What's new for RISC-V in LLVM 15


LLVM 15.0.0 was released around about two weeks ago now, and I wanted to highlight some of RISC-V specific changes or improvements that were introduced while going into a little more detail than I was able to in the release notes.

In case you're not familiar with LLVM's release schedule, it's worth noting that there are two major LLVM releases a year (i.e. one roughly every 6 months) and these are timed releases as opposed to being cut when a pre-agreed set of feature targets have been met. We're very fortunate to benefit from an active and growing set of contributors working on RISC-V support in LLVM projects, who are responsible for the work I describe below - thank you! I coordinate biweekly sync-up calls for RISC-V LLVM contributors, so if you're working in this area please consider dropping in.

Linker relaxation

Linker relaxation is a mechanism for allowing the linker to optimise code sequences at link time. A code sequence to jump to a symbol might conservatively take two instructions, but once the target address is known at link-time it might be small enough to fit in the immediate of a single instruction, meaning the other can be deleted. Because a linker performing relaxation may delete bytes (rather than just patching them), offsets including those for jumps within a function may be changed. To allow this to happen without breaking program semantics, even local branches that might typically be resolved by the assembler must be emitted as a relocation when linker relaxation is enabled. See the description in the RISC-V psABI or Palmer Dabbelt's blog post on linker relaxation for more background.

Although LLVM has supported codegen for linker relaxation for a long time, LLD (the LLVM linker) has until now lacked support for processing these relaxations. Relaxation is primarily an optimisation, but processing of R_RISCV_ALIGN (the alignment relocation) is necessary for correctness when linker relaxation is enabled, meaning it's not possible to link such object files correctly without at least some minimal support. Fangrui Song implemented support for R_RISCV_ALIGN/R_RISCV_CALL/R_RISCV_CALL_PLT/R_RISCV_TPREL_* relocations in LLVM 15 and wrote up a blog post with more implementation details, which is a major step in bringing us to parity with the GCC/binutils toolchain.


As with any release, there's been a large number of codegen improvements, both target-independent and target-dependent. One addition to highlight in the RISC-V backend is the new RISCVCodeGenPrepare pass. This is the latest piece of a long-running campaign (largely led by Craig Topper) to improve code generation related to sign/zero extensions on RV64. CodeGenPrepare is a target-independent pass that performs some late-stage transformations to the input ahead of lowering to SelectionDAG. The RISC-V specific version looks for opportunities to convert zero-extension to i64 with a sign-extension (which is cheaper).

Another new pass that may be of interest is RISCVMakeCompressible (contributed by Lewis Revill and Craig Blackmore). Rather than trying to improve generated code performance, this is solely focused on reducing code size, and may increase the static instruction count in order to do so (which is why it's currently only enabled at the -Oz optimisation level). It looks for cases where an instruction has been selected which can't be represented by one of the compressed (16-bit as opposed to 32-bit wide) instruction forms. For instance due to the register not being one of the registers addressable from the compressed instruction, or the offset being out of range). It will then look for opportunities to transform the input to make the instructions compressible. Grabbing two examples from the header comment of the pass:

; 'zero' register not addressable in compressed store.
                 =>   li a1, 0
sw zero, 0(a0)   =>   c.sw a1, 0(a0)
sw zero, 8(a0)   =>   c.sw a1, 8(a0)
sw zero, 4(a0)   =>   c.sw a1, 4(a0)
sw zero, 24(a0)  =>   c.sw a1, 24(a0) 


; compressed stores support limited offsets
lui a2, 983065     =>   lui a2, 983065 
                   =>   addi  a3, a2, -256
sw  a1, -236(a2)   =>   c.sw  a1, 20(a3)
sw  a1, -240(a2)   =>   c.sw  a1, 16(a3)
sw  a1, -244(a2)   =>   c.sw  a1, 12(a3)
sw  a1, -248(a2)   =>   c.sw  a1, 8(a3)
sw  a1, -252(a2)   =>   c.sw  a1, 4(a3)
sw  a0, -256(a2)   =>   c.sw  a0, 0(a3)

There's a whole range of other backend codegen improvements, including additions to existing RISC-V specific passes but unfortunately it's not feasible to enumerate them all.

One improvement to note from the Clang frontend is that the C intrinsics for the RISC-V Vector extension are now lazily generated, avoiding the need to parse a huge pre-generated header file and improving compile times.

Support for new instruction set extensions

A batch of new instruction set extensions were ratified at the end of last year (see also the recently ratified extension list. LLVM 14 already featured a number of these (with the vector and ratified bit manipulation extensions no longer being marked as experimental). In LLVM 15 we were able to fill in some of the gaps, adding support for additional ratified extensions as well as some new experimental extensions.

In particular:

It's not present in LLVM 15, but LLVM 16 onwards will feature a user guide for the RISC-V target summarising the level of support for each extension (huge thanks to Philip Reames for kicking off this effort).

Other changes

In case I haven't said it enough times, there's far more interesting changes than I could reasonably cover. Apologies if I've missed your favourite new feature or improvement. In particular, I've said relatively little about RISC-V Vector support. There's been a long series of improvements and correctness fixes in the LLVM 15 development window, after RVV was made non-experimental in LLVM 14 and there's much more to come in LLVM 16 (e.g. scalable vectorisation becoming enabled by default).