The compiler plugin and code generator

Compilation to native code happens in two steps. First, Scala code is compiled into nir by nscplugin, the Scala compiler plugin. It runs as one of the later phases of the Scala compiler and inspects the AST and generates .nir files. Finally, the .nir files are compiled into .ll files and passed to LLVM by the native compiler.

High-level overview of the compilation process.

Tips for working on the compiler

When adding a new intrinsic, the first thing to check is how clang would compile it in C. Write a small program with the behavior you are trying to add and compile it to .ll using:

clang -S -emit-llvm foo.c

Now write the equivalent Scala code for the new intrinsic in the sandbox project. This project contains a minimal amount of code and has all the toolchain set up which makes it fast to iterate and inspect the output of the compilation.

The following directions are using the Scala 3 project. To use other Scala versions first find the project name and then use that instead of “sandbox3”, say “sandbox2_13”:

sbt> sandbox<TAB>

To compile the sandbox project run the following in the sbt shell:

sbt> sandbox3/clean; sandbox3/nativeLink

Compiling will generate a number of files. The .ll LLVM assembly language files can be inspected to see what was passed to the LLVM step.

You can inspect the .ll files in the directories below sandbox/.3/target/. Because Scala Native is under active development, the directory layout, names of files and their specific content may change.

All definitions are generated into 1 or N=(number of CPUs) *.ll files. A Linux example on system with 4 CPUs:

$ # on command line, with project root as current working directory.
$ find sandbox/.3/target -name "*.ll"

Any method, including the main method, might be defined in any of these files. Appendix A will help locating the code you are interested in.

Once you have located the code, you must be familiar with the LLVM assembly language. NIR is a subset of the LLVM assembly language, so nir may be a gentler starting point.

When working on the compiler plugin you’ll need to clean the sandbox (or other Scala Native projects) if you want it to be recompiled with the newer version of the compiler plugin. This can be achieved with:

sbt> sandbox3/clean; sandbox3/run

Certain intrinsics might require adding new primitives to the compiler plugin. This can be done in NirPrimitives with an accompanying definition in NirDefinitions. Ensure that new primitives are correctly registered.

The NIR code generation uses a builder to maintain the generated instructions. This allows to inspect the instructions before and after the part of the compilation you are working on has generated code.