More inline assembly caveats ('asm' tutorial)

Till Straumann strauman at
Wed Feb 4 22:12:16 UTC 2009

Here's a new morsel:

The mvme167 BSP does something like that

void _BSP_output_char(char c)
char cr = '\r';

  _167Bug_pollWrite(&c, 1);

  /* convert '\n' -> '\n' '\r' sequence */

  if ( '\n' == c )

In 4.9 (gcc 4.3.2) this doesn't work anymore.
Here's why:

_167Bug_pollWrite contains inline assembly;
something like

void _167Bug_pollWrite(const char *buf, int len)

   asm volatile( <actual assembly code> :: "a"(buf), "a"(buf+len) );


Newer gccs are 'smart' enough to realize that
the value the 'cr' variable was initialized with
is never used and hence optimizes storing the '\r'
character into memory away (because it is NOT
smart enough to actually understand the inline
assembly code and realize that the value is needed

The naive approach here would be to proceed as
suggested by the gcc manual and add 'len' bytes
of memory starting at 'buf' to the list of
input operands. HOWEVER: this does NOT necessarily
do what you want; the actual semantics are
different for each architecture and may have
side-effects which are undocumented.

For an discussion and explanation consult this thread:

In the above case I could gcc 4.3.2 get to do
what is needed (i.e., storing the '\r' character
in memory) by either

1) declaring the 'cr' variable 'volatile'

volatile const char cr = '\r';

2) adding a general 'memory barrier' but this may be
   more costly than 1) or having a proper way to
   tell gcc that the inline asm reads or writes
   a specific memory region (again: adding a memory
   input/output operand may have OTHER SIDEEFFECTS
   which are not documented in the gcc manual and
   differ for each architecture).

const char cr = '\r';

asm volatile("":::"memory");

3) In this particular example, our variable is actually
   constant so we could make it a static variable and
   hope it is actually initialized:

static const char cr = '\r';

4) Same rationale: use a static string


Hope this helps alerting people that inline assembly
has to be used with extreme care and is best avoided.

-- Till

PS: This was filed as PR#1370

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