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Building a JIT: Starting out with KaleidoscopeJIT

Chapter 1 Introduction

Warning: This text is currently out of date due to ORC API updates.

The example code has been updated and can be used. The text will be updated once the API churn dies down.

Welcome to Chapter 1 of the "Building an ORC-based JIT in LLVM" tutorial. This tutorial runs through the implementation of a JIT compiler using LLVM's On-Request-Compilation (ORC) APIs. It begins with a simplified version of the KaleidoscopeJIT class used in the Implementing a language with LLVM tutorials and then introduces new features like optimization, lazy compilation and remote execution.

The goal of this tutorial is to introduce you to LLVM's ORC JIT APIs, show how these APIs interact with other parts of LLVM, and to teach you how to recombine them to build a custom JIT that is suited to your use-case.

The structure of the tutorial is:

  • Chapter #1: Investigate the simple KaleidoscopeJIT class. This will introduce some of the basic concepts of the ORC JIT APIs, including the idea of an ORC Layer.
  • Chapter #2: Extend the basic KaleidoscopeJIT by adding a new layer that will optimize IR and generated code.
  • Chapter #3: Further extend the JIT by adding a Compile-On-Demand layer to lazily compile IR.
  • Chapter #4: Improve the laziness of our JIT by replacing the Compile-On-Demand layer with a custom layer that uses the ORC Compile Callbacks API directly to defer IR-generation until functions are called.
  • Chapter #5: Add process isolation by JITing code into a remote process with reduced privileges using the JIT Remote APIs.

To provide input for our JIT we will use the Kaleidoscope REPL from Chapter 7 of the "Implementing a language in LLVM tutorial", with one minor modification: We will remove the FunctionPassManager from the code for that chapter and replace it with optimization support in our JIT class in Chapter #2.

Finally, a word on API generations: ORC is the 3rd generation of LLVM JIT API. It was preceded by MCJIT, and before that by the (now deleted) legacy JIT. These tutorials don't assume any experience with these earlier APIs, but readers acquainted with them will see many familiar elements. Where appropriate we will make this connection with the earlier APIs explicit to help people who are transitioning from them to ORC.

JIT API Basics

The purpose of a JIT compiler is to compile code "on-the-fly" as it is needed, rather than compiling whole programs to disk ahead of time as a traditional compiler does. To support that aim our initial, bare-bones JIT API will be:

  1. Handle addModule(Module &M) -- Make the given IR module available for execution.
  2. JITSymbol findSymbol(const std::string &Name) -- Search for pointers to symbols (functions or variables) that have been added to the JIT.
  3. void removeModule(Handle H) -- Remove a module from the JIT, releasing any memory that had been used for the compiled code.

A basic use-case for this API, executing the 'main' function from a module, will look like:

std::unique_ptr<Module> M = buildModule();
Handle H = J.addModule(*M);
int (*Main)(int, char*[]) = (int(*)(int, char*[]))J.getSymbolAddress("main");
int Result = Main();

The APIs that we build in these tutorials will all be variations on this simple theme. Behind the API we will refine the implementation of the JIT to add support for optimization and lazy compilation. Eventually we will extend the API itself to allow higher-level program representations (e.g. ASTs) to be added to the JIT.


In the previous section we described our API, now we examine a simple implementation of it: The KaleidoscopeJIT class [1] that was used in the Implementing a language with LLVM tutorials. We will use the REPL code from Chapter 7 of that tutorial to supply the input for our JIT: Each time the user enters an expression the REPL will add a new IR module containing the code for that expression to the JIT. If the expression is a top-level expression like '1+1' or 'sin(x)', the REPL will also use the findSymbol method of our JIT class find and execute the code for the expression, and then use the removeModule method to remove the code again (since there's no way to re-invoke an anonymous expression). In later chapters of this tutorial we'll modify the REPL to enable new interactions with our JIT class, but for now we will take this setup for granted and focus our attention on the implementation of our JIT itself.

