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This article describes the calling conventions used when programming x86 architecture microprocessors. This is intimately related with the assignment of sizes and formats to programming-language types. Another closely related topic is name mangling , which determines how symbol names in the code are mapped to symbol names used by the linker. Calling conventions, type representations, and name mangling are all part of what is known as an application binary interface ABI.
There are subtle differences in how various compilers implement these conventions, so it is often difficult to interface code which is compiled by different compilers. On the other hand, conventions which are used as an API standard such as stdcall are very uniformly implemented.
Prior to microcomputers , the machine manufacturer generally provided an operating system and compilers for several programming languages. The calling convention s for each platform were those defined by the manufacturer’s programming tools. Hardware extensions and all software standards save for a BIOS calling convention were thrown open to market competition.
A multitude of independent software firms offered operating systems, compilers for many programming languages, and applications. Many different calling schemes were implemented by the firms, often mutually exclusive, based on different requirements, historical practices, and programmer creativity. After the IBM-compatible market shakeout, Microsoft operating systems and programming tools with differing conventions predominated, while second-tier firms like Borland and Novell , and open-source projects like GCC , still maintained their own standards.
Provisions for interoperability between vendors and products were eventually adopted, simplifying the problem of choosing a viable convention. The cdecl which stands for C declaration is a calling convention that originates from Microsoft’s compiler for the C programming language and is used by many C compilers for the x86 architecture.
Integer values and memory addresses are returned in the EAX register , floating point values in the ST0 x87 register. The x87 floating point registers ST0 to ST7 must be empty popped or freed when calling a new function, and ST1 to ST7 must be empty on exiting a function.
ST0 must also be empty when not used for returning a value. In the context of the C programming language, function arguments are pushed on the stack in the right-to-left order, i. On x86 , it might produce the following assembly code Intel syntax :. The cdecl calling convention is usually the default calling convention for x86 C compilers , although many compilers provide options to automatically change the calling conventions used.
To manually define a function to be cdecl, some support the following syntax:. There are some variations in the interpretation of cdecl. In regard to how to return values, some compilers return simple data structures with a length of 2 registers or less in the register pair EAX:EDX, and larger structures and class objects requiring special treatment by the exception handler e.
To pass “in memory”, the caller allocates memory and passes a pointer to it as a hidden first parameter; the callee populates the memory and returns the pointer, popping the hidden pointer when returning. In Linux , GCC sets the de facto standard for calling conventions. Since GCC version 4. This is similar to cdecl in that arguments are pushed right-to-left.
The size of the parameter list in doublewords is passed in AL. Arguments are pushed right-to-left. In these conventions, the callee cleans up the arguments from the stack. Functions which utilize these conventions are easy to recognize in ASM code because they will unwind the stack after returning.
The x86 ret instruction allows an optional bit parameter that specifies the number of stack bytes to release after returning to the caller. Such code looks like this:. Conventions entitled fastcall or register have not been standardized, and have been implemented differently, depending on the compiler vendor.
Based on the Borland Pascal programming language’s calling convention, the parameters are pushed on the stack in left-to-right order opposite of cdecl , and the callee is responsible for removing them from the stack. Modern versions of the Windows API use stdcall , which still has the callee restoring the stack as in the Pascal convention, but the parameters are now pushed right to left. Return values are stored in the EAX register. The first two arguments are passed in the left to right order, and the third argument is pushed on the stack.
There is no stack cleanup, as stack cleanup is performed by the callee. The disassembly of the callee function is:. As the two arguments were passed through the registers and only one parameter was pushed in the stack, the pushed value is being cleared by the retn instruction, as int is 4 bytes in size in x86 systems.
Once the registers have been allocated for vector type arguments, the unused registers are allocated to HVA arguments from left to right. The positioning rules still apply. Remaining arguments are pushed onto the stack, also left to right. The stack order is inverted.
It is also possible to produce a caller clean-up variant using cdecl or extend this to also use SSE registers. The register calling convention may be selected by command line switch. Arguments are assigned to registers from left to right. If any argument cannot be assigned to a register say it is too large it, and all subsequent arguments, are assigned to the stack. Arguments assigned to the stack are pushed from right to left. Names are mangled by adding a suffixed underscore.
