[llvm-dev] [RFC] A nofree (and nosynch) function attribute: Mixing dereferenceable and delete

Hal Finkel via llvm-dev llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org
Tue Jul 10 19:01:07 PDT 2018

Hi, everyone,

I'd like to propose adding a nofree function attribute to indicate that
a function does not, directly or indirectly, call a memory-deallocation
function (e.g., free, C++'s operator delete). Clang/LLVM can currently
misoptimize functions that:

 1. Have a reference argument.

 2. Free the memory backing the object to which the reference is bound
during the function's execution.

Because we tag, in Clang, all reference arguments using the
dereferenceable attribute, LLVM assumes that the pointer is
unconditionally dereferenceable throughout the course of the entire
function. This isn't true, however, if the memory is freed during the
execution of the function. For more information, please see the
discussion in https://reviews.llvm.org/D48239.

To solve this problem, we need to give LLVM more information in order to
help it determine when a pointer, which is dereferenceable when the
functions begins to execute, will still be dereferenceable later on in
the function's execution. This nofree attribute can be part of that
solution. If we know that free (and friends) are not called by the
function (nor by any function called by the function, and so on), then
we know that pointers that started out dereferenceable will stay that
way (except as explained below).

I'm initially proposing this to be only a function attribute, although
one could easily imagine a parameter attribute as well (that indicates
that a particular pointer argument is not freed by the function). This
might be useful, but for the use case of helping dereferenceable, it
would be subtle to use, unless the parameter was also marked as noalias,
because you'd need to know that the parameter was not also aliased with
another argument (or had not been captured). Another analysis would need
to provide this kind of information.

Also, just because a function does not, directly or indirectly, call
free does not mean that it cannot cause memory to be deallocated. The
function might communicate (synchronize) with another thread causing
that other thread to delete the memory. For this reason, to use
dereferenceable as we currently do, we also need to know that the
function does not synchronize with any other threads. To solve this
problem, like nofree, I propose to add a nosynch attribute (to indicate
that a function does not use (non-relaxed) atomics or otherwise
synchronize with any other threads (e.g., perform I/O or, as a practical
matter, use volatile accesses).

I've posted a patch for the nofree attribute
(https://reviews.llvm.org/D49165). nosynch's implementation would be
very similar (except instead of looking for calls to free, it would look
for uses of non-relaxed atomics, volatile ops, and known functions that
are not I/O functions).

With both of these attributes (nofree and nosynch), a function argument
with the dereferenceable attribute will be known to be dereferenceable
throughout the execution of the attributed function. We can update
isDereferenceableAndAlignedPointer to include these additional checks on
the current function.

One more choice we have: We can, as I proposed above, essentially weaken
the current semantics of dereferenceable to not exclude
mid-function-execution deallocation. We can also add a second attribute
with the current, stronger, semantics. We can keep the current attribute
as-is, and add a second attribute with the weaker semantics (and switch
Clang to use that).

Please let me know what you think.

Thanks again,


Hal Finkel
Lead, Compiler Technology and Programming Languages
Leadership Computing Facility
Argonne National Laboratory

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