[cfe-dev] Changing semantics of __fp16

Konstantin Schwarz via cfe-dev cfe-dev at lists.llvm.org
Thu Dec 10 02:22:42 PST 2020

Hi Sjoerd,

our downstream target also supports the __fp16 type as a pure storage 
type. The hardware offers instructions to convert between half-precision 
and single-precision, but no arithmetic.

Do you propose to eliminate the storage-only type altogether, or just 
renaming it (in your approach A)?


On 08.12.2020 12:23, Sjoerd Meijer via cfe-dev wrote:
> In Arm we are considering/discussing changing the semantics of 
> storage-only type
> __fp16 and we are looking for feedback on this. The motivation is that 
> in A-profile,
> architecture extension FP16 natively supports half-precision 
> arithmetic. It is
> also supported by SVE, and in M-profile MVE optionally supports it.
> The problem is that float16_t is defined in the Arm C-Language Extensions
> (ACLE) specification [1] as an alias for __fp16. Thus, using the 
> float16_t /
> __fp16 storage-only type which performs arithmetic in 
> single-precision, we are
> not taking advantage of the native half-precision FP16 instructions.
> One obvious solution is to change the float16_t typedef in the ACLE 
> from this:
>   typedef __fp16 float16_t;
> to use _Float16 instead of __fp16, where _Float16 is the type with
> half-precision arithmetic semantics. An alternative is to change the 
> semantics
> of __fp16, and both approaches have their pros and cons:
> Changing the semantics of __fp16 (approach A):
> - Pros:
> -- There is no ABI break.
> -- Code that uses __fp16 also benefits from the more optimal 
> implementation.
> - Cons:
> -- No type would retain the old __fp16 semantics.
> -- We'd need to change the compiler frontends (both Clang and GCC).
> -- Existing code could rely on current __fp16 behaviour.
> Keeping the semantics of __fp16 (approach B):
> - Pros:
> -- People who want the old behaviour can use __fp16 directly.
> -- We only need to change a typedef in a header file.
> - Cons:
> -- Changing float16_t requires an ABI break.
> -- Code that directly uses __fp16 would not benefit from the new 
> float16_t optimisation.
> Deciding for one of these approaches is difficult as people may get
> happy/unhappy either way and it is difficult to quantify this, which 
> is why we
> welcome any feedback on this from e.g. users of __fp16. If for example the
> opinion is that breaking the ABI is a last resort, then that would 
> point into the
> direction of Approach A and changing the semantics of __fp16.
> [1] https://developer.arm.com/documentation/101028/latest 
> <https://developer.arm.com/documentation/101028/latest>
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