Constant Interpreter

Introduction

The constexpr interpreter aims to replace the existing tree evaluator in clang, improving performance on constructs which are executed inefficiently by the evaluator. The interpreter is activated using the following flags:

  • -fexperimental-new-constant-interpreter enables the interpreter, falling back to the evaluator for unsupported features
  • -fforce-experimental-new-constant-interpreter forces the use of the interpreter, bailing out if an unsupported feature is encountered

Bytecode Compilation

Bytecode compilation is handled in ByteCodeStmtGen.h for statements and ByteCodeExprGen.h for expressions. The compiler has two different backends: one to generate bytecode for functions (ByteCodeEmitter) and one to directly evaluate expressions as they are compiled, without generating bytecode (EvalEmitter). All functions are compiled to bytecode, while toplevel expressions used in constant contexts are directly evaluated since the bytecode would never be reused. This mechanism aims to pave the way towards replacing the evaluator, improving its performance on functions and loops, while being just as fast on single-use toplevel expressions.

The interpreter relies on stack-based, strongly-typed opcodes. The glue logic between the code generator, along with the enumeration and description of opcodes, can be found in Opcodes.td. The opcodes are implemented as generic template methods in Interp.h and instantiated with the relevant primitive types by the interpreter loop or by the evaluating emitter.

Primitive Types

  • PT_{U|S}int{8|16|32|64}

    Signed or unsigned integers of a specific bit width, implemented using the `Integral` type.

  • PT_{U|S}intFP

    Signed or unsigned integers of an arbitrary, but fixed width used to implement integral types which are required by the target, but are not supported by the host. Under the hood, they rely on APValue. The Integral specialisation for these types is required by opcodes to share an implementation with fixed integrals.

  • PT_Bool

    Representation for boolean types, essentially a 1-bit unsigned Integral.

  • PT_RealFP

    Arbitrary, but fixed precision floating point numbers. Could be specialised in the future similarly to integers in order to improve floating point performance.

  • PT_Ptr

    Pointer type, defined in "Pointer.h".

  • PT_FnPtr

    Function pointer type, can also be a null function pointer. Defined in "Pointer.h".

  • PT_MemPtr

    Member pointer type, can also be a null member pointer. Defined in "Pointer.h"

Composite types

The interpreter distinguishes two kinds of composite types: arrays and records. Unions are represented as records, except a single field can be marked as active. The contents of inactive fields are kept until they are reactivated and overwritten.

Bytecode Execution

Bytecode is executed using a stack-based interpreter. The execution context consists of an InterpStack, along with a chain of InterpFrame objects storing the call frames. Frames are built by call instructions and destroyed by return instructions. They perform one allocation to reserve space for all locals in a single block. These objects store all the required information to emit stack traces whenever evaluation fails.

Memory Organisation

Memory management in the interpreter relies on 3 data structures: Block object which store the data and associated inline metadata, Pointer objects which refer to or into blocks, and Descriptor structures which describe blocks and subobjects nested inside blocks.

Blocks

Blocks contain data interleaved with metadata. They are allocated either statically in the code generator (globals, static members, dummy parameter values etc.) or dynamically in the interpreter, when creating the frame containing the local variables of a function. Blocks are associated with a descriptor that characterises the entire allocation, along with a few additional attributes:

  • IsStatic indicates whether the block has static duration in the interpreter, i.e. it is not a local in a frame.
  • IsExtern indicates that the block was created for an extern and the storage cannot be read or written.
  • DeclID identifies each global declaration (it is set to an invalid and irrelevant value for locals) in order to prevent illegal writes and reads involving globals and temporaries with static storage duration.

Static blocks are never deallocated, but local ones might be deallocated even when there are live pointers to them. Pointers are only valid as long as the blocks they point to are valid, so a block with pointers to it whose lifetime ends is kept alive until all pointers to it go out of scope. Since the frame is destroyed on function exit, such blocks are turned into a DeadBlock and copied to storage managed by the interpreter itself, not the frame. Reads and writes to these blocks are illegal and cause an appropriate diagnostic to be emitted. When the last pointer goes out of scope, dead blocks are also deallocated.

The lifetime of blocks is managed through 3 methods stored in the descriptor of the block:

  • CtorFn: initializes the metadata which is store in the block, alongside actual data. Invokes the default constructors of objects which are not trivial (Pointer, RealFP, etc.)
  • DtorFn: invokes the destructors of non-trivial objects.
  • MoveFn: moves a block to dead storage.

