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When you do kernel debugging of Windows NT on a DEC Alpha-based system, there are a number of commonly used assembly language conventions that are useful to know. Some of them are very simple; others are more complicated. Debugging can go much faster after you are aware of these conventions.
Alpha assembly language has a very small number of instructions. The set used in Windows NT operating system code is made even smaller by the fact that floating point commands are generally not used. Because of that, knowing the following types of assembly instructions should give you a good start at debugging Windows NT on a DEC Alpha computer.
RegistersDEC Alpha computers, like many RISC-based systems, have a large number of registers. There are 32 integer registers (R0-R31) and 32 floating point registers (F0-F31), all of which are 64-bit. In most operating system assembly code, only the integer registers will be used. Additionally, the assembly language does not refer to the registers using R0 through R31, instead, it uses a naming convention that indicates the general purpose of the registers:
Register Name Purpose -------- ---- ------- R0 V0 Frequently used to store function addresses R1-R8 T0-T7 Temporary registers, used to store interim values in calculations R9-R14 S0-S5 Primary registers, used to store local variables and other important 'permanent' values R15 FP/S6 Frame pointer, also referred to as S6 R16-R21 A0-A5 Argument registers, used to pass arguments in function calls. R22-R25 T8-T11 More temporary registers R26 RA Return Address register R27 PV/T12 Pointer value/Temporary storage R28 AT Assembler temporary register R29 GP Global Pointer R30 SP Stack Pointer R31 ZERO Special constant register which always holds zero
The T and A registers are all temporary-use registers, and the S registers are more permanent (in the sense that the S registers will always be saved off onto the stack at the beginning of each function and restored at the end of each function), so they can be counted on to hold the same values before and after a function call has been made (where the A and T registers may have been changed by the function call). The FP and SP registers will also be saved in the same manner.
Store and Load InstructionsThe two types of instructions you will commonly see are load and store, some examples of which are:
ldl t5,0x8(s3) ldq t1,0x460(t1) stl t6,0x4(s2) stq s0,0x50(sp)
The general format of both of these commands is:
ldX rY,<offset>(rZ) stX rY,<offset>(rZ)
where X is the size of the value (longword or quadword), rY is the first Register, and rZ is the second. The notation <offset>(rZ) means to add the literal offset to the value in register Z and use that as a memory address, much like the Intel instruction 'dword ptr[eax+0x4]'. In the case of the load command, the value at <offset>(rZ) is loaded into register Y, in the case of the store command, the value in register Y is written to the memory at <offset>(rZ).
There are also special forms of these instructions, but the only one you will see frequently is the load address instruction (LDA), that has the same operands as the other load commands. A load address will compute the address in the second operand ( <offset>(rZ) ) and put that result in rY, rather than loading the value at that address.
Moving Data Between RegistersIn Alpha assembly, you will often see the following types of commands as well, all of which have a very similar effect:
1. bis fp,zero,a2 2. bis zero,zero,a3 3. bis zero,#0x3,a1 4. bis zero,zero,zero
In all of the above commands, zero is a special literal that refers to a fixed register on the processor that is always set to zero. 'bis' is the mnemonic for a bitwise or and is a very fast instruction, taking one processor cycle to run. The four commands above have the following results:
Branch CommandsOn an Intel-based system, there are a number of different types of comparison and branch commands that are generally used sequentially; that is, a cmp followed by a jne or a test followed by a jle. On the Alpha, the branch command set is much smaller and each command combines the test with the branch. The conditional branch commands have the following format
where xx is a two or three letter sequence indicating the type of test to be performed on the value in register Y and <address> is the address to jump to if the test is true. For example:
bne t5,ExFreePool+0x27c - If t5 is not equal to zero, branch to ExFreePool+0x27c ble a1,KiWaitTest+0x198 - If a1 is less than or equal to zero, branch to KiWaitTest+0x198
Conditional branch commands will almost always come after some kind of bitwise Boolean operation on the register being tested. For example:
xor t5,a2,t5 bne t5,ExFreePool+0x27c
These examples will cause code execution to jump to ExFreePool+0x27c if the value in t5 and a2 are equal, as an exclusive or (xor) will result in zero for equal values and non zero for unequal values.
Alpha assembly also has unconditional branch and jump commands - br, bsr, jsr, jmp and ret. All of these except ret have the following format:
bXX rY,<address> jXX rY,<address>
In all 4 of the commands, the address of the next instruction is stored in register Y and execution jumps to <address>. The ret instruction performs the standard return.
For more information on Alpha assembly language, see the Alpha AXP Architecture reference manual, written by Richard L. Sites and Richard T. Witek. For information on basic debugging procedures on RISC systems, search the Microsoft Knowledge Base on the following keywords:
RISC and DEBUG and WINNT
Article ID: 159455 - Last Review: February 28, 2014 - Revision: 3.0