How not to do indirect calls on ARM

The Thumb2 instruction encoding can reduce your code size by up to 30%, so it is nice if you’re writing assembler code to use the unified syntax which will allow your code to be encoded as either ARM or Thumb2 seamlessly. Or almost seamlessly – even though the unified syntax is the same for ARM and Thumb2 encodings, there are still some things you have to bear in mind when writing code for Thumb2.

For example, the following code implements an indirect call:

       mov     lr, pc         @ Save return address in lr
       ldr     pc, [sp], #8   @ Load function address

This code will not work correctly on Thumb2. Switching mode from ARM to Thumb happens when an address with the bottom bit set is jumped to, this can be by a branch, an ldr or a mov. However the pc does not store the Thumb mode bit, so moving from the pc as we do in the first instruction above will not capture the information that this is a return to a Thumb function. A better sequence would be:

       ldr     lr, [sp], #8   @ Load function address
       blx     lr             @ Call function

The blx instruction is only available on ARMv5 and above however, so if you need portability to historical ARM cores you may need to do a bit more work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s