llvm Getting started with llvm

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This section provides an overview of what llvm is, and why a developer might want to use it.

It should also mention any large subjects within llvm, and link out to the related topics. Since the Documentation for llvm is new, you may need to create initial versions of those related topics.

Compilation of a simple function in llvm 4.0

So what we will try to do is to compile a following function

int sum(int a, int b) {
    return a + b + 2;

on the fly. And here's the entire .cpp example:

#include <iostream>

#include "llvm/IR/LLVMContext.h"
#include "llvm/IR/Module.h"
#include "llvm/IR/IRBuilder.h"
#include "llvm/IR/Verifier.h"
#include "llvm/ExecutionEngine/ExecutionEngine.h"
#include "llvm/ExecutionEngine/SectionMemoryManager.h"
#include "llvm/ExecutionEngine/Orc/CompileUtils.h"
#include "llvm/Support/TargetSelect.h"

// Optimizations
#include "llvm/Transforms/Scalar.h"
#include "llvm/Analysis/BasicAliasAnalysis.h"

using namespace llvm;

llvm::Function* createSumFunction(Module* module) {
    /* Builds the following function:
    int sum(int a, int b) {
        int sum1 = 1 + 1;
        int sum2 = sum1 + a;
        int result = sum2 + b;
        return result;

    LLVMContext &context = module->getContext();
    IRBuilder<> builder(context);

    // Define function's signature
    std::vector<Type*> Integers(2, builder.getInt32Ty());
    auto *funcType = FunctionType::get(builder.getInt32Ty(), Integers, false);

    // create the function "sum" and bind it to the module with ExternalLinkage,
    // so we can retrieve it later
    auto *fooFunc = Function::Create(
        funcType, Function::ExternalLinkage, "sum", module

    // Define the entry block and fill it with an appropriate code
    auto *entry = BasicBlock::Create(context, "entry", fooFunc);

    // Add constant to itself, to visualize constant folding
    Value *constant = ConstantInt::get(builder.getInt32Ty(), 0x1);
    auto *sum1 = builder.CreateAdd(constant, constant, "sum1");

    // Retrieve arguments and proceed with further adding...
    auto args = fooFunc->arg_begin();
    Value *arg1 = &(*args);
    args = std::next(args);
    Value *arg2 = &(*args);
    auto *sum2 = builder.CreateAdd(sum1, arg1, "sum2");
    auto *result = builder.CreateAdd(sum2, arg2, "result");  
    // ...and return

    // Verify at the end
    return fooFunc;

int main(int argc, char* argv[]) {
    // Initilaze native target
    llvm::TargetOptions Opts;

    LLVMContext context;
    auto myModule = make_unique<Module>("My First JIT", context);
    auto* module = myModule.get();

    std::unique_ptr<llvm::RTDyldMemoryManager> MemMgr(new llvm::SectionMemoryManager());

    // Create JIT engine
    llvm::EngineBuilder factory(std::move(myModule));
    auto executionEngine = std::unique_ptr<llvm::ExecutionEngine>(factory.create());

    // Create optimizations, not necessary, whole block can be ommited.
    // auto fpm = llvm::make_unique<legacy::FunctionPassManager>(module);
    // fpm->add(llvm::createBasicAAWrapperPass());
    // fpm->add(llvm::createPromoteMemoryToRegisterPass());
    // fpm->add(llvm::createInstructionCombiningPass());
    // fpm->add(llvm::createReassociatePass());
    // fpm->add(llvm::createNewGVNPass());
    // fpm->add(llvm::createCFGSimplificationPass());
    // fpm->doInitialization();

    auto* func = createSumFunction(module);  // create function
    executionEngine->finalizeObject();       // compile the module
    module->dump();                          // print the compiled code

    // Get raw pointer
    auto* raw_ptr = executionEngine->getPointerToFunction(func);
    auto* func_ptr = (int(*)(int, int))raw_ptr;

    // Execute
    int arg1 = 5;
    int arg2 = 7;
    int result = func_ptr(arg1, arg2);
    std::cout << arg1 << " + " << arg2 << " + 1 + 1 = " << result << std::endl;

    return 0;

It should work fine when compiled with clang++-4.0 with following flags:

$ llvm-config-4.0 --cxxflags --libs core

Installation or Setup

It is always recommend to go to the LLVM official website and follow the installation guides depending on your OS.

If you are working on posix then in short you have to add one of the official LLVM package repositories. For example if you work on Ubuntu Xenial (16.04) you add a deb and deb-src entry to your /etc/apt/sources.list file:

$ sudo su
$ echo deb http://apt.llvm.org/xenial/ llvm-toolchain-xenial-4.0 main \ >> /etc/apt/sources.list
$ echo deb-src http://apt.llvm.org/xenial/ llvm-toolchain-xenial-4.0 main \ >> /etc/apt/sources.list

and once you do that the installation is as simple as calling

$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt install clang-X

where X is the version you are looking for (4.0 is current at the time of writing this post).

Note that clang is a C/C++ compiler writen over LLVM (and actually is self hosted now) and comes together with all LLVM libraries. Once you do that you can go to any turorial and start coding.

If you wish you can install LLVM libraries manually. For that you just have to apt install llvm-Y where Y is a library you are looking for. However I do recommend compiling LLVM using projects with clang.

Once you do that you should have llvm-config tool. It is very useful to get compiler flags needed for correct LLVM project compilation. So the first test that it worked would be by calling

$ llvm-config-4.0 --cxxflags --libs engine
-I/usr/lib/llvm-4.0/include -std=c++0x -gsplit-dwarf -Wl,-fuse-ld=gold -fPIC -fvisibility-inlines-hidden -Wall -W -Wno-unused-parameter -Wwrite-strings -Wcast-qual -Wno-missing-field-initializers -pedantic -Wno-long-long -Wno-maybe-uninitialized -Wdelete-non-virtual-dtor -Wno-comment -Werror=date-time -std=c++11 -ffunction-sections -fdata-sections -O2 -g -DNDEBUG  -fno-exceptions -D_GNU_SOURCE -D__STDC_CONSTANT_MACROS -D__STDC_FORMAT_MACROS -D__STDC_LIMIT_MACROS

You may get a different set of flags, do not worry about it. As long as it doesn't fail with command not found you should be fine.

Next step is to test the actual LLVM library itself. So lets create a simple llvmtest.cpp file:

#include <iostream>
#include "llvm/IR/LLVMContext.h"

int main() {
    llvm::LLVMContext context;
    std::cout << &context << std::endl;
    return 0;

Note that I use std::cout so that we actually use the context variable (so the compiler won't remove it during the compilation phase). Now compile the file with

$ clang++-4.0 -o llvmtest `llvm-config-4.0 --cxxflags --libs engine` llvmtest.cpp

and test it

$ ./llvmtest

Congratulations! You are ready to use LLVM.

Got any llvm Question?