Go compiler: SSA optimization rules description language

Original (ru): https://habr.com/post/415771/.

Go compiler uses its own Lisp-like domain-specific language (DSL) for Static Single Assignment (SSA) optimization rules description.

Lets dig into that language, its peculiarities and limitations. As an excercise, we’ll add a new optimization rule into Go compiler that would optimize expressions like a*b+c using new operations we’re going to implement along the way.

This is the first article in the series about Go compiler SSA backend, this is why I’ve included some fundamental and architectural info besides DSL overview.


Go compiler frontend boundary ends when SSA form is generated. Functions that perform that translation can be found at cmd/compile/internal/gc/ssa.go. ssa.Compile function is an entry point for compiler SSA backend, it’s defined in cmd/compile/internal/ssa/compile.go.

Term Description
Compiler frontend Lexing, parsing, typechecking. Intermediate representation is close to the source code structure. wiki
Compiler backend Lower level optimizations and intermediate representations, code generation. wiki
Form Used here as “expression” synonym. Originates from Lisps, where form is quite usual term when referring to atom/list.
Optimization pass Execution of particular algorithm over the SSA program. Optimization usually consists of several such passes.

SSA optimizer consists of several optimization passes. Every such pass traverses a body of a function that is being compiled, doing actions like removing dead nodes (values) and replacements of one forms in favor of others that are potentially more efficient. Some of these passes use “rewrite rules” that perform such SSA updates.

Rewrite rules are described using S-expressions. These S-expressions encode ssa.Value nodes and form something like a CFG of a program. In the simplest case, rewrite rule replaces one ssa.Value with another.

For example, this rule folds 8-bit constants multiplication:

(Mul8 (Const8 [c]) (Const8 [d])) -> (Const8 [int64(int8(c*d))])

There are two main categories for SSA values: high-level, almost completely machine-independent and ones that are architecture-dependent (they usually map to native instructions in 1-to-1 fashion).

Optimizations are described in terms of these two categories. High-level optimizations that are shared among all targets go first, then target-specific rules are applied.

All rules-specific code is located at cmd/compile/internal/ssa/gen.
We’ll be touching only these two sets:

  1. genericOps.go - machine-independent operations.
  2. AMD64Ops.go - GOARCH=AMD64-specific operations.

After next few passes that operate on the abstract machine model, so-called “lowering” is applied, which performs a transition from genericOps into arch-specific set. For our case, this operation set is AMD64Ops. All lower following passes operate on the operations from the second category.

After all optimizations are done, code generator plays its role. AMD64 code generation implementation can be found inside cmd/compile/internal/amd64 package. Code generator purpose is to replace ssa.Block and ssa.Value objects with a sequence of corresponding obj.Progs that are passed to the x86 assembler. Assembler emits machine code which will become executable after linking is done.

Optimization rules

Files that define operations have “${ARCH}Ops.go” name pattern.
Optimization rules have “${ARCH}.Rules” filename pattern.

High-level (generic) rules perform some simple rewrites, most of the constant folding and some other transformations that make further processing easier.

Every arch-specific Rules file consist of two parts:

  1. Lowering that replace abstract operations to a more concrete machine-specific equivalents.
  2. Optimizations themselves.

Operation lowering example:

(Const32 [val]) -> (MOVLconst [val]) //; L - long, 32-bit
(Const64 [val]) -> (MOVQconst [val]) //; Q - quad, 64-bit 
 |                  |
 generic op         |
                   AMD64 op

Most important optimizations are performed on lowered SSA values:

All operations have mnemonical name, which we call “opcode”. Opcodes of target-dependent operations usually reflect native intructions mnemonics.

Rules language syntax

Grammar is described in rulegen.go:

// rule syntax:
//    sexpr [&& extra conditions] -> [@block] sexpr
// sexpr are s-expressions (lisp-like parenthesized groupings)
// sexpr ::= [variable:](opcode sexpr*)
//         | variable
//         | <type>
//         | [auxint]
//         | {aux}
// aux      ::= variable | {code}
// type     ::= variable | {code}
// variable ::= some token
// opcode   ::= one of the opcodes from the *Ops.go files

Worth mentioning that you can use //-style comments inside .Rules files as well.

