As part of the prologue of all my console applications, I need to determine the extents of the current terminal so if there are less than 132 columns or 43 lines the user can be warned output may not appear as expected. Code has been tested with;

$ AppName /usr/include/*.h

Assemble with source being whatever name you want to give app.

~$ nasm -felf64 source.asm -source.o   
~$ ld -osource -osource

which passes 112 arguments to process.

Essentially what I am going for is contiguous flow with the least number of instructions. Time is an important consideration but it is the least important especially considering if my calculations are near correct, this procedure comes in at 4.18 micro seconds.


   global   _start

        section .text       
; *----*  *----* *----* *----* *----* *----* *----* *----* *----* *----* *----*


    %define argc    [rbp+ 8]
    %define args    [rbp+16]

        mov     rsi, rsp        ; Establish pointer to argc.

        push    rbp             ; So argc & **args can easily be addressed
        mov     rbp, rsp        ; via base pointer.

; This application expects a minimum 132 x 43 terminal. If this sessions metrics
;  are less than that, then operator needs to be made aware output to screen
; may not be as expected.

   ; [A] Establish a pointer to the array of QWORD pointers to environment
   ;      strings. It is determined by &argc + (argc+1) * 8

        lodsq                   ; Determine # of args passed via command-line
        inc     eax             ; Bump argument count
        shl     rax, 3          ; Multiply by 8
        add     rsi, rax        ; Add result to &argc

   ; [B] Intialize the two registers needed for the loop that determines
   ;     matching entries.

        mov     edi, Metrics    ; Pntr to the two strings that need to be found.

    ; RDX Bits  07 - 00 = Count of environment variables.
    ;           15 - 08 = Columns defined by "COLUMNS=".
    ;           23 - 16 =    Rows    "     " "LINES=".

        xor     edx, edx
        mov     ecx, edx        ; Should be zero, but just to be safe.


        lodsq                   ; Get pointer to next environment string.
        test    eax, eax        ; NULL pointer indicates end of array.
        jnz     .cont

   ; Now RBP - 1 = Count of environment strings
   ;     RBP - 2 = Current display columns
   ;     RBP - 3 =                 rows

        mov     [rbp-4], edx
        jmp     .done

        inc      dl             ; Bump count of environment strings.
        mov     ecx, 6          ; Length of string first string.
        mov      bl, [rax]      ; Get first character.

   ; Determine if this string begins with either 'L' or 'C'.

        cmp       bl, 'L'
        jz      .cmpstr
        cmp       bl, 'C'
        jnz     FindMatch

        push    rdi
        add     edi, ecx        ; Bump to point to next string
        add      cl, 2          ; and it is 2 characters longer
        jmp     .cmpstr + 1     ; No need to save RDI again

   ; Now that the first character matches, determine if the remaining
   ; do for a count of CL

        push    rdi
        push    rsi
        mov     rsi, rax        ; Move pointer to string into source index.
        repz    cmpsb           ; Compare strings for count of CL.
        jnz     .nextone        ; Does not match? Carry on.

        mov     rax, rcx        ; Both registers are NULL now.

   .L0: lodsb                   ; Read ASCII decimal digit.
        test    eax, eax
        jz      .J0

   ; Convert ASCII decimal digits to binary. As it is safe to assume we will
   ;  only be expecting characters '0' - '9', this works quite effectively.

        and      al, 15         ; Strip high nibble
        imul    ecx, 10
        add     ecx, eax
        jmp     .L0

   ; Determine which position result will be written based on which
   ; calculation was done

   .J0: shl     ecx, 16         ; Assume value is # of rows.
        cmp     byte [rdi], 0
        jnz     $ + 5
        shr     ecx, 8          ; Move back into columns position.
        or      edx, ecx        ; Copy to appropriate position in RDX

        pop     rsi
        pop     rdi             ; Restore pointer to array of pointers.
        jmp     FindMatch

        shr     edx, 8
        sub      dx, 0x2b84     ; Equivalent to DH = 43 & DL = 132
        test     dx, 0x8080     ; Result equal negative in either 8 bit register
        jz      ParseCmdLine

    ; TODO -> Put some kind of prompting here for user to respond too.


