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The purpose of GENERIC is simply to provide a language-independent way of representing an entire function in trees. To this end, it was necessary to add a few new tree codes to the back end, but most everything was already there. If you can express it with the codes in gcc/tree.def, it's GENERIC.

Early on, there was a great deal of debate about how to think about statements in a tree IL. In GENERIC, a statement is defined as any expression whose value, if any, is ignored. A statement will always have TREE_SIDE_EFFECTS set (or it will be discarded), but a non-statement expression may also have side effects. A CALL_EXPR, for instance.

It would be possible for some local optimizations to work on the GENERIC form of a function; indeed, the adapted tree inliner works fine on GENERIC, but the current compiler performs inlining after lowering to GIMPLE (a restricted form described in the next section). Indeed, currently the frontends perform this lowering before handing off to tree_rest_of_compilation, but this seems inelegant.

If necessary, a front end can use some language-dependent tree codes in its GENERIC representation, so long as it provides a hook for converting them to GIMPLE and doesn't expect them to work with any (hypothetical) optimizers that run before the conversion to GIMPLE. The intermediate representation used while parsing C and C++ looks very little like GENERIC, but the C and C++ gimplifier hooks are perfectly happy to take it as input and spit out GIMPLE.