and arrange for the sret pointers
point to those slots.

To make this even more complicated, C++ methods are typically callee
cleanup (thiscall), but free functions are caller cleanup (cdecl).


A few weeks ago, I sat down with some folks at Google and we came up with
proposal, which tries to add the minimum set of LLVM IL features to make

1. Allow alloca instructions to use llvm.stacksave values to indicate

This creates an SSA dependence between the alloca instruction and the
stackrestore instruction that prevents optimizers from accidentally
them in ways that don't verify.  llvm.stacksave in this case is taking on a
similar to CALLSEQ_START in the selection dag.

LLVM can also apply this to dynamic allocas from inline functions to ensure
optimizers don't move them.

2. Add an 'alloca' attribute for parameters.

Only an alloca value can be passed to a parameter with this attribute.  It
cannot be bitcasted or GEPed.  An alloca can only be passed in this way
It can be passed as a normal pointer to any number of other functions.

Aside from allocas bounded by llvm.stacksave and llvm.stackrestore calls,
can be no allocas between the creation of an alloca passed with this
and its associated call.

3. Add a stackrestore field to call and invoke instructions.

This models calling conventions which do their own cleanup, and ensures that
even after optimizations have perturbed the IR, we don't consider the
allocas to
be live.  For caller cleanup conventions, while the callee may have called
destructors on its arguments, the allocas can be considered live until the


A single call to foo, assuming it is stdcall, would be lowered something

%res = alloca %struct.A
%base = llvm.stacksave()
%arg1 = alloca %struct.A, stackbase %base
%arg2 = alloca %struct.A, stackbase %base
call @A_ctor(%arg1)
call @A_ctor(%arg2)
call x86_stdcallcc @foo(%res sret, %arg1 alloca, %arg2 alloca),
stackrestore %base

If control does not flow through a call or invoke with a stackrestore field,
then manual calls to llvm.stackrestore must be emitted before another call
invoke can use an 'alloca' argument.  The manual stack restore call ends the
lifetime of the allocas.  This is necessary to handle unwind edges from
expression evaluation as well as the case where foo is not callee cleanup.


By starting out with the stack save and restore intrinsics, we can hopefully
approach a slow but working implementation sooner rather than later.  The
should mostly be in the verifier, the IR, its parser, and the x86 backend.

I don't plan to start working on this immediately, but over the long run
this will be really important to support well.


That's all!  Please send feedback!  This is admittedly a really complicated
feature and I'm sorry for inflicting it on the LLVM community, but it's
obviously beyond my control.
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