Non-static blocks track all the pointers into them through an intrusive doubly-linked list, this is required in order to adjust all pointers when transforming a block into a dead block.

Descriptors

Descriptor are generated at bytecode compilation time and contain information required to determine if a particular memory access is allowed in constexpr. Even though there is a single descriptor object, it encodes information for several kinds of objects:

  • Primitives

    A block containing a primitive reserved storage only for the primitive.

  • Arrays of primitives

    An array of primitives contains a pointer to an InitMap storage as its first field: the initialisation map is a bit map indicating all elements of the array which were initialised. If the pointer is null, no elements were initialised, while a value of (InitMap)-1 indicates that the object was fully initialised. when all fields are initialised, the map is deallocated and replaced with that token.

    Array elements are stored sequentially, without padding, after the pointer to the map.

  • Arrays of composites and records

    Each element in an array of composites is preceded by an InlineDescriptor. Descriptors and elements are stored sequentially in the block. Records are laid out identically to arrays of composites: each field and base class is preceded by an inline descriptor. The InlineDescriptor has the following field:

  • Offset: byte offset into the array or record, used to step back to the parent array or record.
  • IsConst: flag indicating if the field is const-qualified.
  • IsInitialized: flag indicating whether the field or element was initialized. For non-primitive fields, this is only relevant for base classes.
  • IsBase: flag indicating whether the record is a base class. In that case, the offset can be used to identify the derived class.
  • IsActive: indicates if the field is the active field of a union.
  • IsMutable: indicates if the field is marked as mutable.

Inline descriptors are filled in by the CtorFn of blocks, which leaves storage in an uninitialised, but valid state.

Pointers

Pointers track a Pointee, the block to which they point or nullptr for null pointers, along with a Base and an Offset. The base identifies the innermost field, while the offset points to an array element relative to the base (including one-past-end pointers). Most subobject the pointer points to in block, while the offset identifies the array element the pointer points to. These two fields allow all pointers to be uniquely identified and disambiguated.

As an example, consider the following structure:

struct A {
    struct B {
        int x;
        int y;
    } b;
    struct C {
        int a;
        int b;
    } c[2];
    int z;
};
constexpr A a;

On the target, &a and &a.b.x are equal. So are &a.c[0] and &a.c[0].a. In the interpreter, all these pointers must be distinguished since the are all allowed to address distinct range of memory.

In the interpreter, the object would require 240 bytes of storage and would have its field interleaved with metadata. The pointers which can be derived to the object are illustrated in the following diagram:

    0   16  32  40  56  64  80  96  112 120 136 144 160 176 184 200 208 224 240
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
+ B | D | D | x | D | y | D | D | D | a | D | b | D | D | a | D | b | D | z |
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
    ^   ^   ^       ^       ^   ^   ^       ^       ^   ^       ^       ^
    |   |   |       |       |   |   |   &a.c[0].b   |   |   &a.c[1].b   |
    a   |&a.b.x   &a.y    &a.c  |&a.c[0].a          |&a.c[1].a          |
      &a.b                   &a.c[0]            &a.c[1]               &a.z

The Base offset of all pointers points to the start of a field or an array and is preceded by an inline descriptor (unless Base == 0, pointing to the root). All the relevant attributes can be read from either the inline descriptor or the descriptor of the block.

Array elements are identified by the Offset field of pointers, pointing to past the inline descriptors for composites and before the actual data in the case of primitive arrays. The Offset points to the offset where primitives can be read from. As an example, a.c + 1 would have the same base as a.c since it is an element of a.c, but its offset would point to &a.c[1]. The * operation narrows the scope of the pointer, adjusting the base to &a.c[1]. The reverse operator, &, expands the scope of &a.c[1], turning it into a.c + 1. When a one-past-end pointer is narrowed, its offset is set to -1 to indicate that it is an invalid value (expanding returns the past-the-end pointer). As a special case, narrowing &a.c results in &a.c[0]. The narrow and expand methods can be used to follow the chain of equivalent pointers.

TODO

Missing Language Features

  • Definition of externs must override previous declaration
  • Changing the active field of unions
  • Union copy constructors
  • typeid
  • volatile
  • __builtin_constant_p
  • std::initializer_list
  • lambdas
  • range-based for loops
  • vector_size
  • dynamic_cast

Known Bugs

  • Pointer comparison for equality needs to narrow/expand pointers
  • If execution fails, memory storing APInts and APFloats is leaked when the stack is cleared