    ; TODO -> Implement something similar to optarg.

        leave                   ; Kill empty procedure frame
        xor     edi, edi        ; Set return code EXIT_SUCCESS
        mov     eax, sys_exit
        syscall                 ; Terminate application

    section .rodata
; =============================================================================

  Metrics   db  'LINES='
            db  'COLUMNS=',0,0  ; So next is page aligned.
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Why assembly? If it's for learning, fine. If it's because you think you can beat the performance of an optimizing compiler, then... I find that suspect, to put it lightly. \$\endgroup\$
    – Reinderien
    Oct 24 '19 at 1:46
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Reinderien It is nothing more than a hobby and a relaxing means by which to program and share my invocations with others. However it would be monumentally educational if someone was to implement an HLL version, but of the several times I've suggested this over the years, it's never come to fruition. Why, I don't know, but I suspect it can't be done. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shift_Left
    Oct 24 '19 at 3:16
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Nice 😁 I neglected to include "for fun", because apparently I've become a stick in the mud. \$\endgroup\$
    – Reinderien
    Oct 24 '19 at 3:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you have the tput command on Linux? It's a one-liner using that command, and on NetBSD the source code for the tput command is not that complicated either. Written in C, it's probably 20 lines of code. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 25 '19 at 18:57
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Please see What to do when someone answers. I have rolled back that last edit to the code. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 26 '19 at 0:09

Here are some things that may help you improve your program

Use consistent formatting

The code as posted has irregular indentation, making it not so easy to read. Assembly language programs are typically very linear and neat. Also, I personally don't use tab characters in my code so that it looks the same everywhere (including printing), but that's a personal preference.

Provide the complete program

The program is missing the definition of sys_exit (which should have a value of 60). I'd suggest also telling reviewers how you've compiled and linked the program. Here's what I used:

nasm -o rowcol.o -f elf64 rowcol.asm
ld -o rowcol rowcol.o

Document register use

The comments in your program are generally quite good, but one thing lacking is documentation on how the registers are being used, which is one of the most important aspects to assembly language programming. The x86 architecture is unlike many others in that particular instructions require particular registers. For that reason, it's useful to identify when you'll need to use such instructions and base the register usage around that.

Avoid slow instructions

Although special-purpose instructions such as loop and repnz scasb seem appealing, they are, in fact, relatively slow. Instead, it's usually much faster (and not that many more code bytes) to do things with the more generic instructions.

Use address multipliers for efficiency

We can greatly simplify getting a pointer to the environment list into a register:

mov rbp, rsp            ; use rbp for stack pointer
mov rcx, [rbp + 0]      ; get argc
lea rbx, [rbp+8+8*rcx]  ; rbx now points to env

Understand environment variables

In Linux, there is a difference between shell variables and environment variables. Environment variables are what your program is searching, but the LINES and COLUMNS variables are shell variables that are set by the shell but typically not as environment variables. See this question for details.

Use an IOCTL

The reliable way to get the screen dimensions in Linux is to invoke the TIOCGWINSZ ioctl call. In C++ it would might look like this:

#include <sys/ioctl.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#include <iostream>

int main () {
    struct winsize w;
    std::cout << "lines = " << w.ws_row << "\ncolumns = " << w.ws_col << '\n';

So we just need to put that into assembly language. First, some constants:

sys_ioctl equ 0x10
TIOCGWINSZ equ 0x5413

Now the winsize structure:

struc winsize
    .ws_row:     resw   1
    .ws_col:     resw   1
    .ws_xpixel:  resw   1
    .ws_ypixel:  resw   1

section .bss
w   resb winsize_size   ; allocate enough for the struc

Finally the call:

mov edx, w
mov eax, sys_ioctl
; do stuff with window size...

