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jojopi
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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Tue Feb 12, 2013 8:34 pm

Bakul Shah wrote:For that reason "*p++ = *p++ + y" can't be converted to "*p++ += y".
In C, at least, it can. You have two assignments to p with no intervening sequence point there, so the behaviour is undefined, and the compiler can emit whatever it likes.

pygmy_giant
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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Tue Feb 12, 2013 9:07 pm

If this sort of thing generates unexpected errors I think it serves people right for writing smary-pants-confus-o-code.

One thing at a time. Keep it clear and simple.

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:32 pm

That's the reason most style guides say that x++ is only to be used as a statement, not as a component of an expression.

Note I did not say the compiler would have miscalculated if there had been side-effects; I doubt it would have. In the case of *x++ +=y it would have probably compiled equivalent code to *x = *x + y; x = x + 1, and yes it may very well have calculated the address of x four times. I don't know, I didn't try it.

My point was that the programmer must not assume that when they write code that they believe can be converted to efficient assembler code, that the compiler will compile to that code. But more importantly, it is not necessary to write obscure code in order to ensure that the compiled code is efficient. That is the job of the compiler. In particular, the only advantages of the C language for system-level programming are the well-defined memory layout (and even that requires a non-standard alignment pragma) and the volatile keyword. Everything else is syntactic sugar.

I am also reminded of a friend who wrote a benchmark program for a mainframe machine. It consisted of a big loop containing a complex calculation, but the resulting executable was suspiciously fast and conspicuously small. The compiler had determined that the entire calculation had no side-effects, such as printing out the result, and had converted the whole thing, loop, calculation, variable declarations and everything, to two assembler instructions:

Code: Select all

MOV R0, #0
RET
To drag this back on-topic, there is a need for people to understand these issues in order to be able to write optimally efficient and maintainable code. An understanding of assembler is a prerequisite for that.

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:42 pm

pygmy_giant wrote:If this sort of thing generates unexpected errors I think it serves people right for writing smarty-pants-confus-o-code.

One thing at a time. Keep it clear and simple.
I guess it depends on what the programmer thinks is clear and simple. Personally, I think:

while ((*dst++ = *src++)) /*nop*/;

is a clean and simple way to copy a null-terminated string, and an elegant idiom. But then I learned PDP-11 ASM before C.

I figure that if you want a wordy programming language, stick to COBOL.

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:50 pm

johnbeetem wrote:
pygmy_giant wrote:If this sort of thing generates unexpected errors I think it serves people right for writing smarty-pants-confus-o-code.

One thing at a time. Keep it clear and simple.
I guess it depends on what the programmer thinks is clear and simple. Personally, I think:

while ((*dst++ = *src++)) /*nop*/;

is a clean and simple way to copy a null-terminated string, and an elegant idiom. But then I learned PDP-11 ASM before C.

I figure that if you want a wordy programming language, stick to COBOL.
I prefer strncpy. Which has the virtue of being more understandable and normally safer.

Who are the people still programming in assember? As I said before it's decades since speed was a reason to drop down into assembler in my line of work. What jobs require assembler for speed reasons now?

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:55 pm

rurwin wrote:My point was that the programmer must not assume that when they write code that they believe can be converted to efficient assembler code, that the compiler will compile to that code. But more importantly, it is not necessary to write obscure code in order to ensure that the compiled code is efficient. That is the job of the compiler.
The compilers I've used over the last 20 years or so have produced quite good code that accurately tracks my C source code. Perhaps this results from my long experience with PDP-11 ASM, so YMMV. They were also good compilers.

Having maintained other people's code, my experience has been that efficient code is generally less obscure than inefficient code. Yes, if you're using a trick like a clever technique from logic design or logic simulation, you must document it carefully. And as you point out, there's no reason to try to duplicate peep-hole optimizations done by the compiler. But the main source of inefficiency is poor choice of algorithms and data structures, and an optimizing compiler isn't going to "make a silk purse out of a sow's ear". I would think people who are careful about writing efficient code are also careful about choosing efficient algorithms.

