inline assembly, gcc attributes, linker scripts … and a kernel macro!

February 25, 2011

Here are some things I learned while reading the Linux kernel source code(some of which took me a couple of hours of googling and searching through documentation, git commit posts, threads on lkml etc etc :P).

1)You cannot write extended toplevel inline assembly, ie when you want to use extended inline assembly to pass the value of some C variables or constants, you can only do it inside a function. And as I found out, someone had filed a bug at the GCC bugzilla. So something like this

static const char foo[] = "Hello, world!";
enum { bar = 17 };
asm(".pushsection baz; .long %c0, %c1, %c2; .popsection"
    : : "i" (foo), "i" (sizeof(foo)), "i" (bar));

won't work.

2)I didn't search very much the documentation about inline asm, but I couldn't find what's the difference between %c0 and %0. It's used at the example code above, and in a kernel macro I saw. I understood that it had to do with some 'constant casting', but I couldn't find anywhere the exact difference. So I wrote a simple piece of code to clarify that:

main() {
	asm("movl %0, %%eax; movl %c0, %%eax"
		:: "i" (0xff) );
}

and after

gcc -S foo.c

I get:

movl $255, %eax
movl 255, %eax

So %0 is used when we want an integer constant to be used as an immediate value in instructions like mov, add etc, which means that it should be prefixed with $, while %c0 is used when we want the number itself for instructions like .long, .size etc which demand an absolute expression/value as 'arguments'.

3) When using the section attribute on a variable, in order to change the section it belongs, you cannot change the section's type to nobits, it'll be progbits by default. progbits means that the section will actually get space allocated inside the executable(like text and data sections), in contrast to nobits sections like bss for example.
i.e. you can't do this

static char foo __attribute__(section("bar", nobits));

4)I also found out about the pushsection and popsections asm directives, which manipulate the ELF section stack, and seem to be very useful in certain occasions. pushsection obviously pushes the current section to the section stack, and replace it with the argument passed to the directive, while popsection replaces the current section with the section on top of the section stack.

5)Finally the 'used' attribute, which indicates that the symbol(function in our case) is actually used/called/referenced even if the compiler can't 'see' it(otherwise I think that the compiler optimizations would omit code generation for that function).

And now a kernel macro which includes all of the above:

/*
 * Reserve space in the brk section.  The name must be unique within
 * the file, and somewhat descriptive.  The size is in bytes.  Must be
 * used at file scope.
 *
 * (This uses a temp function to wrap the asm so we can pass it the
 * size parameter; otherwise we wouldn't be able to.  We can't use a
 * "section" attribute on a normal variable because it always ends up
 * being @progbits, which ends up allocating space in the vmlinux
 * executable.)
 */
#define RESERVE_BRK(name,sz)						\
	static void __section(.discard.text) __used			\
	__brk_reservation_fn_##name##__(void) {				\
		asm volatile (						\
			".pushsection .brk_reservation,\"aw\",@nobits;" \
			".brk." #name ":"				\
			" 1:.skip %c0;"					\
			" .size .brk." #name ", . - 1b;"		\
			" .popsection"					\
			: : "i" (sz));					\
	}

And a bit more detailed explanation from the git commit

The C definition of RESERVE_BRK() ends up being more complex than
one would expect to work around a cluster of gcc infelicities:

The first attempt was to simply try putting __section(.brk_reservation)
on a variable. This doesn't work because it ends up making it a
@progbits section, which gets actual space allocated in the vmlinux
executable.

The second attempt was to emit the space into a section using asm,
but gcc doesn't allow arguments to be passed to file-level asm()
statements, making it hard to pass in the size.

The final attempt is to wrap the asm() in a function to allow
it to have arguments, and put the function itself into the
.discard section, which vmlinux*.lds drops entirely from the
emitted vmlinux.

Another thing to notice is that the wrapper function is put in the .discard.text section, which according to the vmlinux.lds(the linker script used to generate/link the vmlinux executable) will be discarded and thus not included in the executable.
From scripts/module-common.lds:

/*
 * Common module linker script, always used when linking a module.
 * Archs are free to supply their own linker scripts.  ld will
 * combine them automatically.
 */
SECTIONS {
	/DISCARD/ : { *(.discard) }
}

The purpose of the RESERVE_BRK macro, and the brk-like allocator for very early memory allocations needed during the kernel boot process is an interesting story too(which means another post coming soon)! ;)

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3 Responses to “inline assembly, gcc attributes, linker scripts … and a kernel macro!”

  1. Steven Rostedt Says:

    Thanks, I am a Linux kernel hacker and still get lost with inline assembly. I came across “%c0″ and could not remember what it was used for. I figured it had to do something with constants, but wanted to make sure and not just assume. Doing a quick search brought me to this blog. Thanks for the verification!

    • psomas Says:

      :)
      I’m glad that it helped.
      Actually the reason I started writing this blog post was because I couldn’t find with a quick search what “%c0″ was used for.

      And a funny coincidence. I recently started trying to port part of lguest to x86_64, and I came across your post at lkml about lguest64. :)

  2. fifo Says:

    Many thanks! I needed to be able to define mutli-gigabytes objects as “nobits”. It’s not that you saved me time, I am sure I wouldn’t have found a solution.


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