ARM > Efficient C for ARM > Function Argument Types

by David Thomas on

Function Argument Types

short addshorts1(short a, short b)
  return (short) (a + (b >> 1));
  • The same rule seen on the previous page also holds for arguments passed to functions.
  • In this example the input and output values are both short.
    • Yet the values will be passed in (and out) in 32-bit-wide registers.
  • Should the compiler assume values are already in the range of a short?
  • Or should the compiler force the values to this range by sign-extending the low 16 bits to fill the 32-bit register?
  • The compiler must make a compatible decision for both the caller and the callee.


For the above example, ARMCC generates:

  ADD r0,r0,r1,ASR #1  ; r0 = (int)a + ((int)b>>1)
  MOV r0,r0,LSL #16
  MOV r0,r0,ASR #16    ; r0 = (short)r0
  MOV pc,r14           ; return r0

It assumes input values are in the correct range.

GCC generates:

  MOV r0,r0,LSL #16
  MOV r1,r1,LSL #16
  MOV r1,r1,ASR #17    ; r1 = (int)a
  ADD r1,r1,r0,ASR #16 ; r1 += (int)b
  MOV r1,r1,LSL #16
  MOV r0,r1,ASR #16    ; r0 = (short)r1
  MOV pc,lr            ; return r0

It makes no assumptions about the range of argument values so sign extends the values on entry.


This is from ARM System Developer’s Guide section 5.2.2.

  • This sort of behaviour differs from toolchain to toolchain.
  • It makes it hard to mix objects reliably between compilers.

The LSL #16 + ASR #16 is a sign extending operation.

ARMCC passes narrow arguments and return value. GCC passes wide but returns narrow.

You can see from this that simply mixing objects between different compilers can cause all sorts of problems.