Proposal for llvm.experimental.gc intrinsics for inttoptr and ptrtoint

Hi All,

I’m working on a project converting Dart to llvm. Dart uses a relocating GC but additionally uses pointer tagging. The first bit of a pointer is a tag. For integers a ‘0’ bit is used and for pointers to objects a ‘1’ bit is used. V8 apparently uses a similar technique. Generated code may need to check which bit is used when this information isn’t statically known. Additionally a function might have a parameter which might be of a dynamic type so it might either pass an object or an integer for the same parameter meaning that this parameter type has to be of a single type in the llvm IR.

I’d like to make use of the existing llvm.experimental.gc.statepoint intrinsics but they strictly use non-integral types. This is required to stop certain optimizations from making optimizations that conflict with finding base pointers.

After speaking about this (primarily with Sanjoy Das) and gathering the set of issues involved it seems it might be possible to resolve this by adding two new intrinsics that mirror inttoptr and ptrtoint: llvm.experimental.gc.inttoptr and llvm.experimental.gc.ptrtoint. These will be opaque to all existing abstractions. An additional pass would be added as well that would lower these versions of inttoptr and ptrtoint to their standard forms. When this pass is added after other optimizations it should in theory be safe. Potentially safe optimizations might be possible to perform after this point but it isn’t clear what optimizations would actually be both useful and safe at this point. The user of such a pass is responsible for not applying this pass before any optimizations that might alter the representation of a pointer in an invalid manner.

So specifically the proposal is just the following

  1. Add llvm.experimental.gc.inttoptr and llvm.experimental.gc.ptrtoint as opaque “semanticless” intrinsic calls. They will be defined as IntrNoMem operations since they won’t ever be lowered to anything that may perform any memory operations.

  2. Add a pass LowerOpaqueIntergalPointerOps to perform the specified lowering in order to allow these intrinsics to be compiled to code. Use of these intrinsics without using this lowering steps will fail in code generation since these intrinsics will not participate in code generation.

Does this seem like a sound approach? Does this seem like an acceptable way forward to the community? What tweaks or alterations would people prefer?

Adding some folks from Azul.

For a datapoint, Julia uses the following function description to implement approximately the capability of those functions. We then also verify that there’s no direct inttoptr/ptrtoint into our gc-tracked AddressSpace with a custom verifier pass (among other sanity checks). I can provide additional details and pointers to our gc-root tracking algorithm implementation if desired (I also plan to be at the llvm-devmtg). It’d be great to know if there’s opportunities for collaboration, or at least sharing insights and experiences!


dropgcroot_type = FunctionType::get(PtrIntTy, makeArrayRef(PointerType::get(AddressSpace::Derived)), false);
dropgcroot_func = Function::Create(dropgcroot_type, Function::ExternalLinkage, “julia.pointer_from_objref”);

declare void* @“julia.pointer_from_objref”(void addrspace(2)*) readnone unwind

(AddressSpace::Derived in the signature means it doesn’t need to be valid as a root itself, but needs to be traced back to locate the base object)


This didn’t need a custom function, since doing “untracked → inttoptr → addrspacecast → tracked” is considered a legal transform in Julia. We later have an optimization pass that may see this and decide to weaken a tracked object back into an untracked one (the root scanning pass can similarly also find that the base object is not tracked and ignore it). Non-moving GC means we can do this for many values, including those loaded from constants and arguments. In your case, this could also apply to integers that needed to get cast to a pointer for the calling convention. Note that the validity of introducing and allowing this can be pretty subtle, since it implies that it may be impossible to “take back” a value into the GC once it has released its gc root. This is true for several reasons, since we already can’t guarantee the the object lifetime is appropriate after the object got hidden from the analysis passes (via the ptrtoint) as a means of allowing stronger optimizations (stack promotion, early freeing, memory reuse, etc). But it also may be true because of the IntrNoMem annotation suggested: this states that the instruction has no side-effects, but if you expect the value to resume being tracked by the gc, that would imply these instructions do have some sort of observable side effects on memory (possibly ReadOnly, as well as perhaps the absence of nosync and nofree).

Ah ok, and you then inline julia.pointer_from_objref at the end? I suppose I could use that technique instead of introducing new intrinsics but it seems like we both have a use case for this

We later have an optimization pass that may see this and decide to weaken a tracked object back into an untracked one

Yeah I was thinking about this. In my case the only such values that aren’t tracked are integers. As I understand it the pass that adds relocations won’t need to relocate a value prior to passing to a function. The best way to handle this seems to be to keep values known to be integers in an integer type as long as possible, and only convert back to a pointer when passing to a function. The goal should be to only use the integer type on all branch paths where I’ve checked that the pointer is an integer (or have additional knowledge for other reasons). If I never use the pointer value on branches after confirming the value is an integer then I should never have to use a relocation. Passing to a function requires downcasting of course but I don’t have to relocate for that kind of downcast. That function would then have to perform the check of course.

Yes. After we do gc-root placement, the same pass usually needs to drop it, and all of the lifetime information (including other things like invariant.load), before proceeding (to make sure late passes don’t move around the gc-tracked objects beyond their now-fixed lifetimes).

Aside: while checking what LLVM would do with some aspects of this intrinsic, I stumbled across, which added a “llvm.ptrmask” intrinsic and may also be of interest (currently we use a specific function just for looking through the gc tagging bits “julia.typeof”).

Right, we do that too in codegen. The optimization pass helps find additional opportunities, such as a SelectInst fed by a (discovered) constant condition or inspecting all of the inputs to a PHINode.