Our KaleidoscopeJIT class is defined in the KaleidoscopeJIT.h header. After the usual include guards and #includes [2], we get to the definition of our class:


#include "llvm/ADT/STLExtras.h"
#include "llvm/ExecutionEngine/ExecutionEngine.h"
#include "llvm/ExecutionEngine/JITSymbol.h"
#include "llvm/ExecutionEngine/RTDyldMemoryManager.h"
#include "llvm/ExecutionEngine/SectionMemoryManager.h"
#include "llvm/ExecutionEngine/Orc/CompileUtils.h"
#include "llvm/ExecutionEngine/Orc/IRCompileLayer.h"
#include "llvm/ExecutionEngine/Orc/LambdaResolver.h"
#include "llvm/ExecutionEngine/Orc/RTDyldObjectLinkingLayer.h"
#include "llvm/IR/DataLayout.h"
#include "llvm/IR/Mangler.h"
#include "llvm/Support/DynamicLibrary.h"
#include "llvm/Support/raw_ostream.h"
#include "llvm/Target/TargetMachine.h"
#include <algorithm>
#include <memory>
#include <string>
#include <vector>

namespace llvm {
namespace orc {

class KaleidoscopeJIT {
  std::unique_ptr<TargetMachine> TM;
  const DataLayout DL;
  RTDyldObjectLinkingLayer ObjectLayer;
  IRCompileLayer<decltype(ObjectLayer), SimpleCompiler> CompileLayer;

  using ModuleHandle = decltype(CompileLayer)::ModuleHandleT;

Our class begins with four members: A TargetMachine, TM, which will be used to build our LLVM compiler instance; A DataLayout, DL, which will be used for symbol mangling (more on that later), and two ORC layers: an RTDyldObjectLinkingLayer and a CompileLayer. We'll be talking more about layers in the next chapter, but for now you can think of them as analogous to LLVM Passes: they wrap up useful JIT utilities behind an easy to compose interface. The first layer, ObjectLayer, is the foundation of our JIT: it takes in-memory object files produced by a compiler and links them on the fly to make them executable. This JIT-on-top-of-a-linker design was introduced in MCJIT, however the linker was hidden inside the MCJIT class. In ORC we expose the linker so that clients can access and configure it directly if they need to. In this tutorial our ObjectLayer will just be used to support the next layer in our stack: the CompileLayer, which will be responsible for taking LLVM IR, compiling it, and passing the resulting in-memory object files down to the object linking layer below.

That's it for member variables, after that we have a single typedef: ModuleHandle. This is the handle type that will be returned from our JIT's addModule method, and can be passed to the removeModule method to remove a module. The IRCompileLayer class already provides a convenient handle type (IRCompileLayer::ModuleHandleT), so we just alias our ModuleHandle to this.

    : TM(EngineBuilder().selectTarget()), DL(TM->createDataLayout()),
      ObjectLayer([]() { return std::make_shared<SectionMemoryManager>(); }),
      CompileLayer(ObjectLayer, SimpleCompiler(*TM)) {

TargetMachine &getTargetMachine() { return *TM; }

Next up we have our class constructor. We begin by initializing TM using the EngineBuilder::selectTarget helper method which constructs a TargetMachine for the current process. Then we use our newly created TargetMachine to initialize DL, our DataLayout. After that we need to initialize our ObjectLayer. The ObjectLayer requires a function object that will build a JIT memory manager for each module that is added (a JIT memory manager manages memory allocations, memory permissions, and registration of exception handlers for JIT'd code). For this we use a lambda that returns a SectionMemoryManager, an off-the-shelf utility that provides all the basic memory management functionality required for this chapter. Next we initialize our CompileLayer. The CompileLayer needs two things: (1) A reference to our object layer, and (2) a compiler instance to use to perform the actual compilation from IR to object files. We use the off-the-shelf SimpleCompiler instance for now. Finally, in the body of the constructor, we call the DynamicLibrary::LoadLibraryPermanently method with a nullptr argument. Normally the LoadLibraryPermanently method is called with the path of a dynamic library to load, but when passed a null pointer it will 'load' the host process itself, making its exported symbols available for execution.

