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Introducing a nanoMIPS port for GCC

Yesterday, MIPS Tech announced the latest generation of the MIPS family of
architectures called nanoMIPS [1].  As part of the development we have been
designing all the open source tools necessary to support the architecture and,
thanks to the speed with which we were able to prototype, we have also been
using these tools to shape the architecture along the way.  This has led to
some really interesting improvements in the tools, which MIPS would like to
contribute back to the community.  While doing this work many of us have been
unable to contribute to the community as actively as we would have liked, we
are therefore very grateful for the community support given to the MIPS
architecture over the last 18 months.  This announcement has a general
introduction at the start, so if you have already read it for one of the other
tools, you can skip down to the information specific to GCC.

For anyone who knows the MIPS architecture you may well wonder why we are
introducing another major variant and the question is perfectly valid.  We do
admittedly have quite a few: MIPS I through MIPS IV, MIPS32 and MIPS64 through
to MIPS32R6 and MIPS64R6, MIPS16e, MIPS16e2, microMIPSR3 and microMIPSR6.
Each of these serves (or served) a purpose and there is a high level of
synergy between all of them.  In general, they build upon the previous and
there is a high level of compatibility, even when switching to a new encoding
like moving from MIPS to microMIPS.  The switch to MIPS32R6/MIPS64R6 was a
major shift in the way the architecture innovated and drew more on the
original theory of the architecture, where evolution was not expected to be
limited by binary compatibility.  MIPS Release 6 removed instructions and did
create some very minor incompatibility but is also much cleaner to implement
from a micro-architecture perspective.  We have taken this idea much further
with nanoMIPS and reimagined the instruction set, by drawing on all the
experience gained from previous designs.  Hopefully others will find it as
interesting as we do.

The major driving force behind the nanoMIPS architecture was to achieve
outstanding code density, while also balancing out hardware and software
design cost.  As background MIPS has two compressed ISA variants: MIPS16e,
which cannot exist without also implementing MIPS32, and microMIPS, which can
exist on its own.  Since MIPS16e has specific limits that cannot be engineered
around, we chose to use an approach similar to the microMIPS design.

nanoMIPS has a variable-length compressed instruction set that is completely
standalone from the other MIPS ISAs.  It is designed to compress the highest
frequency instructions to 16-bits, and use 48-bit instructions to efficiently
encode 32-bit constants into the instruction stream.  There is also a wider
range of 32-bit instructions, which merge carefully chosen high frequency
instruction sequences into single operations creating more flexible addressing
modes such as indexed and scaled indexed addressing, branch compare with
immediate and macro style instructions.  The macro like instructions compress
prologue and epilogue sequences, as well as a small number of high frequency
instruction pairs like two move instructions or a move and function call.
nanoMIPS also totally eliminates branch delay slots which follows a precedent
set by microMIPSR6.

To get the best from a new ISA we also re-engineered the ABI and created a new
symbiotic relationship between the ISA and ABI that pushes code density and
performance further still.  The ABI creates a fully link time relaxable model,
which enables us to squeeze every last byte out of the code image even when
deferring final addressing mode and layout decisions to link time.  We have
been mindful of MIPS heritage and ensured that while open to any possible
change, we also have minimal impact when porting code from MIPS to nanoMIPS,
and have plenty of support to achieve source compatibility between the two.

The net effect of these changes leads to an average code size reduction of 20%
relative to microMIPSR6.  This compression could well be one of the best
achieved by GNU tools for any RISC ISA.  Comparing the ISA in terms of number
of instructions to issue vs microMIPS we also see a reduction of between 8%
and 11% of dynamic instruction count.

Below we dig into some technical specifics for each of the GNU tools; we
welcome any feedback and questions as we start to look at rebasing this work
to the trunk/master and formally submitting it.  nanoMIPS pre-built toolchains
and source code tarballs are available at:

GCC specific details

The back-end

Instead of creating a new back-end for nanoMIPS, we decided to reuse the
existing MIPS back-end.  Starting from scratch would have required copying the
majority of code but most of the logic would have remained the same.  Reusing
allowed us to speed up porting.  Maintenance might be more difficult but a fix
for nanoMIPS could automatically be a fix MIPS and vice versa.

