Thursday, 7 August 2014

MA: Assembler

An assembly language is a low-level programming language for a computer, or other programmable device, in which there is a very strong (generally one-to-one) correspondence between the language and the architecture's machine code instructions. Each assembly language is specific to a particular computer architecture, in contrast to most high-level programming languages, which are generally portable across multiple architectures, but require interpreting or compiling.
Assembly language is converted into executable machine code by a utility program referred to as an assembler; the conversion process is referred to as assembly, or assembling the code.

Assembler

An assembler is a program which creates object code by translating combinations of mnemonics and syntax for operations and addressing modes into their numerical equivalents. This representation typically includes an operation code ("opcode") as well as other control bits.[1] The assembler also calculates constant expressions and resolves symbolic names for memory locations and other entities.[2] The use of symbolic references is a key feature of assemblers, saving tedious calculations and manual address updates after program modifications. Most assemblers also include macro facilities for performing textual substitution—e.g., to generate common short sequences of instructions as inline, instead of called subroutines.
Some assemblers may also be able to perform some simple types of instruction set-specific optimizations. One concrete example of this may be the ubiquitous x86 assemblers from various vendors. Most of them are able to perform jump-instruction replacements (long jumps replaced by short or relative jumps) in any number of passes, on request. Others may even do simple rearrangement or insertion of instructions, such as some assemblers for RISC architectures that can help optimize a sensible instruction scheduling to exploit the CPU pipeline as efficiently as possible.[citation needed]
Like early programming languages such as Fortran, Algol, Cobol and Lisp, assemblers have been available since the 1950s and the first generations of text based computer interfaces. However, assemblers came first as they are far simpler to write than compilers for high-level languages. This is because each mnemonic along with the addressing modes and operands of an instruction translates rather directly into the numeric representations of that particular instruction, without much context or analysis. There have also been several classes of translators and semi automatic code generators with properties similar to both assembly and high level languages, with speedcode as perhaps one of the better known examples.

Number of passes

There are two types of assemblers based on how many passes through the source are needed to produce the executable program.
  • One-pass assemblers go through the source code once. Any symbol used before it is defined will require "errata" at the end of the object code (or, at least, no earlier than the point where the symbol is defined) telling the linker or the loader to "go back" and overwrite a placeholder which had been left where the as yet undefined symbol was used.
  • Multi-pass assemblers create a table with all symbols and their values in the first passes, then use the table in later passes to generate code.

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