JMO/YMMV

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:08 pm

joan wrote:Who are the people still programming in assembler? As I said before it's decades since speed was a reason to drop down into assembler in my line of work. What jobs require assembler for speed reasons now?
It depends on your line of work. I think DSP (Digital Signal Processor) programming still requires ASM if you want it to run really fast. DSPs have high-performance ALUs, but to keep them busy you have to put data in small, fast multi-port RAMs and there are lots of constraints on what operands you can use simultaneously. It may be that GPUs have similar issues, but it's hard to tell because nobody publishes their architectures.

Generally, with a DSP application you write it in C and see where it's spending most of its time. Then you take those pieces out and make them ASM subroutines, leaving the outer loops and control code in C. For common DSP functions, you can use libraries that the vendor or 3rd parties have written for you -- in ASM.

In more general-purpose computing, there are some architectures such as PowerPC that have rather expensive interrupts because the calling conventions assume there are lots of scratch registers. That's normally great, but if an interrupt occurs you have to save and restore all those scratch registers when calling C functions. For some interrupt service routines you might be better off rewriting them in ASM so you don't have to save and restore so many registers. Not much source code, but it can make a significant difference in performance.

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:18 pm

johnbeetem wrote:
joan wrote:Who are the people still programming in assembler? As I said before it's decades since speed was a reason to drop down into assembler in my line of work. What jobs require assembler for speed reasons now?
It depends on your line of work. I think DSP (Digital Signal Processor) programming still requires ASM if you want it to run really fast. DSPs have high-performance ALUs, but to keep them busy you have to put data in small, fast multi-port RAMs and there are lots of constraints on what operands you can use simultaneously. It may be that GPUs have similar issues, but it's hard to tell because nobody publishes their architectures.

Generally, with a DSP application you write it in C and see where it's spending most of its time. Then you take those pieces out and make them ASM subroutines, leaving the outer loops and control code in C. For common DSP functions, you can use libraries that the vendor or 3rd parties have written for you -- in ASM.

In more general-purpose computing, there are some architectures such as PowerPC that have rather expensive interrupts because the calling conventions assume there are lots of scratch registers. That's normally great, but if an interrupt occurs you have to save and restore all those scratch registers when calling C functions. For some interrupt service routines you might be better off rewriting them in ASM so you don't have to save and restore so many registers. Not much source code, but it can make a significant difference in performance.
Sort of confirms what I felt. Add up those engineers and it's fairly close to 0% of software engineers. The speed argument for learning assembler doesn't work for me.

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:34 pm

jojopi wrote:
Bakul Shah wrote:For that reason "*p++ = *p++ + y" can't be converted to "*p++ += y".
In C, at least, it can. You have two assignments to p with no intervening sequence point there, so the behaviour is undefined, and the compiler can emit whatever it likes.
Good catch! But there is such a thing as quality of implementation and emiting arbitrary code can get you in trouble. I'd prefer a compiler that outputs a compile time warning instead of run time code for "rm -rf $HOME"

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:43 pm

johnbeetem wrote: while ((*dst++ = *src++)) /*nop*/;

is a clean and simple way to copy a null-terminated string, and an elegant idiom.
Only if you can be mathematically certain that there is a null terminator. Otherwise you'll create a buffer overflow vulnerability. If you are certain, then you had better put a comment in explaining that, or I will come along and correct your code to something safer. I might do that anyway, because somewhere down the road a programmer might make changes that invalidate your reasoning. And once that comment is taken into account, the idiom looks a lot less concise.

strncpy in itself is not a solution either, since it does not guarantee to put a null terminator onto dst. The correct code is:

Code: Select all

strncpy(dst, src, MAXSTR - 1);
dst[MAXSTR - 1] = '\0';
or

Code: Select all

int i;
for (i=0; i < MAXSTR - 1; i++)
{
    dst[i] = src[i];
    if (src[i] == '\0')
    {
        break;
    }
}
dst[MAXSTR - 1] = '\0'
You can write that smaller, but not more efficiently without an in-depth understanding of your particular compiler. For example:

Code: Select all

...
    if((*src++ = *dst++) == '\0')
...
may be more efficient, but it may not be if for instance dst[x] = src[x] reduces to MOV R1[R0], R2[R0], but *src++ = *dst++ compiles to MOV [R1], [R2]; INC R1; INC R2.

