A beneficial feature of the ARM architecture is that instructions can be made to execute conditionally. This is common in other architectures’ branch or jump instructions but ARM allows its use with most mnemonics.
The condition is specified with a two-letter suffix, such as
CC, appended to the mnemonic. The condition is tested against the current processor flags and if not met the instruction is treated as a no-op. This feature often removes the need to branch, avoiding pipeline stalls and increasing speed. It can also increase code density.
By default the data processing instructions do not affect the condition code flags but can be made to by suffixing
S. The comparison instructions
TST, and co. do this implicitly.
The following code fragment is a loop which runs until the counter in R1 hits zero, at which point the condition code
NE (not equal to zero) controlling the branch becomes false.
MOV r1, #10 loop ... SUBS r1, r1, #1 BNE loop
The top end of the program status register looks like this:
When an ALU operation changes the flags:
- N – Negative
- is set if the result of a data processing instruction was negative.
- Z – Zero
- is set if the result was zero.
- C – Carry
- is set if an addition, subtraction or compare causes a result bigger than 32 bits, or is set from the output of the shifter for move and logical instructions.
- V – Overflow
- is set if an addition, subtraction or compare produces a signed result bigger than 31 bits.
|0000||EQ||Equal / equals zero||Z|
|0010||CS / HS||Carry set / unsigned higher or same||C|
|0011||CC / LO||Carry clear / unsigned lower||!C|
|0100||MI||Minus / negative||N|
|0101||PL||Plus / positive or zero||!N|
|1000||HI||Unsigned higher||C and !Z|
|1001||LS||Unsigned lower or same||!C or Z|
|1010||GE||Signed greater than or equal||N == V|
|1011||LT||Signed less than||N != V|
|1100||GT||Signed greater than||!Z and (N == V)|
|1101||LE||Signed less than or equal||Z or (N != V)|
The (omitted from slide)
NV condition code is deprecated. Though it originally provided an analogue for the
AL condition code, it was more useful to recover the 224 instructions its presence consumed.
Use a sequence of several conditional instructions:
CMP r0, #5 ; if (a == 5) MOVEQ r0, #10 BLEQ fn ; fn(10)
a is in R0. Compare R0 to 5. The next two instructions will be
executed only if the compare returns EQual. They move 10 into R0, then call
fn’ (branch with link,
Set the flags, then use various condition codes:
CMP r0, #0 ; if (x < 0) MOVLE r0, #0 ; x = 0; MOVGT r0, #1 ; else x = 1;
Use conditional compare instructions:
CMP r0, #'A' ; if (c == 'A' CMPNE r0, #'B' ; || c == 'B') MOVEQ r1, #1 ; y = 1;
A sequence which doesn’t use conditional execution:
CMP r3, #0 BEQ next ADD r0, r0, r1 SUB r0, r0, r2 next ...
By transforming the sequence with conditional execution an instruction can be removed:
CMP r3, #0 ADDNE r0, r0, r1 SUBNE r0, r0, r2 ...
Some of the newer instructions such as
BLX can’t be conditionally executed. These are encoded using the instruction space occupied by the now-obsolete
NV (never execute) condition code.
It’s possible to combine the
S bit with conditional execution, e.g.
ADDEQS r0, r1, r2.
The only compiler which makes extensive use of condition codes is ARMCC. It applies them in an optimisation pass called branch removal.
When is it worth branching over condition codes? Depends on the CPU’s branch penalty, but it’s often 4..6 instructions.