Design and Evolution of C-Reduce (Part 1)

[This piece is posted in parallel on the IEEE Software blog. Karim Ali helped copyedit it.] Since 2008, my colleagues and I have developed and maintained C-Reduce, a tool for programmatically reducing the size of C and C++ files that trigger compiler bugs. C-Reduce also usually does a credible job reducing test cases in languages […]

It’s Time for a Modern Synthesis Kernel

Alexia Massalin’s 1992 PhD thesis has long been one of my favorites. It promotes the view that operating systems can be much more efficient than then-current operating systems via runtime code generation, lock-free synchronization, and fine-grained scheduling. In this piece we’ll only look at runtime code generation, which can be cleanly separated from the other […]

Learning When Values are Changed by Implicit Integer Casts

C and C++ perform implicit casts when, for example, you pass an integer-typed variable to a function that expects a different type. When the target type is wider, there’s no problem, but when the target type is narrower or when it is the same size and the other signedness, integer values may silently change when […]

What’s the difference between an integer and a pointer?

(This piece is an alternate introduction and advertisement for a soon-to-be-published research paper.) In an assembly language we typically don’t have to worry very much about the distinction between pointers and integers. Some instructions happen to generate addresses whereas others behave arithmetically, but underneath there’s a single data type: bitvectors. At the opposite end of […]

Future Directions for Optimizing Compilers

I wanted to write a manifesto-ish sort of piece about what compilers are supposed to look like in the future. Nuno was the obvious coauthor since I’ve talked to him about this topic so much that I’m overall not really sure which parts started out as his ideas and which were mine. The article didn’t […]

How LLVM Optimizes a Function

An optimizing, ahead-of-time compiler is usually structured as: A frontend that converts source code into an intermediate representation (IR). A target-independent optimization pipeline: a sequence of passes that successively rewrite the IR to eliminate inefficiencies and forms that cannot be readily translated into machine code. Sometimes called the “middle end.” A target-dependent backend that generates […]

Some Goals for High-impact Verified Compiler Research

I believe that translation validation, a branch of formal methods, is just about ready for widespread use. Translation validation means proving that a particular execution of a compiler did the right thing, as opposed to proving once and for all that every execution of a compiler will do the right thing. These are very different. […]