Cmm pipeline woes

For the last 4 months I have been working on improving compilation of intermediate Cmm language used by GHC. Recently I am noticing some recurring problems in design of the Cmm pipeline.


I already mentioned in my earlier post that Cmm is a low-level language, something between C and assembly. Cmm is produced from another intermediate language, STG. A single Cmm procedure is represented as a directed graph. Each node in a graph is a Cmm Block of low level instructions. Exactly one Cmm Block in a graph is an entry point – a block from which the execution starts when procedure represented by a graph is called. Most Cmm Blocks in a graph have at least one successor, that is node(s) to which control flows from a given Cmm Block. A Cmm Block may not have a successor if it is a call to another procedure, i.e. it passes flow of control to another Cmm graph. Each Cmm Block consists of a linear list of Cmm Nodes. A Cmm Node represents a single Cmm instruction like store to a register, conditional jump or call to a function.


Cmm representation produced by the STG -> Cmm pass is incomplete. For example operations on the stack are represented in an abstract way. It is also far from being optimal as it may contain lots of empty blocks or control flow paths that will never be taken. That’s why we have Cmm pipeline. It takes Cmm representation produced by the code generator1 and applies a series of transformations to it. Some of them are mandatory (like stack layout), while others perform optimisations and are completely optional. Here’s a rough overview of the pipeline:

  1. Control Flow Optimisations. Optimises structure of a graph by concatenating blocks and omitting empty blocks.
  2. Common Block Elimination (optional). Eliminates duplicate blocks.
  3. Minimal Proc-point set. Determines a minimal set of proc-points2.
  4. Stack Layout. Turns abstract stack representation into explicit stack pointer references. Requires proc-point information computed in step 3. Creates stack maps.
  5. Sinking pass (optional). Moves variable declarations closer to their usage sites. Inlines some literals and registers in a way similar to constant propagation.
  6. CAF analysis. Does analysis of constant-applicative forms (top-level declarations that don’t have any parameters). CAF information is returned by the Cmm pipeline together with optimized Cmm graph.
  7. Proc-point analysis and proc-point splitting (optional). Here the pipeline splits into two alternative flows. They are identical except for the fact that one branch begins by performing proc-point splitting. This means that blocks that were determined to be proc-points are now turned into separate procedures. Requires proc-point information computed in step 3.
  8. Info Tables. Populates info tables of each Cmm function with stack usage information. Uses stack maps created by the stack layout (step 4).
  9. Control Flow Optimisations (optional). Repeat control flow optimisations (step 1), but this time this is optional.
  10. Unreachable Blocks Removal. Eliminates blocks that don’t have a predecessor in the Cmm graph.

As an example consider this Cmm produced by the code generator:

    goto c4wi;
    goto c4wl;
    goto c4wm;
    if ((old + 0) - <highSp> < SpLim) goto c4x9; else goto c4xa;
    R2 = _s2Rv::P64;
    R1 = _s2Ru::P64;
    call (stg_gc_fun)(R2, R1) args: 8, res: 0, upd: 8;

After going through the Cmm pipeline the empty blocks are eliminated and abstract stack representation ((old + 0) and <highSp>) is turned into explicit stack usage:

    if (Sp - 88 < SpLim) goto c4x9; else goto c4xa;
    R2 = _s2Rv::P64;
    R1 = _s2Ru::P64;
    call (stg_gc_fun)(R2, R1) args: 8, res: 0, upd: 8;


 During my work on the Cmm pipeline I encountered following bugs and design issues:

  • In some cases the Stack Layout phase (step 4) can invalidate the minimal set of proc-points by removing a block that was earlier determined to be a proc-point. However, minimal proc-point information is later used by proc-point analysis. GHC would panic if a proc-point block was removed. This was bug #8205. I solved it by adding additional check in the proc-point analysis that ensures that all proc-points actually exist in a graph. This was a simple, one line solution, but it doesn’t feel right. It accepts the fact that our data is in an inconsistent state and places the responsibility of dealing with that on algorithms relying on that state. In other words, any algorithm that relies on minimal proc-point set after the stack layout must check whether given proc-points exist in a graph.
  • I observed that in some circumstances control flow optimisation pass may lead to unexpected duplication of blocks (see #8456). After some investigation it turned out that this pass began by computing set of predecessors for each block and then modified the graph based on this information. The problem was that the list of predecessors was not being updated as the graph was modified. This problem is the same as the previous one: we compute a fact about our data structure and┬ábased on that fact we start modifying the data but we don’t update the fact as we go.
  • Control flow optimisations pass may produce unreachable blocks. They remain in the data structure representing the graph, but they are not reachable from any block in the graph. The common block elimination pass will remove the unreachable blocks but before it does the data is in an inconsistent state.
  • Same thing happens later: stack layout pass may create unreachable blocks and relies on later passes to remove them.

I listed only the problems I am aware of but I believe there are more and they will manifest themselves one day. I spent last couple of days thinking how to solve these issues. Of course fixing each of them separately is a relatively simple task, but I’m trying to come up with some general design that would prevent us from introducing inconsistencies in our data structures.

  1. That’s how we often refer to STG -> Cmm pass []
  2. I want to avoid going into details of what are proc-points and why do we need them. For the purpose of this post it is sufficient that you consider proc-point as a property that might be assigned to a block based on its predecessors []

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