[llvm-dev] Metadata in LLVM back-end

Chris Lattner via llvm-dev llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org
Sun Aug 2 12:37:53 PDT 2020

Thanks Lorenzo,

I was looking for a ‘one level deeper’ analysis of how this works.

The issue is this: either information is preserved across certain sorts of transformations or it is not.  If not, it either goes stale (problematic for anything that looks at it later) or is invalidated/removed.

The fundamental issue in IR design is factoring the representation of information from the code that needs to inspect and update it.  “Metadata” designs try to make it easy to add out of band information to the IR in various ways, with a goal of reducing the impact on the rest of the compiler.

However, I’ve never seen them work out well.  Either the data becomes stale, or you end up changing a lot of the compiler to support it.  Look at debug info metadata in LLVM for example, it has both problems :-).  This is why MLIR has moved to make source location information and attributes a first class part of the IR.


> On Jul 29, 2020, at 12:33 AM, Lorenzo Casalino via llvm-dev <llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org> wrote:
>>> On Jul 27, 2020, at 10:11 AM, David Greene via llvm-dev <llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org> <mailto:llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org> wrote:
>>> Son Tuan VU via llvm-dev <llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org> <mailto:llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org> writes:
>>>> Currently metadata (other than debug info) can be attached to IR
>>>> instructions but disappears during DAG selection.
>>>> My question is why we do not keep the metadata during code lowering and
>>>> then attach to MachineInstr, just as for IR instructions? Is there any
>>>> technical challenge, or is it only because nobody wants to do so?
>>> I have wanted codegen metadata for a very long time so I'm interested to
>>> hear the history behind this choice, and more importantly, whether
>>> adding such capability would be generally acceptable to the community.
>> The first questions need to be “what does it mean?”, “how does it work?”, and “what is it useful for?”.  It is hard to evaluate a proposal without that.
> Hi everyone,
> I'm trying to answer to each of these questions; it is likely the answers won't be
> exhaustive, but I hope they will serve as a starting point for an interesting
> proposal (from my point of view and the one of Son Tuan VU and David Greene):
> - "What does it mean?": it means to preserve specific information, represented as
>   metadata assigned to instructions, from the IR level, down to the codegen phases.
> - "How does it work?": metadata should be preserved during the several
>    back-end transformations; for instance, during the lowering phase, DAGCombine
>    performs several optimization to the IR, potentially combining several
>    instructions. The new instruction should, then, assigned with metadata obtained
>    as a proper combination of the original ones (e.g., a union of metadata
>    information).
>    It might be possible to have a dedicated data-structure for such metadata info,
>    and an instance of such structure assigned to each instruction.
> - "What is it useful for?": I think it is quite context-specific; but,
>   in general, it is useful when some "higher-level"
>   information (e.g., that can be discovered only before the back-end
>   stage of the compiler) are required in the back-end to perform "semantic"-related
>   optimizations.
> To give an (quite generic) example where such codegen metadata may be useful: in the field
> of "secure compilation", preservation of security properties during the compilation
> phases is essential; such properties are specified in the high-level specifications of
> the program, and may be expressed with IR metadata. The possibility to keep such IR
> metadata in the codegen phases may allow preservation of properties that may be invalidated
> by codegen phases.
> Cheers,
> -- Lorenzo
>> Metadata isn’t free - it must be maintained or invalidated for it to be useful.  The details on that dramatically shape whether it can be used for any given purpose.
>> -Chris
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