Lets examine simple example which contains all these elements:

   Opcode=ADDLconst - evaluates sum of an argument with a 32-bit constant
     :    AuxInt=c - constant that is being added to the `x`
     :      :
(ADDLconst [c] x) && int32(c)==0 -> x
|              /  |           /     |
|             /   |          /      |
|            /    |         /       Replacement form
|           /     Replacement condition (more conditions can be chained with `&&`)
Form that we are matching (and want to replace)

Rule defined above turns x+0 into just x. Everything inside conditions is an ordinary Go code with obvious restriction of boolean-only expressions. You may call predicates declared in rewrite.go and add your own.

You can also use | alternation-like syntax to generate several forms from one pattern:

(ADD(Q|L)const [off] x:(SP)) -> (LEA(Q|L) [off] x)
//; Removing Q|L alternation:
(ADDQconst [off] x:(SP)) -> (LEAQ [off] x)
(ADDLconst [off] x:(SP)) -> (LEAL [off] x)
//; Removing `x` binding:
(ADDQconst [off] (SP)) -> (LEAQ [off] (SP))
(ADDLconst [off] (SP)) -> (LEAL [off] (SP))

(SP) is generic operation that expresses stack pointer load. For architectures that do not have hardware stack support and/or SP register, it must be emulated.

Notable properties of pattern variables:

  • Variables like x that do not have :-binding captures anything
  • Like normal variables, _ captures anything, but the result can be ignored
//; Both rules do exactly the same thing: they implement ADDQconst identity function.
//; In other words, they returns their matched form unchanged.
(ADDQconst _) -> v
(ADDQconst x) -> (ADDQconst x)

If AuxInt is not specified explicitly (expression inside square brackets), then pattern will match any AuxInt value. Same things apply to the {}-parameters (more on that below).

v variable is automatically bound to the outmost pattern match.
For example, (ADDQconst (SUBQconst x)) has ADDQconst bound to v.

If same variable is used more than once inside pattern, it will require matching of a multiple S-expression parts between them:

(ADDQconst [v] (ADDQconst [v] x))
//; Will match "x+2+2" (x+v+v).

Types inside rules

Sometimes it is required to specify form type explicitly. Type is specified inside angle brackets <T>, like template parameters in C++:

//; typ.UInt32 - BTSLconst operation type.
//; BSFL has fixed type of `typ.UInt32`, so it doesn't
//; need explicit type specification.
(Ctz16 x) -> (BSFL (BTSLconst <typ.UInt32> [16] x))

In addition to types, there are also “symbols” (or, more generally, Aux properties).

(StaticCall [argsWidth] {target} mem) -> (CALLstatic [argsWidth] {target} mem)
  • [argsWidth] - Value.AuxInt. For StaticCall - total arguments size
  • {target} - Value.Aux. For StaticCall - function that is being called
  • <typ.UInt32> - Value.Type. Result value type

Aux and AuxInt fields semantics vary from one opcode to another. It’s better to consult associated *Ops.go files to see how these fields should be interpreted. Every opData that holds Aux and/or AuxInt sets appropriate opData.aux field that describes auxilary value purpose.

All types are coming from cmd/compile/internal/types package. Some types are SSA-specific, like types.TypeFlags while the others are shared between cmd/compile/internal/gc и cmd/compile/internal/ssa.

Special SSA types

types.TypeMem is a special kind of value type which serves multiple purposes:

  1. It makes it possible to order and group ssa.Value objects by their memory access patterns. In particular, this gives us a way to enforce proper order of evaluation inside basic block (more on that later).
  2. It defines a memory flow inside SSA program. If instruction modifies memory, new SSA value of type types.TypeMem is created and returned as a result of such operation.

Just like OpPhi is a very special opcode that is treated differently in different passes, types.TypeMem is treated with additional care in many passes.

More on Phi

Phi has different roles that vary from pass to pass.

In the earlier phases of SSA backend, it serves classical role and the program itself is valid SSA. It expresses value selection depending on the execution path that reached it.

For example, if there are two ways to enter a block, and both of them modify memory, then destination block with get memory of (Phi mem1 mem2). Loops also result in a Phi operation.

Another special type is types.TypeFlags. It describes CPU flags generation.

Instructions like ADDQ do not have types.TypeFlags type even though they do produce flags. They’re only marked with clobberFlags attribute.

types.Flags is used for instructions that do not write result to any of its explicit arguments, like CMPQ, that reads both operands and updates CPU state accordingly by setting appropriate flags that can be used by instruction that follows it.

Instructions like SETL are used to “read” flags and return them as ssa.Value that can be assigned to a register.

