Conditional Specialisation

This example will teach how to create a conditional specialisation: a specialised function that checks for a particular situation (e.g. particular argument values) and runs specialised code if the check passes.

Here is our input program:

int my_strlen(const char* s) {

    int ret = 0;
    return ret;


char cksum(const char* input) {

    char check = 0;
    for(int i = 0, ilim = my_strlen(input); i != ilim; ++i)
        check ^= input[i];
    return check;


cksum computes a simple bytewise XOR check value of an input string. We will create a specialised version of cksum for the particular input “Hello”. The specialised function will still work correctly when fed other input, using unspecialised code to handle this case.

We provide our own implementation of strlen here to avoid having to build the C standard library as LLVM IR, which we’ll get to in a later tutorial.

We’re going to need to refer to LLVM basic blocks in order to specify our specialisation. By default Clang doesn’t name its basic blocks, so we should compile and assign names as follows:

clang -c -emit-llvm cksum.c -o cksum.bc
opt -load /path/to/llpe/utils/ -nameblocks cksum.bc -o cksum_names.bc

Run llvm-dis and find the cksum entry block’s name: in this example it has been named “1”:

llvm-dis cksum_names.bc -o -

define i8 @cksum(i8* %input) {
  %0 = alloca i8*, align 8

If you see a name like <label>:4 or no name at all, check you ran nameblocks successfully.

Now we can run the specialisation itself (using the same definition of $LLPE_OPT as in the tutorial):

$LLPE_OPT -llpe-root cksum \
	  -llpe-force-noalias-arg 0 \
	  -llpe-path-condition-str cksum,__args__,0,Hello,cksum,1 \
	  -llpe-verbose-path-conditions \
	  cksum_names.bc \
	  -o cksum_spec.bc
  • llpe-root picks the function where specialisation will begin (default main)
  • llpe-force-noalias-arg 0 specifies that the first parameter to cksum does not alias any other pointers (e.g. globals, other arguments).
  • llpe-path-condition-str says that we should specialise assuming cksum’s first argument (__args__,0) holds the string Hello starting in function cksum block 1 (its entry block, the start of the function). Instead of __args__ we could have named a basic block to make an assumption about an instruction, or __globals__ to assume about a global variable. We could also have specified a different function and block for the last two arguments to indicate that the assumption, and thus specialisation based upon it, should not begin until the specified program point.
  • llpe-verbose-path-conditions says to insert helpful print statements indicating when specialised code is entered and left and for what reason.

If we use llvm-dis to examine the specialised code, we will find it begins something like this:

  %0 = call i32 (i8*, ...)* @printf(i8* getelementptr inbounds ([37 x i8]* @0, i32 0, i32 0))
  %1 = call i32 @strcmp(i8* getelementptr inbounds ([6 x i8]* @spec_env_str, i32 0, i32 0), i8* %input)
  %2 = icmp eq i32 %1, 0
  br i1 %2, label %3, label %6

; <label>:3                                       ; preds = %entry1
  %4 = call i8* @llvm.stacksave()
  call void @llvm.stackrestore(i8* %4)
  %5 = call i32 (i8*, ...)* @printf(i8* getelementptr inbounds ([49 x i8]* @2, i32 0, i32 0))
  ret i8 66

Aside from the printf calls that provide debugging information because we used the verbose-path-conditions option, we see a strcmp call to verify our specialisation assumption (that the argument input points to the string Hello). The specialised path starting at %3 returns the checksum 66 right away, whilst starting at %6 we will find a complete unspecialised version of cksum ready to handle any other input.

If we write a main.c that calls cksum with a few different values, then link and run, we will see debugging output telling us when specialised code was used. Here my main function called cksum with “Hello” and then “World”:

clang cksum_spec.bc main.c -o cksum_test

Entering specialised function cksum
Successfully exiting specialised function cksum
Entering specialised function cksum
Failed path condition String PC: "Hello" -> i8* %input in block 1 / 0