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FAQ for ARM processor
(or 'Why your "Kaffe does not work for ARM" question is not answered?')
=========================================================================
Introduction
------------
There are so many questions for the last several years saying "Kaffe does
not work for ARM!" which usually are not answered on the mailing list.
This is not because other developers ignore your question, but it is
really hard to answer these questions without having enough information
for your environment.
After some struggle, I made Kaffe work for both linux and netbsd by
using excellent simulators (QEMU and GXemul) and I tried to summarize
how each arm processor is different in this memo.
Architecture version
--------------------
For the ARM family, supported instruction set is indicated by the
'architecture version'. Most common architecture version right now
should be armv4 or armv5. Recently armv6 becomes common, but since
more powerful instruction set needs extra power consumption, and
simpler instruction set may still remain for their purpose. This is
very different from what happens for PC's CPU architecture.
Each architecture version may have suffix characters like 't', 'e'
etc., but from the Kaffe's point of view, they usually does not make
any differences.
CPU
---
CPU core is another properties each ARM processor have. Even though
two processor belong to same architecture version (say, armv4), one
is called 'ARM7' but the other is called 'ARM9'. The difference between
ARM7 and ARM9 are not instruction set level (some of ARM9 belongs to
different architecture version, by the way) but the difference is
their internal structure. ARM7 uses 3 stage pipeline (simple, but
slow) and ARM9 uses 5 stage pipeline. This structural difference
makes ARM9 can be faster (with same clock). As I mentioned in the
architecture version, even though ARM9 can be faster than ARM7, ARM7
may still have their own applications because of its low power consumption.
From Kaffe's point of view, the difference of internal structure does
not make any difference. (In detail, there are differences, e.g. cache
control, but they are usually hidden by the operating system)
MMU
---
The other concern for each ARM processor is whether they have MMU
(Memory Management Unit) or not. Until recently, if you want to use
higher level operating systems (like BSD or linux) the MMU is mandatory.
But the introduction of uClinux changes this situation. The uClinux is
a great rescue for MMU-less CPU to use higher level operating systems
and there are so many porting work has been done to use uClinux as the
OS for MMU-less ARM. MMU-less ARM is usually ARM7 based, but the CPU
difference and whether they have MMU or not are independent.
From Kaffe's point of view, there are no support for uClinux right now
and if you have MMU-less ARM, there are no hope to use Kaffe on it.
I hope this situation should be changed soon, and if you make some
improvement, please let other developers know about that.
FPU
---
FPU (Floating Point Unit) is another big energy eater in the CPU. That
is the main reason why not all ARM processors (or other CPU's designed
for embedded application) have FPU. Even though the CPU itself does not
have FPU, sometimes FPU instruction can be executed on the CPU. This is
done with the help of the operating system, and in this case we can
treat this system as though it has FPU.
In ARM architecture, the story becomes more complex. They first introduce
one FPU called 'FPA', and later they introduce absolutely different
version called 'VFP' These two are incompatible from instruction set
level, and you can not mix instructions for these two FPU's.
From Kaffe's point of view, only 'FPA' is supported right now. Some
effort has been started to use 'VFP', and I hope we can rewrite this
section soon. For jit/jit3 engine, the support of 'FPA' is mandatory
(the internal code generation emits FPA instruction) and if you don't
have FPA (or FPA emulation by the operating system) only possibility
is to use interpreter engine.
One more note, current configure option '--enable-xscale' changes the
behavior not only for instruction set but also for exception handler.
The later is done because of xscale does not have FPU and number of
registers saved on the stack is different from with FPU version.
Endian
------
As like as usual embedded processors, ARM can be configured to be
used for the big-endian or little-endian. I don't have exact statistics,
but little-endian should be common for ARM processor. The only exception
I know is Linksys NSLU2, but debian people makes their little-endian
version of linux running on this system, and from application's point
of view, we can not determine the difference.
From Kaffe's point of view, both endians are supported (m68k or sparc
are big-endian), but some MD part of jit makes it harder to support
big-endian ARM. When we have big-endian version of OS available for ARM,
we need to tackle this issue.
OS
--
Currently Kaffe is supported on NetBSD and linux (not uClinux) only.
ABI
---
The last (but, as usual, not least) thing you must be careful is ARM
are used with not only one ABI. They are now changing their standard
ABI to so called 'EABI'.
Currently Kaffe only works with so called 'legacy ABI (or apcs-gnu)'.
Conclusion
----------
Do you still want to post a message to the ML simply saying 'Kaffe
does not work for my ARM board!'?
Kiyo Inaba
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