[LLVMdev] 9 Ideas To Better Support Source Language Developers

Chris Lattner sabre at nondot.org
Wed Jan 7 14:02:01 PST 2004

On Wed, 7 Jan 2004, Reid Spencer wrote:
> On Wed, 2004-01-07 at 11:12, Chris Lattner wrote:
> > > ------------------------------------------------------------------
> > > 1. Definition Import
> > > Source languages are likely to create lots of named type and value
> > > definitions for the memory objects the language manipulates. Redefining
> > > these in every module produces byte code bloat. It would be very useful
> > > for LLVM to natively support some kind of import capability that would
> > > properly declare global types and global values into the module being
> > > considered.
> >
> > Unfortunately, this would break the ability to take a random LLVM bytecode
> > file and use it in a self-contained way.  In general, the type names and
> > external declarations are actually stored very compactly, and the
> > optimizers remove unused ones.  Is this really a problem for you in
> > practice?
> I'm trying to get to a "once-and-done" solution on compilation. That is,
> a given module is compiled exactly once (per version). There's no such
> thing as "include" in XPL, only "import". The difference is that
> "import" loads the results of previous compilations (i.e. a bytcode
> file).  I included it in my list because I thought it would be something
> quite handy for other source languages (Java would need it, for
> example). The functionality is something like Java's class loader except
> its a module loader for LLVM and it doesn't load the function bodies.

Java's import actually does two different things: it makes the
source-level definitions of the imported module available (effecting name
lookup, for example), and it makes the code from the module available.

The first would have to be handled by the source compiler (likewise with
XPL I would assume), the second is in the domain of LLVM.  However, in
Java at least, an import doesn't mean that the code for the imported
module should get linked into the importing module.  Instead, at runtime
or "link time", all of the bytecode files for the include DAG should get
put together and optimized into the program. If you don't do this (ie, you
try to do it at static compile time), you get into problems when A is
imported by B and C: you get two copies of all of the code in A.

I don't know XPL, but I would assume that it is similar in this respect.

> > > ------------------------------------------------------------------
> > > 2. Memory Management
> > >
> > > My programming system (XPS) has some very powerful and efficient memory
> > > allocation mechanisms built into it. It would be useful to allow users
> > > of LLVM to control how (and more importantly where) memory is allocated
> > > by LLVM.
> >
> > What exactly would this be used for?  Custom allocators for performance?
> > Or something more important?  In general, custom allocators for
> > performance are actually a bad idea...
> My memory system can do seamless persistent memory as well (i.e. its
> almost a full scale OO Database).  One of my ideas for the "import"
> functionality was to simply save the LLVM objects for each module
> persistently.  Import then takes no longer than an mmap(2) call to load
> the LLVM data structures associated with the module into memory. I can't
> think of a faster way to do it.

Hrm, this is interesting.  In the LLVM context it could get tricky,
because things like LLVM types and constants are shared between modules,
but it would still be very interesting.  If you could come up with some
clean and non-invasive interfaces for doing this, its pretty likely that
would accept them.  Everyone appreciates a fast compiler. :)

> The reason this is so important to me is that I expect to be doing lots
> of on the fly compilation. XPL is highly dynamic.  What I'm trying to
> avoid is the constant recompilation of included things as with C/C++.
> The time taken to recompile headers is, in my opinion, just wasted time.
> That's why pre-compiled header support exists in so many compilers.

Sure, that makes sense.  Using a structured mechanism like an 'import' is
a much better way to do it than the way PCH is implemented in C/C++
compilers.  That said, it's still usually better to have the linker
assemble programs than trying to do it at compile time (at compile time
you just remember the dependencies).

> I have also tuned my allocators so that they can do multiple millions of
> allocations per second on modest hardware. There's a range of allocators
> available each using different algorithms.  Each has space/time
> tradeoffs. The performance of "malloc(2)" sucks on most platforms and
> sucks on all platforms when there's a lot of memory thrash. None of my
> allocators suffer these problems. Curious: why do you think custom
> allocators for performance are a bad idea?

There are two main reasons.  First, there is research showing that many
custom allocators are slower than general purpose allocators, unless they
actually take into consideration special properties of the program (such
as region allocators):  "Reconsidering custom memory allocation":

Overall, the default std::allocator is quite fast with the GCC runtime.

The other problem, which hits closer to home, is that custom allocators
obscure the behavior of the program, making it harder for the compiler to
do all kinds of neat transformations to the program.

