Inline assembly

Rust provides support for inline assembly via the asm! macro. It can be used to embed handwritten assembly in the assembly output generated by the compiler. Generally this should not be necessary, but might be where the required performance or timing cannot be otherwise achieved. Accessing low level hardware primitives, e.g. in kernel code, may also demand this functionality.

Note: the examples here are given in x86/x86-64 assembly, but other architectures are also supported.

Inline assembly is currently supported on the following architectures:

  • x86 and x86-64
  • ARM
  • AArch64
  • RISC-V

Basic usage

Let us start with the simplest possible example:


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

unsafe {
    asm!("nop");
}
}

This will insert a NOP (no operation) instruction into the assembly generated by the compiler. Note that all asm! invocations have to be inside an unsafe block, as they could insert arbitrary instructions and break various invariants. The instructions to be inserted are listed in the first argument of the asm! macro as a string literal.

Inputs and outputs

Now inserting an instruction that does nothing is rather boring. Let us do something that actually acts on data:


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

let x: u64;
unsafe {
    asm!("mov {}, 5", out(reg) x);
}
assert_eq!(x, 5);
}

This will write the value 5 into the u64 variable x. You can see that the string literal we use to specify instructions is actually a template string. It is governed by the same rules as Rust [format strings][format-syntax]. The arguments that are inserted into the template however look a bit different than you may be familiar with. First we need to specify if the variable is an input or an output of the inline assembly. In this case it is an output. We declared this by writing out. We also need to specify in what kind of register the assembly expects the variable. In this case we put it in an arbitrary general purpose register by specifying reg. The compiler will choose an appropriate register to insert into the template and will read the variable from there after the inline assembly finishes executing.

Let us see another example that also uses an input:


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

let i: u64 = 3;
let o: u64;
unsafe {
    asm!(
        "mov {0}, {1}",
        "add {0}, 5",
        out(reg) o,
        in(reg) i,
    );
}
assert_eq!(o, 8);
}

This will add 5 to the input in variable i and write the result to variable o. The particular way this assembly does this is first copying the value from i to the output, and then adding 5 to it.

The example shows a few things:

First, we can see that asm! allows multiple template string arguments; each one is treated as a separate line of assembly code, as if they were all joined together with newlines between them. This makes it easy to format assembly code.

Second, we can see that inputs are declared by writing in instead of out.

Third, we can see that we can specify an argument number, or name as in any format string. For inline assembly templates this is particularly useful as arguments are often used more than once. For more complex inline assembly using this facility is generally recommended, as it improves readability, and allows reordering instructions without changing the argument order.

We can further refine the above example to avoid the mov instruction:


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

let mut x: u64 = 3;
unsafe {
    asm!("add {0}, 5", inout(reg) x);
}
assert_eq!(x, 8);
}

We can see that inout is used to specify an argument that is both input and output. This is different from specifying an input and output separately in that it is guaranteed to assign both to the same register.

It is also possible to specify different variables for the input and output parts of an inout operand:


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

let x: u64 = 3;
let y: u64;
unsafe {
    asm!("add {0}, 5", inout(reg) x => y);
}
assert_eq!(y, 8);
}

Late output operands

The Rust compiler is conservative with its allocation of operands. It is assumed that an out can be written at any time, and can therefore not share its location with any other argument. However, to guarantee optimal performance it is important to use as few registers as possible, so they won't have to be saved and reloaded around the inline assembly block. To achieve this Rust provides a lateout specifier. This can be used on any output that is written only after all inputs have been consumed. There is also a inlateout variant of this specifier.

Here is an example where inlateout cannot be used:


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

let mut a: u64 = 4;
let b: u64 = 4;
let c: u64 = 4;
unsafe {
    asm!(
        "add {0}, {1}",
        "add {0}, {2}",
        inout(reg) a,
        in(reg) b,
        in(reg) c,
    );
}
assert_eq!(a, 12);
}

Here the compiler is free to allocate the same register for inputs b and c since it knows they have the same value. However it must allocate a separate register for a since it uses inout and not inlateout. If inlateout was used, then a and c could be allocated to the same register, in which case the first instruction to overwrite the value of c and cause the assembly code to produce the wrong result.

However the following example can use inlateout since the output is only modified after all input registers have been read:


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

let mut a: u64 = 4;
let b: u64 = 4;
unsafe {
    asm!("add {0}, {1}", inlateout(reg) a, in(reg) b);
}
assert_eq!(a, 8);
}

As you can see, this assembly fragment will still work correctly if a and b are assigned to the same register.

Explicit register operands

Some instructions require that the operands be in a specific register. Therefore, Rust inline assembly provides some more specific constraint specifiers. While reg is generally available on any architecture, explicit registers are highly architecture specific. E.g. for x86 the general purpose registers eax, ebx, ecx, edx, ebp, esi, and edi among others can be addressed by their name.


