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Survey of instruction selection

A well written survey of compiler instruction selection has just become available, the first major survey of this topic in 30 years! The academic outlook of the author is given away by the evaluation “…the technique appears to have had very limited impact as the citation count for the paper is low.” and coverage for the last 10 years does tend to thin out (but that could fill another 100 pages). Whatever your interest in compilers this survey is well worth a read.

Anybody reading a compiler book could be forgiven for thinking that instruction set selection was a minor issue; Gabriel Hjort Blindell counted 160 pages devoted to the topic out of 4,600 pages in seven well known compiler books. In a production compiler it is the parsing and semantics that consume 3% of the code with optimization and code generation making up the other 97%.

A 100 page survey of register allocation is also overdue (20 pages is a bit short).

Instruction set selection is one quarter of code generation, another quarter being register allocation and the remaining half being how these two are woven together (Hjort Blindell lists instruction scheduling as a third component and we could all argue for hours about whether this is another optimization, something that is spread over instruction selection/register allocation or a distinct component).

For a given choice of registers there are algorithms that will select the optimal code and for a given sequence of code there are algorithms that will select the optimal registers to use. Papers covering the optimal selection of both registers and instructions are thin on the ground; this is something of a black art that is picked up by building a production compiler.

  1. June 24th, 2013 at 10:24 | #1

    I’m astonished to find a blog entry about my report within a day after I’ve sent it to arXiv! Of course, I was hoping that some interest would show interest in it sooner or later, but never that it would happen that fast!

    An small remark, though: My surname is actually “Hjort Blindell”, not “Blindell”. I know it’s a common mistake to assume that “Hjort” is a middle name, and I’ve believe to have fixed this problem by from now on including the initial of my middle name. =)

    If you have any feedback or suggestions on improvements of the report, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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