 L-less than               G-greater than
 |                         |
(SETL (InvertFlags x)) -> (SETG x)
                   Form that produces flags

SSA program inspection

Given this Go program (example.go):

package example

func fusedMulAdd(a, b, c float64) float64 {
	return a*c + b

We can inspect SSA generated for fusedMulAdd:

$ GOSSAFUNC=fusedMulAdd go tool compile example.go > ssa.txt

Checkout you working (current) directory:

  • ssa.txt contains textual SSA dump.
  • ssa.html is generated automatically and contains same information as ssa.txt, but in more human-readable and interactive format. Try opening it in your browser.
fusedMulAdd machine code

~r3 renamed to ret for clarity.

v7  (4) MOVSD a(SP), X0
v11 (4) MOVSD c+16(SP), X1
v12 (4) MULSD X1, X0
v6  (4) MOVSD b+8(SP), X1
v13 (4) ADDSD X1, X0
v15 (4) MOVSD X0, ret+24(SP)
b1  (4) RET

This is how SSA for the fusedMulAdd looks after the lower pass (from ssa.html):

Textual SSA format

If you want to copy that for whatever reason:

lower [77667 ns]
    v1 (?) = InitMem <mem>
    v2 (?) = SP <uintptr>
    v7 (?) = LEAQ <*float64> {~r3} v2
    v8 (3) = Arg <float64> {a}
    v9 (3) = Arg <float64> {b}
    v10 (3) = Arg <float64> {c}
    v12 (+4) = MULSD <float64> v8 v10
    v13 (4) = ADDSD <float64> v12 v9
    v14 (4) = VarDef <mem> {~r3} v1
    v15 (4) = MOVSDstore <mem> {~r3} v2 v13 v14
Ret v15 (line +4)

We can translate that to S-expressions:

(MOVQstore {~r3} 
           (ADDSD (MULSD (Arg {a})
                         (Arg {c}))
                  (Arg {b})))
SSA after regalloc pass

regalloc [87237 ns]
    v1 (?) = InitMem <mem>
    v14 (4) = VarDef <mem> {~r3} v1
    v2 (?) = SP <uintptr> : SP
    v8 (3) = Arg <float64> {a} : a[float64]
    v9 (3) = Arg <float64> {b} : b[float64]
    v10 (3) = Arg <float64> {c} : c[float64]
    v7 (4) = LoadReg <float64> v8 : X0
    v11 (4) = LoadReg <float64> v10 : X1
    v12 (+4) = MULSD <float64> v7 v11 : X0
    v6 (4) = LoadReg <float64> v9 : X1
    v13 (4) = ADDSD <float64> v12 v6 : X0
    v15 (4) = MOVSDstore <mem> {~r3} v2 v13 v14
Ret v15 (line +4)

Defining new optimization rules

Processors that have FMA can evaluate a*c + b in a single instruction as opposed to 2 MULSD+ADDSD.

We’ll take Ilya Tocar CL117295 as a foundation for our experiment.

For your convenience, I’ve prepared minimal diff patch:

1. Adding new opcode - FMASD

Find AMD64ops slice variable inside compile/internal/ssa/gen/AMD64Ops.go and add new element to it (position does not matter):

{ // fp64 fma
  name: "FMASD",      // SSA opcode
  argLength: 3,
  reg: fp31,          // Info required for regalloc, regs inputs/outputs mask
  resultInArg0: true, // Annotate first argument as both source and destination
  asm: "VFMADD231SD", // x86 asm opcode

There was no (fp, fp, fp -> fp) operations before, so we need to add new registers specifier in the same file:

  fp01     = regInfo{inputs: nil, outputs: fponly}
  fp21     = regInfo{inputs: []regMask{fp, fp}, outputs: fponly}
+ fp31     = regInfo{inputs: []regMask{fp, fp, fp}, outputs: fponly}

2. Adding rewrite rule

(ADDSD (MULSD x y) z) -> (FMASD z x y)

Better implementation would not be unconditional. It would check for FMA availability before applying the rule. We’ll be treating every target AMD64 as FMA-enabled for now.

Compiler check can be implemented by using config like this:

//; If config.useFMA is false, rule rewrite won't happen.
(ADDSD (MULSD x y) z) && config.useFMA-> (FMASD z x y)
How to check FMA availability on the machine?