As its manual states, “Very few users are likely to need this method, but if it is needed, it can be a lifesaver”. The first four integer parameters are passed in registers eax, ebx, ecx and edx. Floating point parameters are passed on the floating point stack — registers st0, st1, st2, st3, st4, st5 and st6.
Structure parameters are always passed on the stack. Additional parameters are passed on the stack after registers are exhausted. Integer values are returned in eax, pointers in edx and floating point types in st0. The safecall calling convention is the same as the stdcall calling convention, except that exceptions are passed back to the caller in EAX as a HResult instead of in FS: , while the function result is passed by reference on the stack as though it were a final “out” parameter.
When calling a Delphi function from Delphi this calling convention will appear just like any other calling convention, because although exceptions are passed back in EAX, they are automatically converted back to proper exceptions by the caller. When using COM objects created in other languages, the HResults will be automatically raised as exceptions, and the result for Get functions is in the result rather than a parameter.
When creating COM objects in Delphi with safecall, there is no need to worry about HResults, as exceptions can be raised as normal but will be seen as HResults in other languages. Returns a result and raises exceptions like a normal Delphi function, but it passes values and exceptions as though it was:.
There are two primary versions of thiscall used depending on the compiler and whether or not the function uses a variable number of arguments. For the GCC compiler, thiscall is almost identical to cdecl : The caller cleans the stack, and the parameters are passed in right-to-left order. The difference is the addition of the this pointer , which is pushed onto the stack last, as if it were the first parameter in the function prototype. When functions use a variable number of arguments, it is the caller that cleans the stack cf.
On any other compiler thiscall is not a keyword. However, disassemblers, such as IDA , must specify it. Another part of a calling convention is which registers are guaranteed to retain their values after a subroutine call. As the name implies, these general-purpose registers usually hold temporary volatile information, that can be overwritten by any subroutine.
Therefore, it is the caller’s responsibility to push each of these registers onto the stack, if it would like to restore their values after a subroutine call. The other registers are used to hold long-lived values non-volatile , that should be preserved across calls. In other words, when the caller makes a procedure call, it can expect that those registers will hold the same value after the callee returns.
Thus, making it the callee’s responsibility to both save push at the beginning and restore pop accordingly them before returning to the caller. As in the previous case, this practice should only be done on registers that the callee changes.
Also, the number of incompatible calling conventions has been reduced. There are two in common use. The first four arguments are placed onto the registers. Additional arguments are pushed onto the stack right to left. Integer return values similar to x86 are returned in RAX if 64 bits or less.
Floating point return values are returned in XMM0. Parameters less than 64 bits long are not zero extended; the high bits are not zeroed. Structs and unions with sizes that match integers are passed and returned as if they were integers.
Otherwise they are replaced with a pointer when used as an argument. When an oversized struct return is needed, another pointer to a caller-provided space is prepended as the first argument, shifting all other arguments to the right by one place. When compiling for the x64 architecture in a Windows context whether using Microsoft or non-Microsoft tools , stdcall, thiscall, cdecl, and fastcall all resolve to using this convention.
In the Microsoft x64 calling convention, it is the caller’s responsibility to allocate 32 bytes of “shadow space” on the stack right before calling the function regardless of the actual number of parameters used , and to pop the stack after the call.
For example, a function taking 5 integer arguments will take the first to fourth in registers, and the fifth will be pushed on top of the shadow space. So when the called function is entered, the stack will be composed of in ascending order the return address, followed by the shadow space 32 bytes followed by the fifth parameter. All other registers must be saved by the caller if it wishes to preserve their values. For leaf-node functions functions which do not call any other function s , a byte space is stored just beneath the stack pointer of the function.
The space is called the red zone. This zone will not be clobbered by any signal or interrupt handlers. Compilers can thus utilize this zone to save local variables. However, other functions may clobber this zone. Therefore, this zone should only be used for leaf-node functions. If the callee is a variadic function , then the number of floating point arguments passed to the function in vector registers must be provided by the caller in the AL register.
Unlike the Microsoft calling convention, a shadow space is not provided; on function entry, the return address is adjacent to the seventh integer argument on the stack. This is a list of x86 calling conventions.