Report on CS107E Lab and Assignment 3

Mon Dec 21 2020

tags: public computer science programming report self study notes cs107e


Lab 3

Writing a strcpy function

This was a pretty easy task

Debugging with GDB

We did a bit more debugging with GDB just to understand how the stack works. What exactly happens when a function is called? How does it allocate memory? And how does it jump back to the parent function?

More assembly

I put the following function into godbolt, an online C compiler. This function is quite instructive so I found it quite enlightening to understand it in detail.

void stack_array(void)
char array[32]; // not initialized before read

// printf("array[] = {");
for (int i = 0; i < 5; i++) {
printf(" 0x%x ", array[i]);
array[i]++; // increment starting from garbage
// printf("}\n");

This compiles into the following assembly code:

    stmfd sp!, {r4, r5, r6, lr}
    sub sp, sp, #32
    mov r5, #0
    b .L2
    add r3, sp, #32
    add r6, r3, r5
    ldrb r4, [r6, #-32] @ zero_extendqisi2
    mov r1, r4
    ldr r0, .L5
    bl printf
    add r4, r4, #1
    strb r4, [r6, #-32]
    add r5, r5, #1
    cmp r5, #4
    ble .L3
    add sp, sp, #32
    ldmfd sp!, {r4, r5, r6, lr}
    bx lr
    .word .LC0
    .ascii " 0x%x \000"

The function starts at stack_array. After some preamble (more on this later) and initialising r5 to #0, it jumps to .L2. .L2 checks the value of r5. If r5 is less than 5 it ends the function and does some postamble before jumping back into the parent function using bx lr.

L3 is the main loop. What is happening in .L3:? r5 is i and r4 is the current value of array[i]. So what we do is we load the value in the address pointed to at r6 minus 32 into r4, we increment it, then we store it back into that address. Note that at every loop r6 is being added to Note also that the array is being added from the back.

stmfd and ldmfd

What do these mean? stm means store multiple and ldm means load multiple. If the stack is descending (ergo the stack starts from a large number and decreases) you use fd to do full descending, otherwise you use fa instead.

stmfd sp!, {r4, r5, r6, lr} stores the data inside those four registers into the first four words of the stack pointer, then decrements the stack pointer by 16 (4 * 4).

ldmfd sp!, {r4, r5, r6, lr} loads the first four words of the stack pointer back into those four registers.

Why do we do this? This basically saves the state of this register before we jump into the new function and restores the registers once the function has finished running.

So, the instruction

ldm r4!, {r0, r1, r2, r3}

can be represented by the following pseudocode:

r0 = *(int)(r4) 
r1 = *(int)(r4+4)
r2 = *(int)(r4+8)
r3 = *(int)(r4+12)
r4 = r4 + 16 // writeback (16 bytes transferred)

In the variant without ! the writeback doesn't happen so R4 retains the original value.

Lab 3: Check-in

Explain how the lr register is used as part of making a function call. Which instruction writes to the lr register? Which instruction reads from it? What commands could you use in gdb to observe the changes to the lr register during execution of a function call?

The lr register is the link register. You store the

bl loop
add r1, #1
mov lr #500 @ this stores 500 into LR

@ do some stuff
@ ...
bx lr @ jump back to `add r1, #1`

One thing the prolog here stmfd sp! {r4, r5, r6, lr} does is to support nested functions. Since we only have one lr register, if we had a function calling another function the previous lr would get overwritten and we wouldn't be able to jump back to the grandparent function. That's why you store the lr at the start of the stack when a function is called and load it back into lr after the function has returned and that allows you to go back to your grandparent.

The bl instruction writes to the lr register but you can also use instructions like mov to write to the lr register since it's just another register (register 14). The bx lr instruction reads from the lr register. (it actually reads from any register).

We could use disassemble to look at the source code of the function currently in scope and also points to the current line. We can use info reg to look at the registers and step to go stepwise and keep using info reg to observe the changes in the lr register.

Why is it necessary to plug in both TX and RX for loopback mode to work?

If you don't plug in TX to RX you either don't receive the transmitted messages or you don't transmit any messages at all (if you plug in RX but not TX).

On a hosted system, executing an incorrect call to strlen (e.g. argument is an invalid address or unterminated string) can result in a runtime error (crash/halt). But when running bare metal on the Pi, every call to strlen (whether well-formed or not) will complete “successfully” and return a value. Explain the difference in behavior. What is the return value for an erroneous call?

Let's answer the second part first. Recall that the implementation of strlen iterates through incrementing memory addresses until we hit a \0. Now if we don't hit a zero strlen will keep increasing and the return value is undefined (it can be arbitarily high depending on the state of the Raspi).

Here's our best guess: when we run it on a hosted system the stack size is limited by the OS (see this SO answer)

But programs compiled with for instance C or C++ allocate a fixed size stack at program startup. The size of the stack can usually be specified at compile time (on my particular compiler it default to 1 MB).

and we're guessing that once you try to read values outside of that stack the OS will throw an error.

Assignment 3

string functions, stoi

Most of the string functions were easy but the stoi functions were tricky. WN and I implemented the functions separately as a learning experience. He finished much quicker than I did and was kind enough to review my code, which was very helpful.

xxx_to_base functions

start 2030 12/22 end 2215 12/22

We managed to write a passing string_to_base function. It was quite tricky. We sort of cheated by using printf in a REPL to debug our functions rather than using gdb.