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I'm writing a program to print binary string of a hardcoded word. Here is how it looks like currently:

main.asm

section .text
    global _start
    extern _print_binary_content

_start:
    push word [word_to_print] ; pushing word. Can we push just one byte?
    call _print_binary_content

    mov rax, 60
    mov rdi, 0
    syscall

section .data
    word_to_print: dw 0xAB0F

printer.asm

SYS_BRK_NUM equ 0x0C
BITS_IN_WORD equ 0x10
SYS_WRITE_NUM equ 0x01
STD_OUT_FD equ 0x01
FIRST_BIT_BIT_MASK equ 0x01
ASCII_NUMBER_OFFSET equ 0x30

section .text
    global _print_binary_content

_print_binary_content:
    pop rbp

    xor ecx, ecx ;zeroing rcx
    xor ebx, ebx ;zeroing rbx
    pop bx  ;the word to print the binary content of

    ;sys_brk for current location
    mov rax, SYS_BRK_NUM
    mov rdi, 0
    syscall
    ;end sys_brk

    mov r12, rax ;save the current brake location

    ;sys_brk for memory allocation 16 bytes
    lea rdi, [rax + BITS_IN_WORD]
    mov rax, SYS_BRK_NUM
    syscall
    ;end sys_brk

    xor ecx, ecx
    mov cl, byte BITS_IN_WORD - 1; used as a counter in the loop below

    loop:
        mov dx, bx
        and dx, FIRST_BIT_BIT_MASK
        add dx, ASCII_NUMBER_OFFSET
        mov [r12 + rcx], dl
        shr bx, 0x01
        dec cl
        cmp cl, 0
        jge loop

    mov rsi, r12
    mov rax, SYS_WRITE_NUM
    mov rdi, STD_OUT_FD
    mov rdx, BITS_IN_WORD
    syscall

    push rbp ; pushing return address back
    ret

If I compile link and run this program it works. But the question is about performance and maybe conventions of writing assembly programs. In the file printer.asm I cleaned ecx twice which looks kind of not optimal. Maybe some registers were used not by their purpose (I used intel-manual).

Can you please help me to improve this very simple program?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Why did you dynamically allocate memory on the heap (with brk)? And then not free it when you're done? I'm wondering if you had a specific reason for doing that instead of using stack memory for your small fixed-size buffer like in this integer->decimal string function. Also, "binary" is ambiguous in this context. I thought from the title you were going to call write(1, &word, 2), but you're actually converting the word to a base-2 string. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Cordes Jan 11 '18 at 19:39
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ push word [word_to_print] - I would expect this one even to fail to compile, but it works! In 64b common OSes there're often very stringent requirements for the rsp modifications, like keeping it 16B aligned before calling other functions (if you want to respect the ABI calling convention, as in this case you are calling your own custom function, which is not obeying the ABI, you can misalign the stack without running into some crash). But it's not even clear why you put the word argument into the stack, while using custom calling convention, why don't you use registers instead? \$\endgroup\$ – Ped7g Jan 29 '18 at 0:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Ped7g Thats why I was asking for review. But now more or less understood thank you. \$\endgroup\$ – St.Antario Jan 29 '18 at 11:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ To get more skill with stack-based argument passing, check examples of 32 bit ABI code, which was using stack to pass arguments (and how they avoid pop/push of return address by using ebp or esp for addressing also arguments in memory), but first check 64b linux ABI examples, which is passing arguments in registers. = much easier to learn and understand and faster performance-wise, overall the 64b linux ABI is superior to 32b ABI (but has lot more requirements for the rsp value itself! That's tricky for people moving 32->64). Then check the 32b stack examples, to build your skills. \$\endgroup\$ – Ped7g Jan 29 '18 at 12:02
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Ped7g Actually later on I found the intel manual about which register has which purpose. There is a good explanation about it. I mean value of what register has to be preserved across function calls. \$\endgroup\$ – St.Antario Jan 29 '18 at 12:08
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  • In main.asm you use the magic number 60 while in printer.asm all syscalls have their numbers declared. That's inconsistent.

  • Instead of using SYS_BRK, you should just allocate the memory on the stack. The stack will surely have 16 bytes, so it's not a big deal to have them there. Plus, allocation and deallocation is much faster than using 3 syscalls.

  • Your code produces a memory leak. If you run the print_binary_content repeatedly, your process will allocate more and more memory, 16 more bytes for each call. Allocating the memory on the stack will crash your program quickly if you forget to deallocate the memory, and this will be found early during initial testing.

  • There's no reason to pop ebp and restore it again at the end of the function. This will confuse every debugger out there. Why don't you just leave it on the stack? Afraid of buffer overflows? Your buffer is currently not on the stack, and even if it were, you should just put two canary values around your buffer and check these before returning.

  • In English reading order, the bit with the mask 0x0001 is the last bit, not the first bit.

  • The UNIX convention for writing the syscall constants is SYS_write and SYS_exit, i.e. uppercase SYS and lowercase system call name.

  • The stdout file number is spelled STDOUT_FILENO in POSIX, which is the relevant standard for that constant.

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Low level programming is as much about optimization as it is legibility. As you've noted, yours works, but I'd like to inject a few of my personal preferences here.

_start:

    ; Grab a buffer from stack suitably large enough to convert a 64 bit number

        push    rbp
        mov     rpb, rsp
        sub     rsp, 64                 ; Always keep RSP at least DWORD aligned

I prefer to keep functions distinct. Even though encorporating print into the conversion function is doable, but maybe this conversion code could be used somewhere that printing isn't required.

        mov     esi, Value              ; Establish pointer to 16 bit value
        mov     rdi, rbp                ; Point to end of ASCII buffer
        call    Bin2Asc                 ; Return a pointer in RSI and characters in RDX

To accomodate SYSCALLs, have the function return values in register(s) that will be required.

        mov     eax, SYS_WRITE
        syscall

        leave                           ; Kill procedure frame
        xor     eax, eax
        mov     edi, eax
        mov      cl, SYS_EXIT
        syscall

NOTE: A lot of times I'm using 32 bit registers and that is because I'm taking advantage of processors sign extension mechanism, where some instruction sign extend into 64 bits.

Bin2Asc:

        xor     eax, eax                ; Clear accum
        mov     edx, eax                ; EDX is what SYS_WRITE is going to need
        lodsw
        std                             ; Change direction so buffer is populated in reverse

  .L0:  push    rax
        and      al, 1                  ; Isolate bit
        xor      al, '0'                ; Convert to "0" or "1"
        stosb                           ; Write to buffer
        inc      dl                     ; Bump character cound
        pop     rax
        shr     eax, 1                  ; Until RAX = 0
        jnz     .L0

        cld                             ; Reset direction flag
        inc     edi                     ; Point back to first character
        ret

Might this code have ERRORS, it may very well have, but as I'm not doing it on a Linux box and I usually like to check my work, but it does demonstrate a concept that is optimized at least a bit.

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Sorry I have to virtually repeat my answer to another question.

  • The only advantage assembler has over high level languages is an access to the flags. And a bit-to-ascii conversion literally begs for it:

        mov [r12 + rcx], ASCII_NUMBER_OFFSET # Prepare the destination
        shr dx                               # The LSB lands in a carry flag (CF)
        adc [r12 + rcx], 0                   # Add with carry!
    
  • Along the same line, you don't really need to cmp cl, 0. A dec cl instruction conveniently sets the necessary flags when cl falls below 0, so

        dec cl
        jge loop
    

    suffices.

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