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From: Chandler Carruth <chandlerc <at> gmail.com>
Subject: RFP: Metadata is being used poorly to paper over missing IR constructs
Newsgroups: gmane.comp.compilers.llvm.devel
Date: Thursday 8th January 2015 22:06:24 UTC (over 3 years ago)
Rather than bending over backwards to keep all of this working, we should
try to add the IR facilities needed to avoid these problems.

This is the result of a discussion between myself Duncan and Eric (all of
us probably relaying ideas from still other discussions) that I'm trying to
write down here because none of us are going to be able to prioritize
working on this soon. If anyone else ends up needing facilities related to
this or having time to make this part of LLVM better, that would be
awesome. Hence, a request for patches more than a request for comments. =D

 (and apologies if this is poorly structured or rambly)

I'm aware of at least two quite strange uses of metadata at the moment
(Duncan, Eric, jump in with more I missed):
1) The need for an arbitrary (often target-specific) symbolic string in the
IR that can be used with intrinsics and/or instructions
2) The need to build up a nearly arbitrary record of the "flags" used to
control the code generation of the module which need to be handled
correctly at link time.

Neither of these fit the model of metadata. They aren't really optional.
They can't be stripped while preserving correctness. They aren't
annotations at all. I'm suggesting they both need first class
representation, and that this representation won't really be complex or

We need the ability to put semantic information in the IR that can be used
by targets without extending the IR itself. In some cases we can do this
with target-specific intrinsics, but those don't always fit the problem and
have their own set of challenges.

I think it would be nice if we just had a top level IR construct for
symbolic strings. These should be allowed both inline (much like immediate
constants) and potentially out-of-line like attributes. It is possible that
this feature could be useful to simplify attributes or #2, but it seems
simple and useful enough that I'm OK with it living on its own.

These symbolic strings would definitionally have no impact on the generated
code. We could make them opaque Constants if that's a useful API. If we
don't need the Constant API, I would do something similar to Duncan's
separation for metadata. My suspicion is that making these Constants would
be convenient so they can be used as Values, with the understanding that it
would be invalid to use them in arbitrary places, as they only have defined
semantics in specific scenarios. The canonical example would be:

  call i64 @llvm.read_register("sp")

We need to make module flags a first class entity of the module, just like

  &flag = ....

(syntax shamelessly stolen from Duncan's suggestion in IRC)

We can then actually specify exactly what the requirements are on module
flags and how they are linked. We might be able to sink datalayout into
this, or it might be better to keep separate, unsure. But having these be
top-level real entities would be great.

Hope these thoughts are useful. Sadly I'm not going to be able to drive any
of these any time soon. I get a similar impression from Duncan. But I think
lots of us would be able to help if someone wanted to contribute work on
this front.

If there is broad consensus about the design points above, I'll paste them
into two PRs as well for tracking.

CD: 21ms