[TUHS] Discuss of style and design of computer programs from a

Michael Kjörling michael at kjorling.se
Sun May 7 01:20:53 AEST 2017

On 6 May 2017 08:09 -0700, from corey at lod.com (Corey Lindsly):
> Anyway, I reached one point in the assembly code that I simply could not 
> understand. It seemed like a mistake, and I went through it again and 
> again until I finally realized what it was doing. There was a branch/loop 
> that jumped to the middle of a multi-byte machine instruction, so that 
> branch had to be disassembled and stepped separately until it "synced" up 
> with the other branch again. Maybe this is standard practice in 
> programming (I don't know) but at the time I thought, what kind of evil 
> genius devised this to save a few bytes of memory?

IIRC, that _was_ a common trick at least on machines of that class. It
did have the potential to save a few bytes, yes (more if the
instructions were such that you'd get some _other, desired_, behavior
by jumping into the middle of one with some specific state), but it
also foiled lots of disassemblers: Simply disassembling a binary from
start to finish would yield nonsense in those locations, as you
experienced. It thus basically forced you to single-step those
instructions to figure out what was going on from the binary.

I'm pretty sure it works on every architecture with variable-length
instructions and arbitrary jump capability, as long as you have
control over the specific machine instructions generated (such as if
you are programming in assembler). Of course, it _is_ also a total
nightmare to maintain such code.

I would absolutely not say that doing something like that is standard
practice in modern programming. Even in microcontrollers, where
program and data memory can be scarce even today, I would argue that
the costs would not outweigh the benefits by a long shot.

Michael Kjörling • https://michael.kjorling.semichael at kjorling.se
                 “People who think they know everything really annoy
                 those of us who know we don’t.” (Bjarne Stroustrup)

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