If the call was successful (that is, if eax is 0) then the winsize structure is filled in with the current dimensions.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Please provide a little more detail in regard to indentation. Documenting has always been a problem. I think what I should start is writing a large block, get it working the way I want and then document. The tip on winsize is going to shave off many bytes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shift_Left
    Oct 25 '19 at 23:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see what you mean by the indentation and if you load code into an editor that is set for tabs of 8, it is a real mess. When I've implemented TIOCGWINSZ I will make sure replace tabs with spaces. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shift_Left
    Oct 26 '19 at 0:05

A code-size optimization

If you move the mov edi, Metrics instruction to just below the FindMatch label and thus have it repeat with each iteration, you can remove 4 instructions from the code. I've marked these with an exclamation mark:

      xor     edx, edx
      mov     ecx, edx
      mov     edi, Metrics      ;Restore it from here

!     push    rdi
      add     edi, ecx
      add     cl, 2
!     jmp     .cmpstr + 1     ; No need to save RDI again
!     push    rdi
      push    rsi


      pop     rsi
!     pop     rdi             ; Restore pointer to array of pointers.
      jmp     FindMatch

cmp     bl, 'L'
jz      .cmpstr
cmp     bl, 'C'

Are these environment strings guaranteed to be in uppercase?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe they have been and always will be uppercase although I don't have anything specifically to back that up. @Edward pointing me toward TIOCGWINSZ will probably see that part replaced anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shift_Left
    Oct 25 '19 at 23:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ My first revision implemented your example, but I decided to trade space for speed as moving from memory takes 6 cycles and push/pop only take one. I figure on my machine that save about 17 micro seconds but if I was to do that is a thousand places that would amount to 17 millisec. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shift_Left
    Oct 25 '19 at 23:17

As a result of a alternate method deliniated by Edward, overhead has been reduced from 168 bytes to 56 a 300% saving.

~$ nasm -felf64 appname.asm -oappname.o
~$ ld appname.o -oappname


    TIOCGWINSZ      equ     0x5413
    STDOUT_FILENO   equ     1

    sys_ioctl   equ 16
    sys_exit    equ 60

    global   _start

        section .text
; =============================================================================


    %define argc    [rbp+ 8]
    %define args    [rbp+16]

        push    rbp                 ; So argc & **args can easily be.
        mov     rbp, rsp            ; addressed via base pointer.
        xor     eax, eax

        mov     edx, winsize        ; Point to structure.
        mov     esi, TIOCGWINSZ     ; Read structure.
        mov     edi, eax
        mov      di, STDOUT_FILENO
        mov      al, sys_ioctl
        test     ax, ax             ; If there is an error just bail.
        jnz     Exit                ; because the likelihood slim to none.

    ; ws_xpixel & ws_ypixel are of no conseqence, so they will be overwritten
    ; with condition bits. Semicolon denotes bit position

    ;   ws_xpixel:0 != 1 Windows has fewer than 43 rows.
    ;   wx_xpixel:1 != 1                       132 cols.   

        cld                         ; Just to be sure of auto increment.
        mov     esi, edx            ; Move to source index for LODSW.
        mov     edx, eax            ; Applications status bits (flags).
        lodsw                       ; Read rows from ws_row.
        sub      ax, 43             ; Minimum rows expected.
        jns     $ + 5               ; Skips over next instruction.
        or       dl, 1              ; Set bit zero (rows below minimum).
        lodsw                       ; Read columns from ws_col
        sub      ax, 132            ; Minimum columns expected.
        jns     $ + 5               ; Skips over next instruction.
        or       dl, 2              ; Set bit columns below minimum.

    ; Save new data where ws_xpixel was and erase any extraneous
    ; data @ ws_ypixel

        mov     [rsi], edx          ; Overwrite ws_xpixel & ws_ypixel.

