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14.1 Loop representation

This chapter describes the representation of loops in GCC, and functions that can be used to build, modify and analyze this representation. Most of the interfaces and data structures are declared in cfgloop.h. At the moment, loop structures are analyzed and this information is updated only by the optimization passes that deal with loops, but some efforts are being made to make it available throughout most of the optimization passes.

In general, a natural loop has one entry block (header) and possibly several back edges (latches) leading to the header from the inside of the loop. Loops with several latches may appear if several loops share a single header, or if there is a branching in the middle of the loop. The representation of loops in GCC however allows only loops with a single latch. During loop analysis, headers of such loops are split and forwarder blocks are created in order to disambiguate their structures. Heuristic based on profile information and structure of the induction variables in the loops is used to determine whether the latches correspond to sub-loops or to control flow in a single loop. This means that the analysis sometimes changes the CFG, and if you run it in the middle of an optimization pass, you must be able to deal with the new blocks. You may avoid CFG changes by passing LOOPS_MAY_HAVE_MULTIPLE_LATCHES flag to the loop discovery, note however that most other loop manipulation functions will not work correctly for loops with multiple latch edges (the functions that only query membership of blocks to loops and subloop relationships, or enumerate and test loop exits, can be expected to work).

Body of the loop is the set of blocks that are dominated by its header, and reachable from its latch against the direction of edges in CFG. The loops are organized in a containment hierarchy (tree) such that all the loops immediately contained inside loop L are the children of L in the tree. This tree is represented by the struct loops structure. The root of this tree is a fake loop that contains all blocks in the function. Each of the loops is represented in a struct loop structure. Each loop is assigned an index (num field of the struct loop structure), and the pointer to the loop is stored in the corresponding field of the larray vector in the loops structure. The indices do not have to be continuous, there may be empty (NULL) entries in the larray created by deleting loops. Also, there is no guarantee on the relative order of a loop and its subloops in the numbering. The index of a loop never changes.

The entries of the larray field should not be accessed directly. The function get_loop returns the loop description for a loop with the given index. number_of_loops function returns number of loops in the function. To traverse all loops, use FOR_EACH_LOOP macro. The flags argument of the macro is used to determine the direction of traversal and the set of loops visited. Each loop is guaranteed to be visited exactly once, regardless of the changes to the loop tree, and the loops may be removed during the traversal. The newly created loops are never traversed, if they need to be visited, this must be done separately after their creation. The FOR_EACH_LOOP macro allocates temporary variables. If the FOR_EACH_LOOP loop were ended using break or goto, they would not be released; FOR_EACH_LOOP_BREAK macro must be used instead.

Each basic block contains the reference to the innermost loop it belongs to (loop_father). For this reason, it is only possible to have one struct loops structure initialized at the same time for each CFG. The global variable current_loops contains the struct loops structure. Many of the loop manipulation functions assume that dominance information is up-to-date.

The loops are analyzed through loop_optimizer_init function. The argument of this function is a set of flags represented in an integer bitmask. These flags specify what other properties of the loop structures should be calculated/enforced and preserved later:

These properties may also be computed/enforced later, using functions create_preheaders, force_single_succ_latches, mark_irreducible_loops and record_loop_exits.

The memory occupied by the loops structures should be freed with loop_optimizer_finalize function.

The CFG manipulation functions in general do not update loop structures. Specialized versions that additionally do so are provided for the most common tasks. On GIMPLE, cleanup_tree_cfg_loop function can be used to cleanup CFG while updating the loops structures if current_loops is set.