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Chapter 7 – Subroutines. These are lecture notes to accompany the book SPARC Architecture, Assembly Language Programming, and C , by Richard P. Paul, 2 nd edition, 2000. By Anu G. Bourgeois.

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chapter 7 subroutines

Chapter 7 – Subroutines

These are lecture notes to accompany the book SPARC Architecture, Assembly Language Programming, and C,

by Richard P. Paul, 2nd edition, 2000.

By Anu G. Bourgeois

Richard P. Paul, SPARC Architecture, Assembly Language Programming, and C

Subroutines allow us to either to repeat a computation or to repeat the computation with different arguments.

Subroutines can be used in such situations

Subroutines may be either open or closed

Open subroutine

inserts code whenever it is needed in the program --- macros

arguments are passed in the registers that are given as arguments to the subroutine.

Closed subroutine

code appears only once in the program; whenever it is needed, a jump to the code is executed, and when it completes, a return is made to the instruction occurring after the call instruction (after the delay)

arguments may be placed in registers or on the stack

A subroutine also allows you to debug code once and then ensure that all future instantiations of the code will be correct
  • Any register that the subroutine uses must first be saved and then restored after the subroutine completes execution
  • Arguments to subroutines are normally considered to be local variables of the subroutine, and the subroutine is free to change them
  • However, this is not always the case, for e.g., in multiplication, multiplicand is not changed
Open Subroutines are very efficient with no wasted instructions

Open Subroutines are very flexible and can be as general as the program wishes to make them

Every time open subroutine referenced, the code is expanded, resulting in long code

So it is better to write code once as a closed subroutine and to branch to the code, whenever needed

register saving

Register Saving

Almost any computation will involve the use of registers

Usually when subroutines are called, registers are pushed onto the stack and popped from, when it returns

To avoid the execution time involved, in CISC, sometimes a special register save mask is used, that would indicate, by bits that were set, which registers were to be saved

sparc registers

SPARC Registers

SPARC architecture provides a register file with a mapping register that indicates the active registers

It provides 128 registers, with the programmer having access to the eight global registers, and only 24 of the mapped registers at a time

save instruction changes the register mapping so that new registers are provided

restore instruction restores the register mapping on subroutine return

The 32 registers are divided into four groups : in, local, out and general

The eight general register %g0 to %g8 are not mapped and are global to all subroutines

“in” & “out” register are used to pass arguments to closed subroutine

“local” registers are used for subroutine’s local variables

When save instruction is executed the out register become the in register, and a new set of local and out registers is provided

register saving1
Register Saving
  • When the save instruction is executed
    • the out registers become the in registers, and
    • a new set of local and out registers is provided.
  • The mapping pointer into the register file is changed by 16 registers




If a further five subroutine calls are made without any returns, window overflow will occur

saves and restores can be made in a range of six without window overflows or underflows (it is expensive if recursive subroutine calls are frequently made)

restore instruction
Restore Instruction
  • restore instruction restores the register window set. On doing this, a register window can underflow if the cwp is moved to the wim. When this happens the window trap routine restores the registers from the stack and resets the pointers
  • restore is also an add instruction and is used as the final add instruction in a subroutine
subroutine linkage
Subroutine Linkage
  • The SPARC architecture supports two instructions, call and jmpl, for linking to subroutines
  • The address of instruction which called the subroutine is stored in %o7
  • The return from subroutine is to %o7 + 8, which is the address of the next instruction to be executed in the main program
  • If a save instruction is executed at the beginning of the subroutine, the contents of %o7 will become %i7, and the return will have to be to %i7 + 8
call instruction
Call Instruction
  • If the subroutine name is known at assembly time, the call instruction may be used
  • call instruction has a target address label
  • It stores %pc contents to %o7
  • always followed by a delay slot instruction
Call and return instructions update the program counter.

[700] mov 3, %o0

[704] call .mul

[708] mov 10, %o1

[712] add %o0, %l0, %l2

[2000] save %sp, -96, %sp

[2024] return

[2028] restore

During the execute stage of the call function the program counter if set to 2000








Register %i7 holds the program

Counter during the subroutine





%i7 + 8 = 712


jmpl instruction
jmpl Instruction
  • Used when the address of the subroutine is computed and not known – address is loaded into a register
  • subroutine address is the sum of the source arguments, and the address of the jmpl instruction is stored in the destination register
  • always followed by a delay slot instruction
  • to call a subroutine whose address is in register %o0 and to store the return address into %o7, we would write:

jmpl %o0, %o7

call vs jmpl

Call vs jmpl

The assembler recognizes

call %o0 as

jmpl %o0, %07

The return from a subroutine also makes use of the jmpl instruction

We need to return to %i7 + 8

Assembler recognizes ret for:

jmpl %i7 + 8, %g0

The call to subroutine is:

call subr


And at the entry of the subroutine

subr: save %sp, … %sp

with the return



The restore instruction is normally used to fill the delay slot of the ret instruction

The ret is expanded to: jmpl %i7 + 8, %g0


arguments to subroutines
Arguments to Subroutines
  • 1. Arguments follow in-line after the call instruction:
  • For example, a Fortran routine to add two numbers, 3 and 4, together would be called by:
  • and handled by the following subroutine code:
  • Note that the return is to %i7 + 16 jumping over the arguments.
  • This type of argument passing is very efficient but is limited. Recursive calls are not possible, nor is it possible to compute any of the arguments.
return values

Return Values

Functions are subroutines which return a value

In SPARC, the return value is always returned in an “out” register, e.g. %o0, i.e. %i0 of called program

We have to put the return value in the corresponding “in”register before executing restore instruction

Consider the .mul routine – we pass arguments to the routine using %o0 and %o1 and then expect the result to be passed back into %o0 – this means the routine places the result into %i0 before returning