ModuleHandle addModule(std::unique_ptr<Module> M) {
  // Build our symbol resolver:
  // Lambda 1: Look back into the JIT itself to find symbols that are part of
  //           the same "logical dylib".
  // Lambda 2: Search for external symbols in the host process.
  auto Resolver = createLambdaResolver(
      [&](const std::string &Name) {
        if (auto Sym = CompileLayer.findSymbol(Name, false))
          return Sym;
        return JITSymbol(nullptr);
      [](const std::string &Name) {
        if (auto SymAddr =
          return JITSymbol(SymAddr, JITSymbolFlags::Exported);
        return JITSymbol(nullptr);

  // Add the set to the JIT with the resolver we created above and a newly
  // created SectionMemoryManager.
  return cantFail(CompileLayer.addModule(std::move(M),

Now we come to the first of our JIT API methods: addModule. This method is responsible for adding IR to the JIT and making it available for execution. In this initial implementation of our JIT we will make our modules "available for execution" by adding them straight to the CompileLayer, which will immediately compile them. In later chapters we will teach our JIT to defer compilation of individual functions until they're actually called.

To add our module to the CompileLayer we need to supply both the module and a symbol resolver. The symbol resolver is responsible for supplying the JIT with an address for each external symbol in the module we are adding. External symbols are any symbol not defined within the module itself, including calls to functions outside the JIT and calls to functions defined in other modules that have already been added to the JIT. (It may seem as though modules added to the JIT should know about one another by default, but since we would still have to supply a symbol resolver for references to code outside the JIT it turns out to be easier to re-use this one mechanism for all symbol resolution.) This has the added benefit that the user has full control over the symbol resolution process. Should we search for definitions within the JIT first, then fall back on external definitions? Or should we prefer external definitions where available and only JIT code if we don't already have an available implementation? By using a single symbol resolution scheme we are free to choose whatever makes the most sense for any given use case.

Building a symbol resolver is made especially easy by the createLambdaResolver function. This function takes two lambdas [3] and returns a JITSymbolResolver instance. The first lambda is used as the implementation of the resolver's findSymbolInLogicalDylib method, which searches for symbol definitions that should be thought of as being part of the same "logical" dynamic library as this Module. If you are familiar with static linking: this means that findSymbolInLogicalDylib should expose symbols with common linkage and hidden visibility. If all this sounds foreign you can ignore the details and just remember that this is the first method that the linker will use to try to find a symbol definition. If the findSymbolInLogicalDylib method returns a null result then the linker will call the second symbol resolver method, called findSymbol, which searches for symbols that should be thought of as external to (but visibile from) the module and its logical dylib. In this tutorial we will adopt the following simple scheme: All modules added to the JIT will behave as if they were linked into a single, ever-growing logical dylib. To implement this our first lambda (the one defining findSymbolInLogicalDylib) will just search for JIT'd code by calling the CompileLayer's findSymbol method. If we don't find a symbol in the JIT itself we'll fall back to our second lambda, which implements findSymbol. This will use the RTDyldMemoryManager::getSymbolAddressInProcess method to search for the symbol within the program itself. If we can't find a symbol definition via either of these paths, the JIT will refuse to accept our module, returning a "symbol not found" error.

Now that we've built our symbol resolver, we're ready to add our module to the JIT. We do this by calling the CompileLayer's addModule method. The addModule method returns an Expected<CompileLayer::ModuleHandle>, since in more advanced JIT configurations it could fail. In our basic configuration we know that it will always succeed so we use the cantFail utility to assert that no error occurred, and extract the handle value. Since we have already typedef'd our ModuleHandle type to be the same as the CompileLayer's handle type, we can return the unwrapped handle directly.