If lscpu available, then this should suffice:

$ lscpu | grep fma

3. Codegen implementation

Now we need to add FMASD code generation into ssaGenValue function defined in compile/internal/amd64/ssa.go:

func ssaGenValue(s *gc.SSAGenState, v *ssa.Value) {
  switch v.Op {
  case ssa.OpAMD64FMASD:
    p := s.Prog(v.Op.Asm()) // Creating new obj.Prog inside current block
    // From: first source operand.
    p.From = obj.Addr{Type: obj.TYPE_REG, Reg: v.Args[2].Reg()}
    // To: destination operand.
    // v.Reg() returns register that is allocated for FMASD result.
    p.To = obj.Addr{Type: obj.TYPE_REG, Reg: v.Reg()}
    // From3: second source operand.
    // From3 name is historical. In fact, SetFrom3 call sets
    // RestArgs field that can contain a slice of all but first src operands.
      Type: obj.TYPE_REG,
      Reg: v.Args[1].Reg(),
    if v.Reg() != v.Args[0].Reg() { // Validate resultInArg0 invariant
      s := v.LongString()
      v.Fatalf("input[0] and output not in same register %s", s)

  // Rest of the code remains unchanged. We're only adding 1 new case clause.

Now everything is set and we can try out our new optimization. It’s very rare occasion when you add new opcodes to the SSA backends. Most of the time new optimizations use already existing operations. We introduced new opcode for educational reasons.

Checking out the results

First step is to re-generate rules-related Go code from gen/AMD64Ops.go и gen/AMD64.Rules.

# If GOROOT is unset, cd to the directory that is printed by `go env GOROOT`.
cd $GOROOT/src/cmd/compile/internal/ssa/gen && go run *.go

Now we need to build our new compiler:

go install cmd/compile

After example.go compiletion, we get different machine code output:

- v7  (4) MOVSD a(SP), X0
- v11 (4) MOVSD c+16(SP), X1
- v12 (4) MULSD X1, X0
- v6  (4) MOVSD b+8(SP), X1
- v13 (4) ADDSD X1, X0
- v15 (4) MOVSD X0, ret+24(SP)
- b1  (4) RET
+ v12 (4) MOVSD b+8(SP), X0
+ v7  (4) MOVSD a(SP), X1
+ v11 (4) MOVSD c+16(SP), X2
+ v13 (4) VFMADD231SD X2, X1, X0
+ v15 (4) MOVSD  X0, ret+24(SP)
+ b1  (4) RET

Basic blocks

It’s now time to discuss basic blocks of Go SSA.

ssa.Values that we were optimizing above are contained inside blocks (ssa.Block), blocks themselves are contained inside function.

Like SSA values, there are two kinds of blocks: abstract and arch-dependent. All blocks have exactly one entry point and 0-2 destination blocks (depends on the block kind).

If, Exit and Plain are the simplest blocks out there:

  • Exit block has 0 destinations. It describes leaf blocks that perform non-local jumps (usually via panic)
  • Plain block has 1 destination. Can be viewed as unconditional jump that is performed after all block values evaluation
  • If block has 2 destinations. Block.Control boolean expression controls which path is chosen

Here are simple examples of blocks lowering for AMD64:

                "then" body (block itself)
                |   "else" body (block itself)
                |   |
(If (SETL  cmp) yes no) -> (LT cmp yes no)
(If (SETLE cmp) yes no) -> (LE cmp yes no)

We’ll cover blocks in a more details in a context of other SSA optimization passes.

Optimization rules limitations

SSA backend has its advantages. Some optimizations can be performed in O(1) time thanks to it. But there are also some drawbacks that mostly come from the way Go compiler implements SSA and how initial SSA form is generated.

Lets imagine that you want to combine append calls:

xs = append(xs, 'a')
xs = append(xs, 'b')
// =>
xs = append(xs, 'a', 'b')

When SSA is generated, high-level code structure is lost and append will appear as a set of values injected into the code instead of actuall append call (this is because append is a special builtin function and is always inlined). You would need to write a huge form that matches all these values produced by gc compiler.

Speaking of .Rules, there are some inconveniences when working with blocks. Any non-trivial optimization that needs blocks manipulation can’t be expressed by using Lisp-like DSL. Partial block update is impossible, removing blocks is also impossible (but there is hack like First block that is used for dead code removal).

Even if these shortcomings are ever addressed, it may not be a very good idea to migrate on SSA IR completely, rendering more high-level representation away. Most production-grade compilers have more than one IR. There is no “one best IR” as far as I know.

Go that goes faster

If you have some cool optimization idea, try it out and send it to the go-review.googlesource.com. I’ll gladly review such a patch (use [email protected] uid when doing CC).

Happy compiler hacking!

Bonus materials

Some good examples of Go patches that added or changed SSA rules:

Not so long ago, README document was added to the ssa package. Recommending to read it (as it will eventually only get better).