[Mono-devel-list] A clarification on the purpose of alias analysis.

Massimiliano Mantione massi at ximian.com
Thu Feb 24 07:21:47 EST 2005

As the subject says, I'd need a clarification on the purpose of
alias analysis in our JIT.
As usual, "locals" and "local variables" include method arguments
in the text that follows.

Initially I started this thing because I needed accurate liveness
data. These kind of aliasing info can then be used to correctly
build the SSA form even with pointers, and other things... but
in the end it boils down to this:

[1] For each MonoInst, knowing exactly which locals are affected
    (read/written) by that instruction.
    Sometimes the information is not certain (some local *might*
    be affected by that statement), but this is all we can have.
    The more the alias propagator is accurate, the more those
    info are precise.

In another sense, the code I'm writing could also take care of
values that are not local variables.
A "classical" example of aliasing, a function that receives two
pointers that might point to the same location, is of this kind.
In fact the two pointers are aliases, but not of any local.
Considering also these cases, the goal of alias analysis would
be defined as:

[2] For each pointer value, knowing as accurately as possible
    where it is pointing to, so that we can optimize also accesses
    performed through pointers.

I hope I've been clear in explaining the difference between goals
[1] and [2]. Goal [2] is obviously more general.

Actually, solving [1] would allow us to correctly optimize all
uses of local variables (deadce, copyprop, any form of redundancy
In this case, however, all values obtained through pointers would
be generally unknown, because we would not care to track references
pointing outside of local variables.
This would mean that in case [1] it is impossible to optimize any
access performed through a pointer.
We would know when these accesses interfere with local variables
(read or write them), but nothing more.
Particularly, we could not do any elimination of redundant accesses
through pointers, because we would know nothing about the pointed

I do a simple concrete example.
As I was saying, one classical example of aliasing is a method
that receives two pointers, like "void Test (int* a, int* b)".
This is an issue only in case [2].
In fact (in CIL) if whenever the address of a local of this method
is taken it is used as a managed pointer, we know that a and b will
never alias any local variable, and this is by far the most common
Obviously this makes sense if we don't care about optimizing also
accesses through a and b.
Suppose Test contains this code sequence:

*a = x;
*b = y;
z = *a + k;

What I mean is that we must not attempt to replace '*a' with 'x'
on the 3rd line, because *a is aliased by *b.
By the way, the example works the same way if a and b are byref
parameters instead of pointers (the CIL method body would be just
the same, only the C# syntax would be different).

Now, the question is, do we aim for [1] or [2]?
Which really means: is it worth to implement [2]?

I ask this because [1] is relatively easy, but turning it to [2]
afterwords could be really messy.

To see this, let's think at *how* the JIT code should access
aliasing information.

Now (without aliasing) we just check if the MonoInst is flagged
as MONO_SSA_LOAD or MONO_SSA_STORE, and know that the affected
local is "inst->inst_i0->inst_c0".

In case [1], accessing the aliasing information means *only*
understanding for each MonoInst which are the affected locals,
and this can be represented by data structures that track the set
of locals that are potentially aliased by each pointer value (each
local is easily identified by its index in cfg->vars).

In case [2], on the other hand, the center of everything are the
aliases themselves, so the data structures to relate the aliases
to the instructions where they are used are more complex.
In practice I should build some ad hoc sets, which are sort of
"aliasing classes", and see which aliases belong to the same class,
and which variables are (potentially) aliased by each alias class...
a much more complex thing.
This is needed because there would be aliases that do not point
to any local. In the example above, '*a' and '*b' would be in the
same "aliasing class", but their set of locals would be empty.

I'd like to get it right the 1st time, because the potential users
of aliasing information are liveness, deadce, local copyprop, SSA
construction... all that JIT code will be modified to take advantage
from that info.
The code to access data structures in cases [1] and [2] is really
different. I could hide the difference behind an interface, but it
would not be so simple anyway.
This is why I'd like to get it right the 1st time.

So, I repeat the simple question: is case [2] important?
If yes, could you show me some example of optimization that is
really important and that is possible only implementing [2]?

Thanks to anybody who answers...


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