Arm have recently announced the v8.1-M architecture specification for
our next generation microcontrollers. The architecture includes
vector extensions (MVE) and support for low-overhead branches (LoB),
which can be thought of a style of hardware loop. Hardware loops
aren’t new to LLVM, other backends (at least Hexagon and PPC that I
know of) also include support. These implementations insert the loop
controlling instructions at the MachineInstr level and I’d like to
propose that we add intrinsics to support this notion at the IR
level; primarily to be able to use scalar evolution to understand the
loops instead of having to implement a machine-level analysis for
I’ve posted an RFC with a prototype implementation in
https://reviews.llvm.org/D62132. It contains intrinsics that are
currently Arm specific, but I hope they’re general enough to be used
by all targets. The Arm v8.1-m architecture supports do-while and
while loops, but for conciseness, here, I’d like to just focus on
while loops. There’s two parts to this RFC: (1) the intrinsics
and (2) a prototype implementation in the Arm backend to enable
tail-predicated machine loops.
- LLVM IR Intrinsics
In the following definitions, I use the term ‘element’ to describe
the work performed by an IR loop that has not been vectorized or
unrolled by the compiler. This should be equivalent to the loop at
the source level.
- Takes as a single operand, the number of iterations to be executed.
i32 @llvm.arm.set.loop.elements(i32, i32)
Takes two operands:
The total number of elements to be processed by the loop.
The maximum number of elements processed in one iteration of
the IR loop body.
- Returns the number of iterations to be executed.
- Takes as an operand, the number of elements that still need
- Where ‘X’ denotes the vectorization factor, returns an array of i1
indicating which vector lanes are active for the current loop
i32 @llvm.arm.loop.end(i32, i32)
Takes two operands:
The number of elements that still need processing.
The maximum number of elements processed in one iteration of the
IR loop body.
The following gives an illustration of their intended usage:
%0 = call i32 @llvm.arm.set.loop.elements(i32 %N, i32 4)
%1 = icmp ne i32 %0, 0
br i1 %1, label %vector.ph, label %for.loopexit
br label %vector.body
%elts = phi i32 [ %N, %vector.ph ], [ %elts.rem, %vector.body ]
%active = call <4 x i1> @llvm.arm.get.active.mask(i32 %elts, i32 4)
%load = tail call <4 x i32> @llvm.masked.load.v4i32.p0v4i32(<4 x i32>* %addr, i32 4, <4 x i1> %active, <4 x i32> undef)
tail call void @llvm.masked.store.v4i32.p0v4i32(<4 x i32> %load, <4 x i32>* %addr.1, i32 4, <4 x i1> %active)
%elts.rem = call i32 @llvm.arm.loop.end(i32 %elts, i32 4)
%cmp = icmp sgt i32 %elts.rem, 0
br i1 %cmp, label %vector.body, label %for.loopexit
As the example shows, control-flow is still ultimately performed
through the icmp and br pair. There’s nothing connecting the
intrinsics to a given loop or any requirement that a set.loop.* call
needs to be paired with a loop.end call.
- Low-overhead loops in the Arm backend
Disclaimer: The prototype is barebones and reuses parts of NEON and
I’m currently targeting the Cortex-A72 which does not support this
feature! opt and llc build and the provided test case doesn’t cause a
The low-overhead branch extension can be combined with MVE to
generate vectorized loops in which the epilogue is executed within
the predicated vector body. The proposal is for this to be supported
through a series of pass:
- IR LoopPass to identify suitable loops and insert the intrinsics
- DAGToDAG ISel which makes the intrinsics, almost 1-1, to a pseduo
- A final MachineFunctionPass to expand the pseudo instructions.
To help / enable the lowering of of an i1 vector, the VPR register has
been added. This is a status register that contains the P0 predicate
and is also used to model the implicit predicates of tail-predicated
There are two main reasons why pseudo instructions are used instead
of generating MIs directly during ISel:
- They gives us a chance of later inspecting the whole loop and
confirm that it’s a good idea to generate such a loop. This is
trivial for scalar loops, but not really applicable for
- It allows us to separate the decrementing of the loop counter with
the instruction that branches back, which should help us recover if
LR gets spilt between these two pseudo ops.
For Armv8.1-M, the while.setup intrinsic is used to generate the wls
and wlstp instructions, while loop.end generates the le and letp
instructions. The active.mask can just be removed because the lane
predication is handled implicitly.
I’m not sure of the vectorizers limitations of generating vector
instructions that operate across lanes, such as reductions, when
generating a predicated loop but this needs to be considered.
I’d welcome any feedback here or on Phabricator and I’d especially like
to know if this would useful to current targets.