5.1. Linux

5.1.1. Linking to GCC

This is the preferred way if you are developing mixed C-asm project. Check GCC docs and examples from Linux kernel .S files that go through gas (not those that go through as86).

32-bit arguments are pushed down stack in reverse syntactic order (hence accessed/popped in the right order), above the 32-bit near return address. %ebp, %esi, %edi, %ebx are callee-saved, other registers are caller-saved; %eax is to hold the result, or %edx:%eax for 64-bit results.

FP stack: I'm not sure, but I think result is in st(0), whole stack caller-saved.

Note that GCC has options to modify the calling conventions by reserving registers, having arguments in registers, not assuming the FPU, etc. Check the i386 .info pages.

Beware that you must then declare the cdecl or regparm(0) attribute for a function that will follow standard GCC calling conventions. See C Extensions::Extended Asm:: section from the GCC info pages. See also how Linux defines its asmlinkage macro.

5.1.2. ELF vs a.out problems

Some C compilers prepend an underscore before every symbol, while others do not.

Particularly, Linux a.out GCC does such prepending, while Linux ELF GCC does not.

If you need to cope with both behaviors at once, see how existing packages do. For instance, get an old Linux source tree, the Elk, qthreads, or OCaml.

You can also override the implicit C->asm renaming by inserting statements like

	void foo asm("bar") (void);
to be sure that the C function foo() will be called really bar in assembly.

Note that the objcopy utility from the binutils package should allow you to transform your a.out objects into ELF objects, and perhaps the contrary too, in some cases. More generally, it will do lots of file format conversions.

5.1.3. Direct Linux syscalls

Often you will be told that using C library (libc) is the only way, and direct system calls are bad. This is true. To some extent. In general, you must know that libc is not sacred, and in most cases it only does some checks, then calls kernel, and then sets errno. You can easily do this in your program as well (if you need to), and your program will be dozen times smaller, and this will result in improved performance as well, just because you're not using shared libraries (static binaries are faster). Using or not using libc in assembly programming is more a question of taste/belief than something practical. Remember, Linux is aiming to be POSIX compliant, so does libc. This means that syntax of almost all libc "system calls" exactly matches syntax of real kernel system calls (and vice versa). Besides, GNU libc(glibc) becomes slower and slower from version to version, and eats more and more memory; and so, cases of using direct system calls become quite usual. However, the main drawback of throwing libc away is that you will possibly need to implement several libc specific functions (that are not just syscall wrappers) on your own (printf() and Co.), and you are ready for that, aren't you? :-)

Here is summary of direct system calls pros and cons.



If you've pondered the above pros and cons, and still want to use direct syscalls, then here is some advice.

Basically, you issue an int 0x80, with the __NR_syscallname number (from asm/unistd.h) in eax, and parameters (up to six) in ebx, ecx, edx, esi, edi, ebp respectively.

Result is returned in eax, with a negative result being an error, whose opposite is what libc would put into errno. The user-stack is not touched, so you needn't have a valid one when doing a syscall.


Passing sixth parameter in ebp appeared in Linux 2.4, previous Linux versions understand only 5 parameters in registers.

Linux Kernel Internals, and especially How System Calls Are Implemented on i386 Architecture? chapter will give you more robust overview.

As for the invocation arguments passed to a process upon startup, the general principle is that the stack originally contains the number of arguments argc, then the list of pointers that constitute *argv, then a null-terminated sequence of null-terminated variable=value strings for the environment. For more details, do examine , read the sources of C startup code from your libc (crt0.S or crt1.S), or those from the Linux kernel (exec.c and binfmt_*.c in linux/fs/).

5.1.4. Hardware I/O under Linux

If you want to perform direct port I/O under Linux, either it's something very simple that does not need OS arbitration, and you should see the IO-Port-Programming mini-HOWTO; or it needs a kernel device driver, and you should try to learn more about kernel hacking, device driver development, kernel modules, etc, for which there are other excellent HOWTOs and documents from the LDP.

Particularly, if what you want is Graphics programming, then do join one of the GGI or XFree86 projects.

Some people have even done better, writing small and robust XFree86 drivers in an interpreted domain-specific language, GAL, and achieving the efficiency of hand C-written drivers through partial evaluation (drivers not only not in asm, but not even in C!). The problem is that the partial evaluator they used to achieve efficiency is not free software. Any taker for a replacement?

Anyway, in all these cases, you'll be better when using GCC inline assembly with the macros from linux/asm/*.h than writing full assembly source files.

5.1.5. Accessing 16-bit drivers from Linux/i386

Such thing is theoretically possible (proof: see how DOSEMU can selectively grant hardware port access to programs), and I've heard rumors that someone somewhere did actually do it (in the PCI driver? Some VESA access stuff? ISA PnP? dunno). If you have some more precise information on that, you'll be most welcome. Anyway, good places to look for more information are the Linux kernel sources, DOSEMU sources, and sources for various low-level programs under Linux. (perhaps GGI if it supports VESA).

Basically, you must either use 16-bit protected mode or vm86 mode.

The first is simpler to setup, but only works with well-behaved code that won't do any kind of segment arithmetics or absolute segment addressing (particularly addressing segment 0), unless by chance it happens that all segments used can be setup in advance in the LDT.

The later allows for more "compatibility" with vanilla 16-bit environments, but requires more complicated handling.

In both cases, before you can jump to 16-bit code, you must

Again, carefully read the source for the stuff contributed to the DOSEMU project, particularly these mini-emulators for running ELKS and/or simple .COM programs under Linux/i386.