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

let cmd = 0xd1;
unsafe {
    asm!("out 0x64, eax", in("eax") cmd);
}
}

In this example we call the out instruction to output the content of the cmd variable to port 0x64. Since the out instruction only accepts eax (and its sub registers) as operand we had to use the eax constraint specifier.

Note: unlike other operand types, explicit register operands cannot be used in the template string: you can't use {} and should write the register name directly instead. Also, they must appear at the end of the operand list after all other operand types.

Consider this example which uses the x86 mul instruction:


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

fn mul(a: u64, b: u64) -> u128 {
    let lo: u64;
    let hi: u64;

    unsafe {
        asm!(
            // The x86 mul instruction takes rax as an implicit input and writes
            // the 128-bit result of the multiplication to rax:rdx.
            "mul {}",
            in(reg) a,
            inlateout("rax") b => lo,
            lateout("rdx") hi
        );
    }

    ((hi as u128) << 64) + lo as u128
}
}

This uses the mul instruction to multiply two 64-bit inputs with a 128-bit result. The only explicit operand is a register, that we fill from the variable a. The second operand is implicit, and must be the rax register, which we fill from the variable b. The lower 64 bits of the result are stored in rax from which we fill the variable lo. The higher 64 bits are stored in rdx from which we fill the variable hi.

Clobbered registers

In many cases inline assembly will modify state that is not needed as an output. Usually this is either because we have to use a scratch register in the assembly or because instructions modify state that we don't need to further examine. This state is generally referred to as being "clobbered". We need to tell the compiler about this since it may need to save and restore this state around the inline assembly block.


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

let mut ebx: u32;
let mut edx: u32;
let mut ecx: u32;
unsafe {
    asm!(
        "push rbx",
        "cpuid",
        "mov {0:e}, ebx",
        "pop rbx",
        // String is stored as ascii in ebx, edx, ecx in order
        // Because ebx is reserved, we get a scratch register and move from
        // ebx into it in the asm.  The asm needs to preserve the value of
        // that register though, so it is pushed and popped around the main asm
        // (in 64 bit mode for 64 bit processors, 32 bit processors would use ebx)
        out(reg) ebx,
        out("edx") edx,
        out("ecx") ecx,
        // EAX 0 selects CPUID parameter and manufacturer ID
        inout("eax") 0 => _,
    );
}

// Turn the resulting values into a string
let mut s = String::with_capacity(12);
ebx.to_ne_bytes().map(|b| s.push(char::from(b)));
edx.to_ne_bytes().map(|b| s.push(char::from(b)));
ecx.to_ne_bytes().map(|b| s.push(char::from(b)));
println!("CPU Manufacturer ID: {}", s);
}

In the example above we use the cpuid instruction to read the CPU manufacturer ID. This instruction writes to eax with the maximum supported cpuid argument and ebx, esx, and ecx with the CPU manufacturer ID as ASCII bytes in that order.

Even though eax is never read we still need to tell the compiler that the register has been modified so that the compiler can save any values that were in these registers before the asm. This is done by declaring it as an output but with _ instead of a variable name, which indicates that the output value is to be discarded.

This code also works around the limitation that ebx is a reserved register by LLVM. That means that LLVM assumes that it has full control over the register and it must be restored to its original state before exiting the asm block, so it cannot be used as an output. To work around this we save the register via push, read from ebx inside the asm block into a temporary register allocated with out(reg) and then restoring ebx to its original state via pop. The push and pop use the full 64-bit rbx version of the register to ensure that the entire register is saved. On 32 bit targets the code would instead use ebx in the push/pop.

This can also be used with a general register class (e.g. reg) to obtain a scratch register for use inside the asm code:


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

// Multiply x by 6 using shifts and adds
let mut x: u64 = 4;
unsafe {
    asm!(
        "mov {tmp}, {x}",
        "shl {tmp}, 1",
        "shl {x}, 2",
        "add {x}, {tmp}",
        x = inout(reg) x,
        tmp = out(reg) _,
    );
}
assert_eq!(x, 4 * 6);
}

Symbol operands and ABI clobbers

By default, asm! assumes that any register not specified as an output will have its contents preserved by the assembly code. The clobber_abi argument to asm! tells the compiler to automatically insert the necessary clobber operands according to the given calling convention ABI: any register which is not fully preserved in that ABI will be treated as clobbered. Multiple clobber_abi arguments may be provided and all clobbers from all specified ABIs will be inserted.


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

extern "C" fn foo(arg: i32) -> i32 {
    println!("arg = {}", arg);
    arg * 2
}

fn call_foo(arg: i32) -> i32 {
    unsafe {
        let result;
        asm!(
            "call *{}",
            // Function pointer to call
            in(reg) foo,
            // 1st argument in rdi
            in("rdi") arg,
            // Return value in rax
            out("rax") result,
            // Mark all registers which are not preserved by the "C" calling
            // convention as clobbered.
            clobber_abi("C"),
        );
        result
    }
}
}

Register template modifiers

In some cases, fine control is needed over the way a register name is formatted when inserted into the template string. This is needed when an architecture's assembly language has several names for the same register, each typically being a "view" over a subset of the register (e.g. the low 32 bits of a 64-bit register).

