SpilledMango SpilledMango - 3 years ago 61
C Question

Is the stack frame required for all functions in C on x86-64?

I've made a function to calculate the length of a C string (I'm trying to beat clang's optimizer using

). I'm running macOS.

push rbp
mov rbp, rsp
xor rax, rax
cmp byte [rdi], 0
je .exit
inc rdi
inc rax
jmp .body
pop rbp

This is the C function I'm trying to beat:

size_t string_length2(const char *str) {
size_t ret = 0;
while (str[ret]) {
return ret;

And it disassembles to this:

push rbp
mov rbp, rsp
mov rax, -1
cmp byte ptr [rdi + rax + 1], 0
lea rax, [rax + 1]
jne LBB0_1
pop rbp

Every C function sets up a stack frame using
push rbp
mov rbp, rsp
, and breaks it using
pop rbp
. But I'm not using the stack in any way here, I'm only using processor registers. It worked without using a stack frame (when I tested on x86-64), but is it necessary?

Answer Source

No, the stack frame is, at least in theory, not always required. An optimizing compiler might in some cases avoid using the call stack. Notably when it is able to inline a called function (in some specific call site), or when the compiler successfully detects a tail call (which reuses the caller's frame).

You might try to compile your program with link time optimization (e.g. compile and link with gcc -flto -O2) to get more optimizations.

In principle, one could imagine a compiler clever enough to (for some programs) avoid using any call stack.

BTW, I just compiled a naive recursive long fact(int n) factorial function with GCC 7.1 (on Debian/Sid/x86-64) at -O3 (i.e. gcc -fverbose-asm -S -O3 fact.c). The resulting assembler code fact.s contains no call machine instruction.

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