Of course, strncpy will usually be more efficient, since generally it is coded to move int-sized chunks where possible. And then you have to understand when that is appropriate and what the overhead of calling a function will do to the efficiency.

All of which mean that unless you have a proven need to wring every nanosecond out of the code, you should write it for robustness and maintainability. And if you do have that proven need, writing it in assembler is the only way to be sure that you are getting the code you expect.

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:49 pm

johnbeetem wrote:
rurwin wrote:My point was that the programmer must not assume that when they write code that they believe can be converted to efficient assembler code, that the compiler will compile to that code. But more importantly, it is not necessary to write obscure code in order to ensure that the compiled code is efficient. That is the job of the compiler.
The compilers I've used over the last 20 years or so have produced quite good code that accurately tracks my C source code. Perhaps this results from my long experience with PDP-11 ASM, so YMMV. They were also good compilers.

Having maintained other people's code, my experience has been that efficient code is generally less obscure than inefficient code. Yes, if you're using a trick like a clever technique from logic design or logic simulation, you must document it carefully. And as you point out, there's no reason to try to duplicate peep-hole optimizations done by the compiler. But the main source of inefficiency is poor choice of algorithms and data structures, and an optimizing compiler isn't going to "make a silk purse out of a sow's ear". I would think people who are careful about writing efficient code are also careful about choosing efficient algorithms.

JMO/YMMV
Agreed 100%. For writing efficient code, it is more important to learn how to profile your code to find "hot spots" and learn to "play" with your code than to learn assembly language. If you micro-optimize your code, it become less flexible and it is much harder to play with it (rearrange it to achieve the same means).

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 1:19 am

To me we need to change our way of thinking, we need to see software like Japanese would see hardware.
If we did, each new ver of software would be smaller and faster.
We have gotten faster and faster hardware and yet software runs slower than in win 3.1 days.
I do not call that progress.

Assembly will beat any language on program size.
Speed optimizing is down to the coders skills, but the top assembly coder, will alway beat the top HLL programmer for speed optimization of code.
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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:00 am

DexOS wrote:To me we need to change our way of thinking, we need to see software like Japanese would see hardware.
If we did, each new ver of software would be smaller and faster.
We have gotten faster and faster hardware and yet software runs slower than in win 3.1 days.
I do not call that progress.

Assembly will beat any language on program size.
Speed optimizing is down to the coders skills, but the top assembly coder, will alway beat the top HLL programmer for speed optimization of code.
I could not have pu it better my self. I hve been reading Justin Fletchers Rambles and his dislike for Assembly always bites my mind for this very reason. There is a good reason that most of RISC OS was written in assembly before he startd working with it, and there is a reason that nearly half of ROOLs RISC OS branch is still assembly (and about to be a bit more :-) ).

If with each new version of software we made it smaller and got it running faster than the last while still improving the feature set then we would truely be able to see the speed that the modern hardware is capable of, and we would also be able to better use the increasing resources available.

Also using assembly makes you think about what you are doing. You do not have all of the safe gaurds that HLLs give you. Even most C compilers protect you to a degree, per example Aray bounds checking (this should have never made it into compilers for C of all languages) and stack bounds checking. These are things that the developer should think about, Do you know how much time many applications are wasting waiting for the OS to grow there stack just because the did not allocate a sufficient stack at startup (most programmers do ot even think about the allocation of the stack as they just think the OS will take care of that [talking about bad practice, yuck]). Not to mention that most modern applications have more memory leaks than on would care to count, an error that would be unexceptable for a well written fast application though has become the standard.

I dread updatng the Linux on my PC because I know that the next one will be slower and less capable than the previous, same goes for most of the software for linux. The same for my Windoze box (I have ONE because so many customers use Widoze).
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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 7:58 am

The first PC's were more than capable of running a spreadsheet Lotus 123 was the killer application for the PC and Compaq got their break because they were able to run Lotus123 without it being an IBM.

Both the Original IBM and Compaq machines were limited to 1Mbyte of memory were 8 bit machines that were capable of Spreadsheet, Database, Wordprocessing, Desktop Publishing and some limitied Graphics (graphics were limited to what graphic processing was available at the time)

I am not suggesting we go back to those levels a PC in those days would only run one of those applications at a time.

