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Re: thoughts on native code

From: Noah Lavine
Subject: Re: thoughts on native code
Date: Sat, 10 Nov 2012 17:49:07 -0500


I assume "compressed native" is the idea you wrote about in your last email, where we generate native code which is a sequence of function calls to VM operations.

I really like that idea. As you said, it uses the instruction cache better. But it also fixes something I was worried about, which is that it's a lot of work to port an assembler to a new architecture, so we might end up not supporting many native architectures. But it seems much easier to make an assembler that only knows how to make call instructions and branches. So we could support compressed native on lots of architectures, and maybe uncompressed native only on some.

If you want a quick way to do compressed native with reasonable register allocation, GNU libjit might work. I used it a couple years ago for a JIT project that we never fully implemented. I chose it over GNU Lightning specifically because it did register allocation. It implements a full assembler, not just calls, which could also be nice later.


On Sat, Nov 10, 2012 at 5:06 PM, Stefan Israelsson Tampe <address@hidden> wrote:
I would like to continue the discussion about native code.

Some facts are,
For example, consider this
(define (f x) (let loop ((s 0) (i 0)) (if (eq? i x) s (loop (+ s i) (+ i 1)))))

The timings for (f 100000000)  ~ (f 100M) is

1) current vm                 : 2.93s
2) rtl                              : 1.67s
3) compressed native     : 1.15s
4) uncompressed native : 0.54s

sbcl = compressed nativ + better register allocations (normal optimization level) : 0.68s

To note is that for this example the call overhead is close to 5ns per iteration and meaning that
if we combined 4 with better register handling the potential is to get this loop to run at 0.2s which means
that the loop has the potential of running 500M iterations in one second without sacrifying safety and not
have a extraterestial code analyzer. Also to note is that the native code for the compressed native is smaller then the
rtl code by some factor and if we could make use of registers in a better way we would end up with even less overhead.

To note is that compressed native is a very simple mechanism to gain some speed and also improve on memory
usage in the instruction flow, Also the assembler is very simplistic and it would not be to much hassle to port a new
instruction format to that environment. Also it's probably possible to handle the complexity of the code in pure C
for the stubs and by compiling them in a special way make sure they output a format that can be combined
with the meta information in special registers needed to make the execution of the compiled scheme effective.

This study also shows that there is a clear benefit to be able to use the computers registers, and I think this is the way
you would like the system to behave in the end. sbcl does this rather nicely and we could look at their way of doing it.

So, the main question now to you is how to implement the register allocations? Basic principles of register allocation can be gotten out from the internet, I'm assure of, but the problem is how to handle the interaction with the helper stubs. That is
something i'm not sure of yet.

A simple solution would be to assume that the native code have a set of available registers r1,...,ri and then force the
compilation of the stubs to treat the just like the registers bp, sp, and bx. I'm sure that this is possible to configure in gcc.

So the task for me right now is to find out more how to do this, if you have any pointers or ideas, please help out.


On Sat, Nov 10, 2012 at 3:41 PM, Stefan Israelsson Tampe <address@hidden> wrote:
Hi all,

After talking with Mark Weaver about his view on native code, I have been pondering how to best model our needs.

I do have a framework now that translates almost all of the rtl vm directly to native code and it do shows a speed increase of say 4x compared to runing a rtl VM. I can also generate rtl code all the way from guile scheme right now so It's pretty easy to generate test cases. The problem that Mark point out to is that we need to take care to not blow the instructuction cache. This is not seen in these simple examples but we need larger code bases to test out what is actually true. What we can note though is that I expect the size of the code to blow up with a factor of around 10 compared to the instruction feed in the rtl code.

One interesting fact is that SBCL does fairly well by basically using the native instruction as the instruction flow to it's VM. For example if it can deduce that a + operation works with fixnums it simply compiles that as a function call to a general + routine e.g. it will do a long jump to the + routine, do the plus, and longjump back essentially dispatching general instructions like + * / etc, directly e.g. sbcl do have a virtual machine, it just don't to table lookup to do the dispatch, but function call's in stead. If you count longjumps this means that the number of jumps for these instructions are double that of using the original table lookup methods. But for calling functions and returning functions the number of longjumps are the same and moving local variables in place , jumping  is really fast.

Anyway, this method of dispatching would mean a fairly small footprint with respect to the direct assembler. Another big chunk of code that we can speedup without to much bloat in the instruction cache is the lookup of pairs, structs and arrays, the reason is that in many cases we can deduce at compilation so much that we do not need to check the type all the time but can safely lookup the needed infromation.

Now is this method fast? well, looking a the sbcl code for calculating 1+ 2 + 3 + 4 , (disassembling it) I see that it do uses the mechanism above, it manages to sum 150M terms in one second, that's quite a feat for a VM with no JIT. The same with the rtl VM is 65M.

Now, sbcl's compiler is quite matured and uses native registers quite well which explains one of the reasons why the speed. My point is though that we can model efficiently a VM by call's and using the native instructions and a instructions flow.

Regards Stefan

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