JITSymbol findSymbol(const std::string Name) {
  std::string MangledName;
  raw_string_ostream MangledNameStream(MangledName);
  Mangler::getNameWithPrefix(MangledNameStream, Name, DL);
  return CompileLayer.findSymbol(MangledNameStream.str(), true);

JITTargetAddress getSymbolAddress(const std::string Name) {
  return cantFail(findSymbol(Name).getAddress());

void removeModule(ModuleHandle H) {

Now that we can add code to our JIT, we need a way to find the symbols we've added to it. To do that we call the findSymbol method on our CompileLayer, but with a twist: We have to mangle the name of the symbol we're searching for first. The ORC JIT components use mangled symbols internally the same way a static compiler and linker would, rather than using plain IR symbol names. This allows JIT'd code to interoperate easily with precompiled code in the application or shared libraries. The kind of mangling will depend on the DataLayout, which in turn depends on the target platform. To allow us to remain portable and search based on the un-mangled name, we just re-produce this mangling ourselves.

Next we have a convenience function, getSymbolAddress, which returns the address of a given symbol. Like CompileLayer's addModule function, JITSymbol's getAddress function is allowed to fail [4], however we know that it will not in our simple example, so we wrap it in a call to cantFail.

We now come to the last method in our JIT API: removeModule. This method is responsible for destructing the MemoryManager and SymbolResolver that were added with a given module, freeing any resources they were using in the process. In our Kaleidoscope demo we rely on this method to remove the module representing the most recent top-level expression, preventing it from being treated as a duplicate definition when the next top-level expression is entered. It is generally good to free any module that you know you won't need to call further, just to free up the resources dedicated to it. However, you don't strictly need to do this: All resources will be cleaned up when your JIT class is destructed, if they haven't been freed before then. Like CompileLayer::addModule and JITSymbol::getAddress, removeModule may fail in general but will never fail in our example, so we wrap it in a call to cantFail.

This brings us to the end of Chapter 1 of Building a JIT. You now have a basic but fully functioning JIT stack that you can use to take LLVM IR and make it executable within the context of your JIT process. In the next chapter we'll look at how to extend this JIT to produce better quality code, and in the process take a deeper look at the ORC layer concept.

Next: Extending the KaleidoscopeJIT

Full Code Listing

Here is the complete code listing for our running example. To build this example, use:

# Compile
clang++ -g toy.cpp `llvm-config --cxxflags --ldflags --system-libs --libs core orcjit native` -O3 -o toy
# Run

Here is the code:

[1]Actually we use a cut-down version of KaleidoscopeJIT that makes a simplifying assumption: symbols cannot be re-defined. This will make it impossible to re-define symbols in the REPL, but will make our symbol lookup logic simpler. Re-introducing support for symbol redefinition is left as an exercise for the reader. (The KaleidoscopeJIT.h used in the original tutorials will be a helpful reference).
File Reason for inclusion
STLExtras.h LLVM utilities that are useful when working with the STL.
ExecutionEngine.h Access to the EngineBuilder::selectTarget method.
RTDyldMemoryManager.h Access to the RTDyldMemoryManager::getSymbolAddressInProcess method.
CompileUtils.h Provides the SimpleCompiler class.
IRCompileLayer.h Provides the IRCompileLayer class.
LambdaResolver.h Access the createLambdaResolver function, which provides easy construction of symbol resolvers.
RTDyldObjectLinkingLayer.h Provides the RTDyldObjectLinkingLayer class.
Mangler.h Provides the Mangler class for platform specific name-mangling.
DynamicLibrary.h Provides the DynamicLibrary class, which makes symbols in the host process searchable.
raw_ostream.h A fast output stream class. We use the raw_string_ostream subclass for symbol mangling
TargetMachine.h LLVM target machine description class.
[3]Actually they don't have to be lambdas, any object with a call operator will do, including plain old functions or std::functions.
[4]JITSymbol::getAddress will force the JIT to compile the definition of the symbol if it hasn't already been compiled, and since the compilation process could fail getAddress must be able to return this failure.