> > > ------------------------------------------------------------------
> > > 3. Code Signing Support
> > >
> > I don't think that this really belongs in LLVM itself: Better would be to
> > wrap LLVM bytecode files in an application (ie, XPL) specific file format
> > that includes the digest of the module, the bytecode itself, and whatever
> > else you wanted to keep with it.  That way your tool, when commanded to
> > load a file, would check the digest, and only if it matches call the LLVM
> > bytecode loader.
> I'd probably be more inclined to just add an internal global array of
> bytes to the LLVM bytecode format.  Supporting a new file format means
> that I'd have to re-write all the LLVM tools -- not worth the time.
> So, I'll implement this myself and not extend LLVM with it.

Ok, alternatively you could just store the signature in an LLVM global

> > > ------------------------------------------------------------------
> > > 4. Threading Support
> > >
> > > Some low level support for threading is needed. I think there are really
> > > just a very few primitives we need from which higher order things can be
> > > constructed. One is a memory barrier to ensure cache is flushed, etc. so
> > > we can be certain a write to memory has "taken".
> >
> > Just out of curiousity, what do you need a membar for?  The only thing
> > that I'm aware of it being useful for (besides implementing threading
> > packages) are Read-Copy-Update algorithms.
> Um, to implement a threading package :)  I have assumed that, true to
> its name, LLVM will only provide the lowest level primitives needed to
> implement a threading package, not actually provide a threading package.
> I'm sure you don't want to put all the different kinds of
> synchronization concepts (mutex, semaphore, barrier, futex, etc.) into
> LLVM? All of them need the membar.  For that matter, you'll probably
> need an efficient thread barrier as well.

Ok, gotcha.  You're right that we're probably not going to expose every
possible synch operaions through LLVM, prefering instead to expose
low-level primitives. :)   Misha knows more about future plans in this
area though.

> > > ------------------------------------------------------------------
> > > 5. Fully Developed ByteCode Archives
> > >
> > This makes a lot of sense.  The LLVM bytecode reader supports loading a
> > bytecode file from a memory buffer, so I think it would be pretty easy to
> > implement this.  Note that llvm-ar is currently a work-in-progress, but it
> > might make sense to implement support for this directly in it.  Afterall,
> > we aren't constrained by what the format of the ".o" files in the .a file
> > look like (as long as gccld and llvm-nm support the format).
> But if the file gets compressed, it isn't a .a file any more, right? Or,
> were you suggesting that only the archive members get compressed and the
> file is otherwise an archive?

I was suggesting the second.

> The problem with that approach is that it limits the compression
> somewhat.  Think about an archive with 1000 bytecode files each using
> common declarations. Compressed individually those common declarations
> are repeated in each file. Compressed en masse, only one copy of the
> common declarations is stored achieving close to 1000:1 compression for
> those declarations.

Hrm, I think it's best to try out several possibilities and see which
actually make sense.  Using standard formats is usually much better unless
there is a reason to use different formats.  That said, the .a file format
is pretty archaic, and using something better would make linking more
efficient as well.

> > Also note that we are always interested in finding ways to shrink the
> > bytecode files.  Right now they are basically comparable to native
> > executable sizes, but smaller is always better!

> Unfortunately, the answer to that is to utilize higher level
> instructions. LLVM is comparable to native because it isn't a whole lot
> higher level.  Compared with Java, whose byte code knows about things
> like classes, LLVM will always be larger because expression of the
> higher level concepts in LLVM's relatively low level takes more bytes.

Sure, that makes sense.  But even in our current approach there is still
room to encode bytecode files more efficiently.

> That said, we _should_ strive to minimize
> I haven't really looked into the bytecode format in much detail. Are we
> doing things like constant string folding? Could the bytecode format be
> natively compressed (i.e. not with bz2 or zip but simply be not
> duplicating anything in the output)?

We aren't doing anything obviously stupid in the bytecode format, but
there are probably many things that could be improved.  In 1.1 for
example, I took out some unnecessary stuff that shrunk files by about 20%
for a given .ll file.  There is probably more room for improvement.  Right
now, constant starts are output basically the same as they are represented
(ie, each character is emitted, then the string is a list of "pointers" to
the chars).  This is quite wasteful even if each of the "pointers" is
typically one byte anyway.

> > Developing a new "front-end helper" library could be interesting!  The
> > only challenge would be to make it general purpose enough that it would
> > actually be useful for multiple languages.
> You're right, it would need to be useful for multiple languages. Here's
> what I do. I'll revisit this when I get closer to done on the XPL
> compiler. I'm building things now that are somewhat framework oriented.
> If there are specific patterns that arise and could be useful, I'll
> submit them back to the list at that time for review.

Cool, sounds great.  You could use stacker and xpl as two good (extremely
different) languages, which can hopefully share the same library of code.



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