The advances in computer hardware are amazing and the capabilities are fantastic but a lot of it has come at the expense of crafted software that optimizes every bit of memory.

HLL made it posible to write routines that had elbow room. This is not inherently wrong or lazy it just makes the code easier to maintain.

I like to use vehicle analogies (I am originaly a motor mechanic)

So you build a big car with a big engine compartment and it's easy to maintain over time you sqeeze bigger and bigger engines into the space you add supperchargers or turbo chargers fuel ijection systems nitro injection systems eventually you use up all the available space and it's a nightmare to do simple tasks like change the oil filter.

Assembler leaves loads of space under the bonnet but it takes really skillful engineering to do it. ;)

If we want to push the boundries of human endeavour we need to make maximum use of all resources with minimum impact on the environment, Clean tight code may not look like a big saving. Consider stuff in orbit it may not seem worth while writing tighter code but if you can make your computer more efficient you can pack it into a smaller package and use fewer clock cycles to run it fewer clock cycles implies it runs quicker therefore does the job with less power less power means smaller batteries or the same battery lasting longer.

Or another one the search for fusion power small savings in computer speed may mean that a task that just was not quite quick enough to run the tokomak feedback loop becomes feasable.

Some child that learns now how to code in assembler on a Raspberry Pi has a good chance of joining the adults who solves these, and a multitude of other efficiency problems. We don't have to teach them all but there has to be space for some to learn assembler.
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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 6:04 pm

Jim JKla wrote:Both the Original IBM and Compaq machines were limited to 1Mbyte of memory were 8 bit machines that were capable of Spreadsheet, Database, Word-processing, Desktop Publishing and some limited Graphics (graphics were limited to what graphic processing was [affordable] at the time)
Actually, the original IBM PC was based on the Intel 8088, which is a 16-bit architecture implemented with an 8-bit external data bus. However, most of the applications originally running on the IBM PC were automatically translated from 8080 source code so ran as 8-bit applications. They actually run slower on the 4.77 MHz IBM PC than the 8 MHz Z-80 machines common at the time.

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 6:34 pm

Accepted with good grace as I am working from wetware memory.

Either way it's tight code not bloatware that will visit the stars. :D

if not written in assembler then written and optimised with tools that are written by people who know how to write assembler.
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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 11:01 pm

I think learning about assembler is as important to a computer scientist as learning about balancing chemical equations is to a .... a chemist!
The raspberry pi is clearly a great tool for learning about them too but I wish someone with a bit more knowledge about this than me would have a go at making some teaching resources.
It could be great!

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Wed Feb 13, 2013 11:54 pm

DavidS wrote: I dread updatng the Linux on my PC because I know that the next one will be slower and less capable than the previous, same goes for most of the software for linux. The same for my Windoze box (I have ONE because so many customers use Widoze).
I also have this problem, i am on Ubuntu 9.10, the PC its on is about 5 year old.
Ubuntu runs great and does everything i need, in the mean time my wife got a new laptop and we installed the latest Ubuntu and i hate it, the new interface suck and its slow.
I have a new base thats just sitting in its box, because theres no reason to use it, as i hate the latest Ubuntu.
I will in the coming weeks install linux mint.

But back to assembly, theres been no test's, but i bet that small fast assembly programs (and OS) would use less power.

I think assembly is good as a beginners language because its simple and logical.
Example:
I bet l you could write a full OS using only 20 assembly mnemonic in different combinations, i admit it would not be the most optimized, but its possible.
To me thats what makes it good for beginners, as you can learn a small sub set of the language and still code lots of stuff.
If not, the beginner ends up cutting and pasting because theres not logic to the language, its just a very big list of do this and this will happen.

Another thing most HLL programmers misunderstand about assembly, that its hard to debug.
But any coder who does a lot of assembly coding know its so easy to debug, as unlike HLL your using 100% of your own code.
The problems usually comes when you mix your code with other code that you do not full understand.
Most assembly coders use there own code, not libs.
I have only ever had to use the print 1 2 3 etc with code in between each number, to find where the problem is, plus dumping a reg or two.
Batteries not included, Some assembly required.