Most of the back-end is contained within a small number of files.  The shared
part is mostly in mips.{h,c,md,opt} files.  The MIPS toolchains use as the entry file (instead of i.e. it includes
shareable, processor configuration and includes all other .md files as
necessary. is used as the entry file for nanoMIPS toolchains and
similarly includes its own processors list, and other machine
descriptions files as needed.  Doing it in this way makes it easier to enable
features which can be shared between the two.  Some chunks of the back-end
code had to be enabled conditionally, as the compiler would otherwise fail to
build (missing patterns etc).  Lastly, we needed to clean up nanoMIPS' target
options by disabling them in mips.opt, and also create a number nanoMIPS
specific files to keep the separation as clear as possible.

The p32 ABI [2]

1. Calling convention

To avoid major porting issues, the register conventions have been left mostly
intact, and resemble the MIPS n32/n64 ABIs.  The main difference is the
removal of dedicated return registers ($2/v0, $3/v1) and using the argument
registers to return values from functions.  The old return registers have been
re-purposed and have now become temporaries.  This allowed us to achieve
better code density because of more efficient data passing between functions
e.g. foo(bar()).  This is particularly visible in soft-float mode, where more
complex expressions require multiple library calls.

The nanoMIPS ABI requires the usage of either named registers, such as
$a0..$a7 for arguments, $s0..$s7 for saved temporaries, etc. or of the
$r0..$r31 format.  Using $0..$31 is no longer supported by default, but can be
re-enabled by using -mlegacyregs.

2. Stack frame organization

The major change in comparison to the previous MIPS ABIs is changing the
location of the frame pointer.  The frame pointers now form a chain that will
allow an efficient stack unwinding.  Previously, in order to find the location
of the frame-pointer, the instructions had to be scanned at the current
program counter, going backwards.  With this change, finding the location is
trivial, however, it's important to point out that the frame pointer is biased
by 4096 bytes i.e. logical_frame_pointer = $fp + 4096.  The rationale was to
enable full use of the unsigned 12-bit offsets in memory instructions when
using the frame pointer as the base.  Another notable difference is in the
order of general-purpose registers on the stack, which now reflects the
operation of the SAVE/RESTORE instructions from the nanoMIPS ISA.

3. Code and data models

The automatic model (-mcmodel=auto) produces the most compact code possible by
relying on the linker to do further size optimizations on the
compiler-generated code.  The linker will also expand the code when symbols
end up being out of range.  This model has been designed to keep the size
difference between the intermediate objects and the fully linked object as
small as possible, although having the linker perform too many expansions will
widen that gap.  It can be used only with a linker which is capable of
performing relaxations and expansions.

The medium model (-mcmodel=medium) is somewhat similar to the automatic model
in terms of the range and size of the generated code, but it does not rely on
linker relaxations and expansions.  This lack of linker transformations makes
the size of the fully linked object more predictable, even though it squanders
some opportunities for further size optimization and it introduces inherent
limitations in the fully linked code.

The large model (-mcmodel=large) produces code which has an unlimited range by
only using instructions which cover the entire address space.  Because these
instructions tend to be bigger, this model sacrifices code size in order to
guarantee that code sequences will work regardless of where the symbol is
placed in memory.  The large model also does not rely on linker relaxations
and expansions.

In addition to the models, there are 4 addressing modes:
- absolute: addresses are fixed at link-time.  This mode is rarely necessary
  but has some potential for energy efficiency.
- PC-relative: addresses appear as offsets from the PC and are used in
  PC-relative instructions.  This mode produces position-independent code.
- GP-relative: addresses appear as offsets from the GP and are used in
  GP-relative instructions.  Symbols are placed in the small data section,
  also known as .sdata.  This mode produces position-independent data for
  some or all symbols of an application.
- GOT-dependent: addresses are kept in the GOT and are loaded by using offsets
  between the GP and a given symbol's entry in the GOT.  This mode produces
  dynamically linkable code.

4. Thread Local Storage

The nanoMIPS TLS ABI has support for both the traditional TLS models and TLS
descriptors.  All of the TLS models have been adapted to the nanoMIPS ISA
following an approach similar to the one taken for the code and data models.

The runtime TLS layout has also been redesigned to take advantage of the
unsigned offset LW[U12] nanoMIPS instruction, thus extending the possible
range of symbols inside the TLS block.

Target-independent optimizations

In addition to these ABI improvements, we have also developed various
target-independent and nanoMIPS-specific compiler optimizations, in order to
further improve code size and performance.

1. LRA: use equivalences to help with frame pointer elimination
   (currently enabled by -mlra-equiv)

The patch has already been posted [3] and went through some additional changes
since posting.  A case was found where LRA produced suboptimal code for a
large frame and frame growing downward.  The code size was affected
particularly in cases where the offset was large and could not be used in an
add operation directly introducing more instructions for a single frame
access.  Using the equivalences, the frame pointer gets eliminated more often,
resulting in smaller code.  The reasons are twofold: register pressure drops
resulting in fewer spills and the offset might be smaller fitting into a
single add instruction for every frame access.

