Core Pipeline

The core pipeline of GlobalISel is:


The four passes shown in the diagram consist of:


Converts LLVM-IR into gMIR (Generic MIR). This is largely a direct translation and has little target customization. It’s somewhat analogous to SelectionDAGBuilder but builds a flavour of MIR called gMIR instead of a specialized representation. gMIR uses exactly the same data structures as MIR but has more relaxed constraints. For example, a virtual register may be constrained to a particular type without also constraining it to a specific register class.


Replaces unsupported operations with supported ones. In other words, it shapes the gMIR to suit what the backend can support. There is a very small set of operations which targets are required to support but aside from that targets can shape the MIR as they wish.

Register Bank Selector

Binds virtual registers to register banks. This pass is intended to minimize cross-register-bank copies by clustering portions of the MIR together.

Instruction Select

Select target instructions using the gMIR. At this point, the gMIR has been constrained enough that it becomes MIR.

Although we tend to talk about them as distinct passes, it should be noted that there’s a good deal of flexibility here and it’s ok for things to happen earlier than described below. For example, it’s not unusual for the legalizer to legalize an intrinsic directly to a target instruction. The concrete requirement is that the following additional constraints are preserved after each of these passes:


The representation must be gMIR, MIR, or a mixture of the two after this pass. The majority will typically be gMIR to begin with but later passes will gradually transition the gMIR to MIR.


No illegal operations must remain or be introduced after this pass.

Register Bank Selector

All virtual registers must have a register bank assigned after this pass.

Instruction Select

No gMIR must remain or be introduced after this pass. In other words, we must have completed the conversion from gMIR to MIR.

In addition to these passes, there are also some optional passes that perform an optimization. The current optional passes are:


Replaces patterns of instructions with a better alternative. Typically, this means improving run time performance by replacing instructions with faster alternatives but Combiners can also focus on code size or other metrics.

Additional passes such as these can be inserted to support higher optimization levels or target specific needs. A likely pipeline is:


Of course, combiners can be inserted in other places too. Also passes can be replaced entirely so long as their task is complete as shown in this (more customized) example pipeline.



The pass approach lets us use the MachineVerifier to enforce invariants that are required beyond certain points of the pipeline. For example, a function with the legalized property can have the MachineVerifier enforce that no illegal instructions occur. Similarly, a regBankSelected function may not have virtual registers without a register bank assigned.


For layering reasons, MachineVerifier isn’t able to be the sole verifier in GlobalISel. Currently some of the passes also perform verification while we find a way to solve this problem.

The main issue is that GlobalISel is a separate library, so we can’t directly reference it from CodeGen.


The ability to test GlobalISel is significantly improved over SelectionDAG. SelectionDAG is something of a black box and there’s a lot going on inside it. This makes it difficult to write a test that reliably tests a particular aspect of its behaviour. For comparison, see the following diagram:


Each of the grey boxes indicates an opportunity to serialize the current state and test the behaviour between two points in the pipeline. The current state can be serialized using -stop-before or -stop-after and loaded using -start-before, -start-after, and -run-pass.

We can also go further still, as many of GlobalISel’s passes are readily unit testable:


It’s possible to create an imaginary target such as in LegalizerHelperTest.cpp and perform a single step of the algorithm and check the result. The MIR and FileCheck directives can be embedded using strings so you still have access to the convenience available in llvm-lit.


One debugging technique that’s proven particularly valuable is to use the BlockExtractor to extract basic blocks into new functions. This can be used to track down correctness bugs and can also be used to track down performance regressions. It can also be coupled with function attributes to disable GlobalISel for one or more of the extracted functions.


The command to do the extraction is:

./bin/llvm-extract -o - -S -b ‘foo:bb1;bb4’ <input> > extracted.ll

This particular example extracts two basic blocks from a function named foo. The new LLVM-IR can then be modified to add the failedISel attribute to the extracted function containing bb4 to make that function use SelectionDAG.

This can prevent some optimizations as GlobalISel is generally able to work on a single function at a time. This technique can be repeated for different combinations of basic blocks until you have identified the critical blocks involved in a bug.

Once the critical blocks have been identified, you can further increase the resolution to the critical instructions by splitting the blocks like from:

  ... instructions group 1 ...
  ... instructions group 2 ...


  ... instructions group 1 ...
  br %bb2

  ... instructions group 2 ...

and then repeating the process for the new blocks.

It’s also possible to use this technique in a mode where the main function is compiled with GlobalISel and the extracted basic blocks are compiled with SelectionDAG (or the other way around) to leverage the existing quality of another code generator to track down bugs. This technique can also be used to improve the similarity between fast and slow code when tracking down performance regressions and help you zero in on a particular cause of the regression.