Partial evaluation of initialization code in Go

For several reasons related to code size and memory consumption (see below), it is best to try to evaluate as much initialization code at compile time as possible and only run unknown expressions (e.g. external calls) at runtime. This is in practice a partial evaluator of the runtime.initAll function, which calls each package initializer.

This package is a rewrite of a previous partial evaluator that worked directly on LLVM IR and used the module and LLVM constants as intermediate values. This newer version instead uses a mostly Go intermediate form. It compiles functions and extracts relevant data first (compiler.go), then executes those functions (interpreter.go) in a memory space that can be rolled back per function (memory.go). This means that it is not necessary to scan functions to see whether they can be run at compile time, which was very error prone. Instead it just tries to execute everything and if it hits something it cannot interpret (such as a store to memory-mapped I/O) it rolls back the execution of that function and runs the function at runtime instead. All in all, this design provides several benefits:

  • Much better error handling. By being able to revert to runtime execution without the need for scanning functions, this version is able to automatically work around many bugs in the previous implementation.
  • More correct memory model. This is not inherent to the new design, but the new design also made the memory model easier to reason about.
  • Faster execution of initialization code. While it is not much faster for normal interpretation (maybe 25% or so) due to the compilation overhead, it should be a whole lot faster for loops as it doesn't have to call into LLVM (via CGo) for every operation.

As mentioned, this partial evaulator comes in three parts: a compiler, an interpreter, and a memory manager.


The main task of the compiler is that it extracts all necessary data from every instruction in a function so that when this instruction is interpreted, no additional CGo calls are necessary. This is not currently done for all instructions (runtime.alloc is a notable exception), but at least it does so for the vast majority of instructions.


The interpreter runs an instruction just like it would if it were executed 'for real'. The vast majority of instructions can be executed at compile time. As indicated above, some instructions need to be executed at runtime instead.


Memory is represented as objects (the object type) that contains data that will eventually be stored in a global and values (the value interface) that can be worked with while running the interpreter. Values therefore are only used locally and are always passed by value (just like most LLVM constants) while objects represent the backing storage (like LLVM globals). Some values are pointer values, and point to an object.

Importantly, this partial evaluator can roll back the execution of a function. This is implemented by creating a new memory view per function activation, which makes sure that any change to a global (such as a store instruction) is stored in the memory view. It creates a copy of the object and stores that in the memory view to be modified. Once the function has executed successfully, all these modified objects are then copied into the parent function, up to the root function invocation which (on successful execution) writes the values back into the LLVM module. This way, function invocations can be rolled back without leaving a trace.

Pointer values point to memory objects, but not to a particular memory object. Every memory object is given an index, and pointers use that index to look up the current active object for the pointer to load from or to copy when storing to it.

Rolling back a function should roll back everyting, including the few instructions emitted at runtime. This is done by treating instructions much like memory objects and removing the created instructions when necessary.

Why is this necessary?

A partial evaluator is hard to get right, so why go through all the trouble of writing one?

The answer is that globals with initializers are much easier to optimize by LLVM than initialization code. Also, there are a few other benefits:

  • Dead globals are trivial to optimize away.
  • Constant globals are easier to detect. Remember that Go does not have global constants in the same sense as that C has them. Constants are useful because they can be propagated and provide some opportunities for other optimizations (like dead code elimination when branching on the contents of a global).
  • Constants are much more efficent on microcontrollers, as they can be allocated in flash instead of RAM.

The Go SSA package does not create constant initializers for globals. Instead, it emits initialization functions, so if you write the following:

var foo = []byte{1, 2, 3, 4}

It would generate something like this:

var foo []byte

func init() {
    foo = make([]byte, 4)
    foo[0] = 1
    foo[1] = 2
    foo[2] = 3
    foo[3] = 4

This is of course hugely wasteful, it's much better to create foo as a global array instead of initializing it at runtime.

For more details, see this section of the documentation.



Package interp is a partial evaluator of code run at package init time. See the README in this package for details.



View Source
const Version = 1

Version of the interp package. It must be incremented whenever the interp package is changed in a way that affects the output so that cached package builds will be invalidated. This version is independent of the TinyGo version number.


This section is empty.


func Run

func Run(mod llvm.Module, debug bool) error

Run evaluates runtime.initAll function as much as possible at compile time. Set debug to true if it should print output while running.

func RunFunc

func RunFunc(fn llvm.Value, debug bool) error

RunFunc evaluates a single package initializer at compile time. Set debug to true if it should print output while running.


type Error

type Error struct {
	ImportPath string
	Inst       llvm.Value
	Pos        token.Position
	Err        error
	Traceback  []ErrorLine

Error encapsulates compile-time interpretation errors with an associated import path. The errors may not have a precise location attached.

func (*Error) Error

func (e *Error) Error() string

Error returns the string of the first error in the list of errors.

type ErrorLine

type ErrorLine struct {
	Pos  token.Position
	Inst llvm.Value

ErrorLine is one line in a traceback. The position may be missing.