x86-64 assembly language reference

x86-64 machine code is the native language of the processors in most desktop and laptop computers. x86-64 assembly language is a human-readable version of this machine code.

x86-64 has hundreds of instructions, and compiling programs to the most efficient machine code requires a good understanding of all of them–indeed, the fastest C compiler for x86-64 processors is developed by Intel! However, we'll be able to develop a perfectly functional compiler using only a small subset of x86-64 instructions.

This is a guide to that subset of x86-64, and to the OCaml library we have provided to produce x86-64 instructions.

x86-64 assembly language

The assembly programs produced by our compiler have the following form:

;; frontmatter: global, etc.
entry:
        ;; instructions
label1:
        ;; more instructions
label2:
        ;; more instructions

At the top of the file are some special directives to the assembler, telling it which labels should be visible from outside the file (for now, just the special entry label). After that, each line is either a label, which indicates a position in the program that other lines can reference, or an instruction, which actually tells the processor what to do.

In this class, your compiler won't emit assembly code directly. Instead, you'll use an OCaml library developed by the course staff. This library handles some differences between operating systems and idiosyncrasies of x86-64. The rest of this document focuses on the library.

Directives

The main interface to our OCaml library is the directive type. A directive corresponds to a single line of assembly code; we will produce a .s file from a list of these directives. Directives, therefore, correspond directly to frontmatter declarations, labels, and instructions.

Operands

Many directives take one or more arguments. For most instructions, these arguments are instances of the operand type. An operand can be any one of:

Some directives–jumps, for instance–take a string naming a label instead of an operand.

Directive reference

This table will be updated as the class progresses and homeworks require additional assembly directives. Notes on some instructions are below, as indicated.

Directive Example asm Description Notes
Global of string Tells the assembler to export a label
global entry
Section of string section .text Writes to a segment in the generated binary
Label of string label: Labels a program location
DqLabel of string dq label1 Writes the address of a particular label DqLabel
LeaLabel of (operand * string) lea rax, [label1] Loads a label's address into a register LeaLabel
Mov of (operand * operand) mov rax, [rsp + -8] Moves data between locations
Add of (operand * operand) add r8, rsp Adds its arguments, storing the result in the first one
Sub of (operand * operand) sub rax, 4 Subtracts its second argument from its first, storing the result in its first
Div of operand idiv r8 Divides the signed 128-bit integer rdx:rax by its argument, storing the result in rax Div and Mul
Mul of operand imul [rsp + -8] Multiplies rax by its argument, storing the result in rdx:rax Div and Mul
Cqo cqo Sign-extends rax into rdx
Shl of (operand * operand) shl rax,2 Shifts its first argument left by its second argument
Shr of (operand * operand) shr rax,3 Shifts its first argument right by its second argument, padding with zeroes on the left
Sar of (operand * operand) sar rax,3 Shifts its first argument right by its second argument, padding with zeroes or ones to maintain the sign Sar
Cmp of (operand * operand) cmp r8, [rsp + -16] Compares its two arguments, setting RFLAGS
And of (operand * operand) and rax, r8 Does a bitwise AND of its arguments, storing the result in its first argument
Or of (operand * operand) or r8, 15 Does a bitwise OR of its arguments, storing the result in its first argument
Setz of operand setz al Sets its one-byte argument to the current value of ZF Setz and al
Setl of operand setl al Sets its one-byte argument to the current value of (SF != OF) Setl
Jmp of string jmp label1 Jumps execution to the given label
Je of string je label1 Jumps execution to the given label if ZF is set Jumps
Jne of string jne label1 Jumps execution to the given label if ZF is not set Jumps
Jl of string jl label1 Jumps execution to the given label if SF != OF Jumps
Jnl of string jnl label1 Jumps execution to the given label if SF == OF Jumps
Jg of string jg label1 Jumps execution to the given label if SF == OF AND !ZF Jumps
Jng of string jng label1 Jumps execution to the given label if SF != OF OR ZF Jumps
ComputedJmp of operand jmp rax Jumps to the location in the given operand
Ret ret Returns control to the calling function
Comment of string ;; helpful comment A comment
  1. DqLabel

    DqLabel "label1" writes the address of the given label into the program as data (dq is short for "data, quad-word"). You can then load this address with a mov instruction. You should make sure that your program's execution never gets to this directive–it's just data, not an instruction!

  2. LeaLabel

    LeaLabel (Reg Rax, "label1") loads the address of the given label into a register. You'll use this when doing a computed jump, or when trying to load data from a given label (e.g., in combination with DqLabel).

  3. Div and Mul

    Div and Mul work differently from Add and Sub. Because multiplying two 64-bit numbers will frequently overflow, the result of imul is stored in rdx:rax as a 128-bit number. Our compiler doesn't handle overflow, so you don't need to worry about this for multiplication; however, idiv does the inverse operation, dividing rdx:rax by its argument. If you just want to divide rax, you'll need to sign-extend rax into rdx with the cqo instruction. This sets rdx to all 0s if rax is positive or zero and all 1s if rax is negative.

    Finally, neither Div nor Mul can take an immediate value as their argument–it needs to be either a register or a memory offset.

  4. Sar

    Sar does an arithmetic right-shift, which maintains the sign of its argument while shifting it to right.

  5. Setz

    Setz(Reg Rax) sets the last byte of rax to 0b00000001 if ZF is set and to 0b00000000 otherwise. In assembly it actually looks like setz al, because al is the name for the last byte of rax. The OCaml assembly library takes care of this for you.

  6. Setl

    setl is short for "set if less." Just as Setz sets its argument to 1 if the last cmp instruction compared equal arguments, setl sets its argument to 1 if, in the last cmp instruction, the first operand was less than the second. So

    cmp r8, 40
    setl al
    

    will set the last byte of rax to 1 if r8 is less than 40.

    This works because cmp arg1, arg2 sets several flags:

    • ZF if arg1 - arg2 = 0
    • SF if arg1 - arg2 < 0
    • OF if arg1 - arg2 overflows

    setl jumps if SF != OF, which means that the signed value arg1 is less than the signed value arg2.

    Most of the time, you won't need to worry about the specific flags. Just do a cmp instruction and use the set (or j, see below) instruction with the right mnemonic.

  7. Conditional jumps

    je and friends jump to the specified label if their condition is true. The mnemonics work as explained above. For instance:

    cmp r8, 40
    jng label1
    

    will jump to label 1 if the value in r8 was Not Greater than 40.