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 12:13 am

When I do my next OS upgrade, I'll be moving to Mint Debian. The difference is that the standard Mint doesn't use a rolling upgrade. I liked that about Ubuntu and miss it.

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 12:40 am

Just had a thought. The best starting point for learning assembler is to learn the use of a dissembler, and cut and paste source to execute in a report process.
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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 12:58 am

DexOS wrote:I think assembly is good as a beginners language because its simple and logical.
Example:
I bet l you could write a full OS using only 20 assembly mnemonic in different combinations, i admit it would not be the most optimized, but its possible.
To me thats what makes it good for beginners, as you can learn a small sub set of the language and still code lots of stuff.
If not, the beginner ends up cutting and pasting because theres not logic to the language, its just a very big list of do this and this will happen.
There are only 36 mnemonics in ARM assmbly to start with (FP, VFP, etc are not ARM they are coprocessors) so 20 is a pretty huge subset :-). That is unless you count each conditional form, and each adressing method for LDR/STR/LDM/STM as a different mnemonic (though as all ARM instructions are conditional that would not make much sense).

Yes this simple pure logic does simplify teaching assembly. If you begin with an example of how to do something simple (such as calling a RISC OS SWI &02 [in RISC OS the standard is to use the & prefix for Hexadecimal numbers] to display a string) and then show the logic of each of the three instructions in the three instruction long program (4 if you obey the rules strictly), and build up from there a little bit at a time.
Another thing most HLL programmers misunderstand about assembly, that its hard to debug.
But any coder who does a lot of assembly coding know its so easy to debug, as unlike HLL your using 100% of your own code.
The problems usually comes when you mix your code with other code that you do not full understand.
Most assembly coders use there own code, not libs.
I have only ever had to use the print 1 2 3 etc with code in between each number, to find where the problem is, plus dumping a reg or two.
Very true. And if the error happens during a system call it is easy to know, becaus the address of the code is outside of your own.
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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 1:07 am

DavidS wrote: There are only 36 mnemonics in ARM assmbly to start with (FP, VFP, etc are not ARM they are coprocessors) so 20 is a pretty huge subset :-). That is unless you count each conditional form, and each adressing method for LDR/STR/LDM/STM as a different mnemonic (though as all ARM instructions are conditional that would not make much sense).
True, but i was including " conditional form, and each adressing method" :) .
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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 1:23 pm

DexOS wrote: I also have this problem, i am on Ubuntu 9.10, the PC its on is about 5 year old.
Ubuntu runs great and does everything i need, in the mean time my wife got a new laptop and we installed the latest Ubuntu and i hate it, the new interface suck and its slow.
I have a new base thats just sitting in its box, because theres no reason to use it, as i hate the latest Ubuntu.
I will in the coming weeks install linux mint.
imho you should
try
Tiny Core Linux !
TinyCore becomes simply an example of what the Core Project can produce, an 12MB FLTK/FLWM desktop.
Last edited by duberry on Thu May 30, 2013 6:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 3:22 pm

rurwin wrote:When I do my next OS upgrade, I'll be moving to Mint Debian. The difference is that the standard Mint doesn't use a rolling upgrade. I liked that about Ubuntu and miss it.
What? Unless I've missed something, Ubuntu has never been a rolling release distro. Standard Mint releases are all based on Ubuntu releases; the repositories are largely the same (with some additional ones).

I do find with 'standard' Mint (or Ubuntu, for that matter) it's generally best to stick to the LTS releases (currently Mint 13 and Ubuntu 12.04).

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Re: Assembly - any use in teaching it?

Thu Feb 14, 2013 3:32 pm

DexOS wrote:I am on Ubuntu 9.10, the PC its on is about 5 year old.
Ubuntu runs great and does everything i need, in the mean time my wife got a new laptop and we installed the latest Ubuntu and i hate it, the new interface suck and its slow.
I had exactly the same issue - was running an old version of Ubuntu on a low spec machine and it worked great, upgraded and it ran like a dog - I think mainly the unity interface was slowing it down for me. What I found was the lubuntu distro (light Ubuntu) is much snappier and I much prefer the LXDE interface.

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