  Exit: leave                       ; Kill empty procedure frame.
        xor     edi, edi            ; Set return code EXIT_SUCCESS.
        mov     eax, sys_exit
        syscall                     ; Terminate application

    section .bss
; =============================================================================

    .ws_row     resw    1
    .ws_col     resw    1
    .ws_xpixel  resw    1
    .ws_ypixel  resw    1
  • \$\begingroup\$ Jumps often take longer, and jumps without explicitly named targets are a recipe for future frustration. (What happens if you add an instruction?) So I'd recommend doing this without jumps instead. Remember that a cmp instruction conditionally sets the carry flag; we can use that fact to produce a branchless version of the code: xor edx,edx cmp word [winsize.ws_col], 132 adc edx,edx shl edx,1 cmp word [winsize.ws_row], 43 adc edx,0 \$\endgroup\$
    – Edward
    Oct 26 '19 at 16:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ That sets the edx register exactly the same way your code did. \$\endgroup\$
    – Edward
    Oct 26 '19 at 16:38

Edward wrote:

Jumps often take longer, and jumps without explicitly named targets are a recipe for future frustration.

Yes, I remember the days when I used to spend hours just for that very reason, but it's become such a habit now, that whenever I anticipate a change, if there isn't an explicit reference I look up in code to see where that register was initialized. What I plan on doing in the future is commenting as such;

    cld                         ; Just to be sure indices auto increment.

; RDX has been set to winsize structure by previous 
; sys_ioctl call to TIOCGWINSZ, as has RAX been set to zero.

    cmp     word [edx+2], 132   ; Expect a minimum 132 columns
    adc      al, al
    shl      al, 1              ; Move to next bit position
    cmp     byte [edx], 43      ; Expect a minimum 43 rows
    adc      al, 0

; Save new data where ws_xpixel was and erase any extraneous
; data @ ws_ypixel

    mov     [edx+4], eax        ; Overwrite ws_xpixel & ws_ypixel.

I think this would be a step in the right direction for those reading my code that they wouldn't have to search all over. This example saves another 5 bytes using implicit references instead of explicit.

A significant size and by that extension speed saving was realized with this change.

   22:        89 c2          mov    edx,eax
   24:        66 ad          lods   ax,WORD PTR ds:[rsi]
   26:        66 83 e8 2b    sub    ax,0x2b
   2a:        79 03          jns    2f <_start+0x2f>
   2c:        80 ca 01       or     dl,0x1
   2f:        66 ad          lods   ax,WORD PTR ds:[rsi]
   31:        66 2d 84 00    sub    ax,0x84
   35:        79 03          jns    3a <_start+0x3a>
   37:        80 ca 02       or     dl,0x2
   3a:        89 16          mov    DWORD PTR [rsi],edx

   0x3c - 0x22 = 26 bytes


    20:    66 67 81 7a 02 84 00     cmp    WORD PTR [edx+0x2],0x84
    27:    10 c0                    adc    al,al
    29:    d0 e0                    shl    al,1
    2b:    67 80 3a 2b              cmp    BYTE PTR [edx],0x2b
    2f:    14 00                    adc    al,0x0
    31:    67 89 42 04              mov    DWORD PTR [edx+0x4],eax

   0x35 - 0x20 = 21 bytes

Had I used explicit references, then the size saving would have been completely negated, but speed is still significantly improved in either context.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Using a BYTE PTR for the lines count may save one byte, but IMHO it's a poor bargain because it's a latent bug if anyone uses a screen that has 256 or more lines. \$\endgroup\$
    – Edward
    Oct 26 '19 at 19:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Edward Very interesting point as it hadn't dawned on me if someone was to take a 16:9 monitor and use it in portrait mode and change the resolution, the row count could be as high as 475. I've changed the code accordingly as those kind of bugs are really hard to find. \$\endgroup\$
    – Shift_Left
    Oct 26 '19 at 20:59

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