[llvm-dev] The best way of generating a good representation for an array with header?

Christoffer Lernö via llvm-dev llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org
Tue Nov 12 14:35:57 PST 2019

The advantages:

1. A pointer to the struct offset can be converted to a pointer without any cost.
2. A nullpointer to a stretchy buffer can be treated as a zero length array. Consequently no actual struct allocation is needed to represent a zero length array.
3. A reference to the array is the same size as to a pointer.
4. It can be converted to and back from an pointer without losing any information about the size & capacity.

The downsides are what we discuss. But it looks like I have to accept that I can only represent it as a pointer with unknown length in DWARF then?

Best Regards,


> On 12 Nov 2019, at 21:49, David Blaikie <dblaikie at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Tue, Nov 12, 2019 at 12:44 PM Christoffer Lernö via llvm-dev <llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org <mailto:llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org>> wrote:
> Yes, we’re actually viewing the struct at an offset.
> So basically it’s a struct like this:
> typedef struct {
>   uint32_t size;
>   uint32_t capacity;
>   int array[0];
> } Foo;
> The whole thing is malloc:ed with extra bytes at the end, and capacity is set to that same number of extra bytes.
> What’s then passed around is actually the int pointer at an offset: &(foo->array)
> Using the that pointer we can obviously in a simple way recover the pointer to the struct, but can it be done so that LLVM and DWARF can identify the pointer as a pointer to a struct member for a certain struct?
> std::vector is as far as I know wrapping a pointer or two.
> The advantage of a stretchy buffer is that its length is recoverable even if stored as a pointer.
> What's the advantage compared to a pointer to the struct, rather than a pointer to the array? (a pointer to this first element of the array would still have to be tagged differently from a pointer to an arbitrary int (either a singular int or an int somewhere in the array) to indicate that you can backtrack to find the length - so it's not like you get to generalize all int pointers) - I wouldn't expect (but don't know that much) that the extra constant offset on array indexing would be particularly expensive/observable?
> But yeah, I think you'd probably have some trouble getting DWARF consumers to handle the idea that the parameter type to a function is more than the type itself, or that pointers to that type actually point into the middle of the object instead of the start.
> Not insurmountable, but seems a bit expensive/complicated to try to make that work - but don't know what your other constraints/data are.
> It’s also incredibly thin, only taking up the same size as a pointer – as opposed to std::vector which is likely 2 pointers long.
> Best Regards,
> Christoffer
> > Date: Tue, 12 Nov 2019 11:34:42 -0800
> > From: David Blaikie via llvm-dev <llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org <mailto:llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org>>
> > 
> > the pointer points to the first element, and you walk backwards from there
> > to find the header details about the bounds/etc?
> > 
> > In any case - I'd look at something like C++'s std::vector, which is a
> > variable length array, and model your situation similarly. I doubt there's
> > anything in particular you'll want to/be able to teach the optimizations
> > about your situation (nothing especially special that they know about
> > std::vector-like things either, that I know of - they maybe can deduce
> > certain things about how the bounds relate, and they certainly can optimize
> > a lot of std::vector usage) & debug info would probably look like
> > std::vector, in that it'd be a custom type, etc. Though if my guess above
> > was right about using prefix data to describe the bounds - that might be
> > hard to model in DWARF & you might be better off not being "tricky" like
> > that & modelling this closer to something that you could have written in C
> > or C++ more naturally.
> > 
> > On Tue, Nov 12, 2019 at 4:14 AM Christoffer Lernö via llvm-dev <
> > llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org <mailto:llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org>> wrote:
> > 
> >> I’m considering building in variable arrays by implementing them as a
> >> stretchy buffer, that is a single allocation with header + elements with
> >> the pointer passed around pointing to the first element. (Example:
> >> https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/NiklasGray/20180109/312683/Minimalist_container_library_in_C_part_1.php <https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/NiklasGray/20180109/312683/Minimalist_container_library_in_C_part_1.php>
> >> )
> >> 
> >> Is there a good way to represent this in LLVM? I mean both in terms of
> >> helping the optimizer passes understand how the layout works and to make
> >> sure the debug info looks ok.
> >> 
> >> 
> >> Best regards,
> >> Christoffer
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