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17.13 Defining Looping Instruction Patterns

Some machines have special jump instructions that can be utilized to make loops more efficient. A common example is the 68000 ‘dbra’ instruction which performs a decrement of a register and a branch if the result was greater than zero. Other machines, in particular digital signal processors (DSPs), have special block repeat instructions to provide low-overhead loop support. For example, the TI TMS320C3x/C4x DSPs have a block repeat instruction that loads special registers to mark the top and end of a loop and to count the number of loop iterations. This avoids the need for fetching and executing a ‘dbra’-like instruction and avoids pipeline stalls associated with the jump.

GCC has two special named patterns to support low overhead looping. They are ‘doloop_begin’ and ‘doloop_end’. These are emitted by the loop optimizer for certain well-behaved loops with a finite number of loop iterations using information collected during strength reduction.

The ‘doloop_end’ pattern describes the actual looping instruction (or the implicit looping operation) and the ‘doloop_begin’ pattern is an optional companion pattern that can be used for initialization needed for some low-overhead looping instructions.

Note that some machines require the actual looping instruction to be emitted at the top of the loop (e.g., the TMS320C3x/C4x DSPs). Emitting the true RTL for a looping instruction at the top of the loop can cause problems with flow analysis. So instead, a dummy doloop insn is emitted at the end of the loop. The machine dependent reorg pass checks for the presence of this doloop insn and then searches back to the top of the loop, where it inserts the true looping insn (provided there are no instructions in the loop which would cause problems). Any additional labels can be emitted at this point. In addition, if the desired special iteration counter register was not allocated, this machine dependent reorg pass could emit a traditional compare and jump instruction pair.

For the ‘doloop_end’ pattern, the loop optimizer allocates an additional pseudo register as an iteration counter. This pseudo register cannot be used within the loop (i.e., general induction variables cannot be derived from it), however, in many cases the loop induction variable may become redundant and removed by the flow pass.

The ‘doloop_end’ pattern must have a specific structure to be handled correctly by GCC. The example below is taken (slightly simplified) from the PDP-11 target:

(define_insn "doloop_end"
  [(set (pc)
        (if_then_else
         (ne (match_operand:HI 0 "nonimmediate_operand" "+r,!m")
             (const_int 1))
         (label_ref (match_operand 1 "" ""))
         (pc)))
   (set (match_dup 0)
        (plus:HI (match_dup 0)
              (const_int -1)))]
  ""
  
  {
    if (which_alternative == 0)
      return "sob %0,%l1";

    /* emulate sob */
    output_asm_insn ("dec %0", operands);
    return "bne %l1";
  })

The first part of the pattern describes the branch condition. GCC supports three cases for the way the target machine handles the loop counter:

Since the doloop_end insn is a jump insn that also has an output, the reload pass does not handle the output operand. Therefore, the constraint must allow for that operand to be in memory rather than a register. In the example shown above, that is handled by using a loop instruction sequence that can handle memory operands when the memory alternative appears.


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