[llvm-dev] Opaque pointers and i8 GEPs

Nikita Popov via llvm-dev llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org
Sat Sep 4 02:17:14 PDT 2021

Hi everyone,

During the transition to opaque pointers (see
https://llvm.org/docs/OpaquePointers.html for context) a somewhat recurring
issue is the choice of source element types for getelementptr instructions.
Consider these two GEPs:

getelementptr [[i32 x 10], x 10], ptr %p, i64 0, i64 1, i64 0
getelementptr i8, ptr %p, i64 40

If I counted correctly, these two GEPs perform the same address
calculation. With typed pointers, they differed in their source and result
pointer types. With opaque pointers, these GEPs are now strictly equivalent.

Various transforms in LLVM need to generate a GEP with a certain offset
from a base pointer. In order to minimize bitcasts, they will usually try
to use the source pointer element type as the GEP source element type and
try to find a sequence of GEP indices that encodes the desired offset. If
they can't do that, they fall back to bitcasts to i8*, doing an i8 GEP and
bitcasting to the result pointer type (or give up altogether).

The most sophisticated and complete implementation of this exists in SROA,
which will determine the optimal GEP to generate in some three hundred
lines of code:

Now, with opaque pointers, doing this is entirely pointless. We can always
simply generate a "getelementptr i8, ptr %Base, i64 Offset" without
introducing bitcasts. With opaque pointers, the basic i8 GEP representation
is already the optimal one.

In addition to that, generating something other than an i8 GEP requires us
to pick an appropriate source element type. With typed pointers, that was
simply the pointer element type. With opaque pointers, doing this requires
some kind of heuristic guess. It would be possible to recurse through
operations (selects, phis, etc) until we hit a value with an associated
type, such as a GEP, alloca or global. However, doing this is not reliable,
because there might not be such a value (e.g. if it is based on a function
argument). There is no guarantee that this would arrive at the same GEP
type as typed pointers did, and I think doing this goes against the spirit
of opaque pointers.

My proposal here is that in opaque pointers mode, LLVM should consider i8
GEPs canonical for GEPs with constant offsets. We should not attempt to
"guess" a good GEP type to use, and we should not try to generate complex
GEP structures if a simple one will do. I don't think there's really any
disadvantages to this, apart from the fact that it makes the discrepancy
between typed and opaque pointer mode larger.

Context for this mail is https://reviews.llvm.org/D109259, where Arthur
requested this to be discussed on llvm-dev.

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