By default the compiler will always choose the name that refers to the full register size (e.g. rax on x86-64, eax on x86, etc).

This default can be overriden by using modifiers on the template string operands, just like you would with format strings:


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

let mut x: u16 = 0xab;

unsafe {
    asm!("mov {0:h}, {0:l}", inout(reg_abcd) x);
}

assert_eq!(x, 0xabab);
}

In this example, we use the reg_abcd register class to restrict the register allocator to the 4 legacy x86 registers (ax, bx, cx, dx) of which the first two bytes can be addressed independently.

Let us assume that the register allocator has chosen to allocate x in the ax register. The h modifier will emit the register name for the high byte of that register and the l modifier will emit the register name for the low byte. The asm code will therefore be expanded as mov ah, al which copies the low byte of the value into the high byte.

If you use a smaller data type (e.g. u16) with an operand and forget the use template modifiers, the compiler will emit a warning and suggest the correct modifier to use.

Memory address operands

Sometimes assembly instructions require operands passed via memory addresses/memory locations. You have to manually use the memory address syntax specified by the target architecture. For example, on x86/x86_64 using Intel assembly syntax, you should wrap inputs/outputs in [] to indicate they are memory operands:


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

fn load_fpu_control_word(control: u16) {
    unsafe {
        asm!("fldcw [{}]", in(reg) &control, options(nostack));
    }
}
}

Labels

Any reuse of a named label, local or otherwise, can result in an assembler or linker error or may cause other strange behavior. Reuse of a named label can happen in a variety of ways including:

  • explicitly: using a label more than once in one asm! block, or multiple times across blocks.
  • implicitly via inlining: the compiler is allowed to instantiate multiple copies of an asm! block, for example when the function containing it is inlined in multiple places.
  • implicitly via LTO: LTO can cause code from other crates to be placed in the same codegen unit, and so could bring in arbitrary labels.

As a consequence, you should only use GNU assembler numeric local labels inside inline assembly code. Defining symbols in assembly code may lead to assembler and/or linker errors due to duplicate symbol definitions.

Moreover, on x86 when using the default Intel syntax, due to an LLVM bug, you shouldn't use labels exclusively made of 0 and 1 digits, e.g. 0, 11 or 101010, as they may end up being interpreted as binary values. Using options(att_syntax) will avoid any ambiguity, but that affects the syntax of the entire asm! block. (See Options, below, for more on options.)


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

let mut a = 0;
unsafe {
    asm!(
        "mov {0}, 10",
        "2:",
        "sub {0}, 1",
        "cmp {0}, 3",
        "jle 2f",
        "jmp 2b",
        "2:",
        "add {0}, 2",
        out(reg) a
    );
}
assert_eq!(a, 5);
}

This will decrement the {0} register value from 10 to 3, then add 2 and store it in a.

This example shows a few things:

  • First, that the same number can be used as a label multiple times in the same inline block.
  • Second, that when a numeric label is used as a reference (as an instruction operand, for example), the suffixes “b” (“backward”) or ”f” (“forward”) should be added to the numeric label. It will then refer to the nearest label defined by this number in this direction.

First that the same number can be used as a label multiple times in the same inline block.

Second, that when a numeric label is used as a reference (as an instruction operand, for example), the suffixes b (“backward”) or f (“forward”) should be added to the numeric label. It will then refer to the nearest label defined by this number in this direction.

Options

By default, an inline assembly block is treated the same way as an external FFI function call with a custom calling convention: it may read/write memory, have observable side effects, etc. However, in many cases it is desirable to give the compiler more information about what the assembly code is actually doing so that it can optimize better.

Let's take our previous example of an add instruction:


#![allow(unused)]
fn main() {
use std::arch::asm;

let mut a: u64 = 4;
let b: u64 = 4;
unsafe {
    asm!(
        "add {0}, {1}",
        inlateout(reg) a, in(reg) b,
        options(pure, nomem, nostack),
    );
}
assert_eq!(a, 8);
}

Options can be provided as an optional final argument to the asm! macro. We specified three options here:

  • pure means that the asm code has no observable side effects and that its output depends only on its inputs. This allows the compiler optimizer to call the inline asm fewer times or even eliminate it entirely.
  • nomem means that the asm code does not read or write to memory. By default the compiler will assume that inline assembly can read or write any memory address that is accessible to it (e.g. through a pointer passed as an operand, or a global).
  • nostack means that the asm code does not push any data onto the stack. This allows the compiler to use optimizations such as the stack red zone on x86-64 to avoid stack pointer adjustments.

These allow the compiler to better optimize code using asm!, for example by eliminating pure asm! blocks whose outputs are not needed.

See the reference for the full list of available options and their effects.