2. IRA register recoloring (-fadjust-costs)

The goal of register cost adjustment optimization is to make better usage of
instructions that improve code density.  This group of instructions includes
16-bit instructions and 32-bit nanoMIPS instructions which replace two other
instructions (e.g. movep, move.balc, etc).  Most of these instructions can use
only a subset of all available registers and the purpose of this optimization
is to increase the chances that pseudo registers used inside these
instructions are assigned to the required hard registers.  This is achieved by
introducing a new target hook through which the cost of corresponding hard
registers is modified just before allocation of a pseudo register.  Cost
modification is based on the properties of all instructions in which a pseudo
register is used.  If assigning a pseudo to some hard registers would lead to
more dense code e.g. by being able to generate 16-bit instructions, then the
cost of these hard registers is decreased.  Otherwise, the cost of the hard
registers is increased, thus improving the chances that these hard registers
will be available for pseudos that are allocated later in the process.

3. Jump-table optimization (-fjump-table-clusters)

The optimization enables the splitting of a single switch statement into a
combination of multiple jump tables and decision trees.  GCC currently emits
either a single jump table or decision tree.  The optimization can be enabled
by the command line option -fjump-table-clusters and is target-independent.
A MIPS specific option has been added (-mjump-table-density=DENSITY) to change
the default density.  DENSITY is the minimum percentage of non-default case
indices in a jump table.  If not specified, GCC will use the default density
of 40%, if optimizing for size, and 10%, if optimizing for speed.  The target
option will be later replaced by an appropriate --param jump-table-density
option or something similar.

4. Edge sorting for -Os during basic block reordering

When reordering blocks using the `simple' algorithm edges are sorted for speed
optimized functions and not sorted for size optimized functions.  However,
sorting the edges for size optimized functions can significantly improve
performance with some code size cost.  Inner loops show the greatest benefit
with `level' set to `one'.  Further improvement is possible by sorting one
level of nested loops (`level' set to `two') with additional cost in size.
Finally, all edges can be sorted (`level' set to `all').  This option
overrides the normal sorting choice for both size and speed optimized

Target-specific optimizations

1. Optimized inline memcpy (-mmemcpy-interleave=NUM/-mmulti-memcpy)

These options have been introduced to control the inlined memcpy.
-mmulti-memcpy attempts to exploit Load/Store Word Multiple instructions and
-mmemcpy-interleave=NUM controls how loads and stores are interleaved i.e. how
many NUM words are loaded first before storing them.


A machine-dependent hook will attempt to find opportunities in the
instruction stream to combine instructions into MOVEP, MOVE.BALC or
RESTORE.JRC to improve code density.  MOVE.BALC can be controlled with
-m[no-]opt-movebalc switch.

3. Offset shrinking pass (-m[no-]shrink-offsets)

This pass processes the instruction stream, extracts offsets from memory
accesses, and then tries to figure out the best offset adjustment to get the
maximum potential code size savings.  We take into account the cost of
introducing a new add instruction that could undo the code size savings.  As
the pass is run before the register allocation, we can only speculate and be
optimistic about the potential code size improvement.  These guesses appear to
be relatively good on average but might need to be considered on a case by
case basis.

4. Jump-table optimization (-mjump-table-opt)

This switch enables jump-tables which contain relative addresses.

5. BALC stubs (-m[no-]balc-stubs)

This code size optimization is not performed by the compiler, but by the
the assembler.  It controls out-of-range call optimization through trampoline
stubs.  It is enabled by default when optimizing for size.

Note that support for 64-bit and floating-point is not finalized and still

GCC contributors

- nanoMIPS port, ABI, code and data models, TLS, bugfixes:
  Robert Suchanek
  Toma Tabacu
  Matthew Fortune
- IRA register recosting, edge sorting:
  Zoran Jovanovic
- Jump-table optimization, scheduler, MOVE.BALC/MOVEP optimization:
  Prachi Godbole
- RESTORE.JRC optimization:
  Robert Suchanek
- Lightweight sync codes:
  Faraz Shahbazker
- Offset shrinking pass:
  Robert Suchanek
  Steve Ellcey
- Exception handling:
  Jack Romo
- Dejagnu tests, bugfixes:
  Stefan Markovic
  Sara Popadic



[2] Codescape GNU tools for nanoMIPS: ELF ABI Supplement,


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