Exception handling

In my previous post I mentioned work on a new register allocator. Something that was missing from my Church-State project was error recovery. Most languages today use some form of try-catch exception handling (although the Go language uses deferred statements to perform cleanup).

The biggest challenge in implementing exception handling is that functions that use “callee-saved” registers may save these register values on the stack and then use them to store private values. Under normal control flow these values will be loaded from the stack and restored when the function returns. In the case of an exception, the runtime has to inspect each stack frame on the call stack between the point where the exception was thrown and the point where it will be caught and restore the values of these callee saved registers.

The implementation I chose was to emit a label for the function ‘epilogue’, the final sequence of statements before the return instruction, and store this in the object file. At exception handling time I have a routine implemented in assembly which will walk the stack and arrange to invoke this epilogue stub for each function (adjusting the stack pointer appropriately so that the function can find the saved values). Finally it jumps to the exception handler in the context of the function with the try-catch handler.

One complication arises in that it is not possible for variables that are used in the catch block to be stored temporarily in registers in the try block. The risk is that control is transferred out of the try block to the catch block and the catch block won’t know which register holds the current value. This can be avoided by treating every single statement that could raise an exception as having an extra control flow edge to the catch block. I implemented a simpler solution which was to mark all variables used in the catch block for stack allocation only. These variables are effectively permanently spilled to the stack.

The assembly routine to handle exceptions and restore callee saved values from the stack is pretty hairy but I’m quite happy with the solution.


     7 	;; // Thread local storage has the following layout
     8 	;; // (some other thread's heap)	   <------------ limit-pointer
     9 	;; // heap
    10 	;; // heap
    11 	;; // heap
    12 	;; // heap		   		   <------------ allocation-pointer
    13 	;; // heap
    14 	;; // heap
    15 	;; // heap   start of heap                			              %r15
    16 	;; // limit pointer  							-0x8 (%r15)
    17 	;; // allocation pointer  (initially points to start of heap)		-0x10(%r15)
    18 	;; // saved exception object 						-0x18(%r15)
    19 	;; // saved return address when calling unwind stub			-0x20(%r15)
    20 	;; // saved frame pointer for exception trace				-0x28(%r15)
    21 	;; // working stack pointer to be used during stack trace traversal 	-0x30(%r15)
    22 	;; // saved traversal stack pointer 					-0x38(%r15)

...

;; //--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    57 ;; // Exception handling
    58 ;; //--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    59 
    60 	
    61 ;; //transfer to exception handler
    62 	.globl __l_throw_exception
    63 
    64 
    65 .macro switch_to_original_stack
    66 	mov %rsp, -0x30(%r15)
    67 	mov -0x38(%r15), %rsp
    68 .endm
    69 
    70 .macro switch_to_working_stack
    71 	mov %rsp, -0x38(%r15)
    72 	mov -0x30(%r15), %rsp
    73 .endm
    74 	
    75 __l_throw_exception:
    76 ;; // first argument is the exception object
    77 ;; // save it in thread local memory
    78 	mov %rdi, -0x18(%r15)
    79 	;; // also save the frame pointer so that we can generate a stack trace later if necessary
    80 	mov %rbp, -0x28(%r15)
    81 	;; // and keep a pointer to a 'working stack' so that we call helper routines without destroying the original stack frames
    82 	mov %rsp, -0x30(%r15)
    83 __find_exception_handler:
    84 	;; // get the return address from the stack
    85 	;; // and check if there is an exception handler installed around that address
    86 	mov (%rsp), %rdi
    87 	switch_to_working_stack
    88 	call __l_find_exception_handler
    89 	switch_to_original_stack
    90 	test %rax,%rax
    91 	jnz found_exception_handler
    92 	;; // if there is no exception handler, unwind this frame by finding the unwind stub for this function
    93 	mov (%rsp), %rdi
    94 	switch_to_working_stack
    95 	call __l_find_unwind_stub
    96 	switch_to_original_stack
    97 	test %rax,%rax
    98 	jz no_unwind
    99 	;; // pop off the return address (restore the stack to the calling function's expected value)
   100 	pop %rcx
   101 	;; // get the return address of the previous frame and save it to thread local memory
   102 	mov 0x8(%rbp), %rdx
   103 	mov %rdx, -0x20(%r15)
   104 	;; // do some magic to get the address of 'after_unwind_stub'
   105 	lea 0x6(%rip), %rcx
   106 	;; // save it in place of the normal return address
   107 	mov %rcx, 0x8(%rbp)
   108 	;; // branch to the unwind stub
   109 	jmp *%rax
   110 after_unwind_stub:
   111 	;; // now restore the real return address that we stored in thread local memory
   112 	mov -0x20(%r15), %rax
   113 	push %rax
   114 	;; // repeat from the top until we find an exception handler
   115 	jmp __find_exception_handler
   116 
   117 found_exception_handler:
   118 	;; // load the exception object that we stored in thread local memory
   119 	mov -0x18(%r15), %rdi
   120 	;; // pop old return address
   121 	pop %rcx
   122 	;; // branch to exception handler
   123 	jmp *%rax
   124 	
   125 no_unwind:	
   126 no_exception_handler:
   127 	mov -0x28(%r15), %rdi
   128 	mov -0x18(%r15), %rsi
   129 	switch_to_working_stack
   130 	call __l_top_level_exception_handler
   131 	;;  // no return?
   132 	int $3
   133