Execution Basics

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The StaticInst provides all static information and methods for a binary instruction.

It holds the following information/methods:

  • Flags to tell what kind of instruction it is (integer, floating point, branch, memory barrier, etc.)
  • The op class of the instruction
  • The number of source and destination registers
  • The number of integer and FP registers used
  • Method to decode a binary instruction into a StaticInst
  • Virtual function execute(), which defines how the specific architectural actions taken for an instruction (e.g. read r1, r2, add them and store in r3.)
  • Virtual functions to handle starting and completing memory operations
  • Virtual functions to execute the address calculation and memory access separately for models that split memory operations into two operations
  • Method to disassemble the instruction, printing it out in a human readable format. (e.g. addq r1 r2 r3)

It does not have dynamic information, such as the PC of the instruction or the values of the source registers or the result. This allows a 1 to 1 mapping of StaticInst to unique binary machine instructions. We take advantage of this fact by caching the mapping of a binary instruction to a StaticInst in a hash_map, allowing us to decode a binary instruction only once, and directly using the StaticInst the rest of the time.

Each ISA instruction derives from StaticInst and implements its own constructor, the execute() function, and, if it is a memory instruction, the memory access functions. See ISA_description_system for details about how these ISA instructions are specified.


The DynInst is used to hold dynamic information about instructions. This is necessary for more detailed models or out-of-order models, both of which may need extra information beyond the StaticInst in order to correctly execute instructions.

Some of the dynamic information that it stores includes:

  • The PC of the instruction
  • The renamed register indices of the source and destination registers
  • The predicted next-PC
  • The instruction result
  • The thread number of the instruction
  • The CPU the instruction is executing on
  • Whether or not the instruction is squashed

Additionally the DynInst provides the ExecContext interface. When ISA instructions are executed, the DynInst is passed in as the ExecContext, handling all accesses of the ISA to CPU state.

Detailed CPU models can derive from DynInst and create their own specific DynInst subclasses that implement any additional state or functions that might be needed. See src/cpu/o3/alpha/dyn_inst.hh for an example of this.

Microcode support


The ExecContext describes the interface that the ISA uses to access CPU state. Although there is a file src/cpu/exec_context.hh, it is purely for documentation purposes and classes do not derive from it. Instead, ExecContext is an implicit interface that is assumed by the ISA.

The ExecContext interface provides methods to:

  • Read and write PC information
  • Read and write integer, floating point, and control registers
  • Read and write memory
  • Record and return the address of a memory access, prefetching, and trigger a system call
  • Trigger some full-system mode functionality

Example implementations of the ExecContext interface include:

See the ISA description page for more details on how an instruction set is implemented.


ThreadContext is the interface to all state of a thread for anything outside of the CPU. It provides methods to read or write state that might be needed by external objects, such as the PC, next PC, integer and FP registers, and IPRs. It also provides functions to get pointers to important thread-related classes, such as the ITB, DTB, System, kernel statistics, and memory ports. It is an abstract base class; the CPU must create its own ThreadContext by either deriving from it, or using the templated ProxyThreadContext class.


The ProxyThreadContext class provides a way to implement a ThreadContext without having to derive from it. ThreadContext is an abstract class, so anything that derives from it and uses its interface will pay the overhead of virtual function calls. This class is created to enable a user-defined Thread object to be used wherever ThreadContexts are used, without paying the overhead of virtual function calls when it is used by itself. The user-defined object must simply provide all the same functions as the normal ThreadContext, and the ProxyThreadContext will forward all calls to the user-defined object. See the code of SimpleThread for an example of using the ProxyThreadContext.

Difference vs. ExecContext

The ThreadContext is slightly different than the ExecContext. The ThreadContext provides access to an individual thread's state; an ExecContext provides ISA access to the CPU (meaning it is implicitly multithreaded on SMT systems). Additionally the ThreadState is an abstract class that exactly defines the interface; the ExecContext is a more implicit interface that must be implemented so that the ISA can access whatever state it needs. The function calls to access state are slightly different between the two. The ThreadContext provides read/write register methods that take in an architectural register index. The ExecContext provides read/write register methdos that take in a StaticInst and an index, where the index refers to the i'th source or destination register of that StaticInst. Additionally the ExecContext provides read and write methods to access memory, while the ThreadContext does not provide any methods to access memory.


The ThreadState class is used to hold thread state that is common across CPU models, such as the thread ID, thread status, kernel statistics, memory port pointers, and some statistics of number of instructions completed. Each CPU model can derive from ThreadState and build upon it, adding in thread state that is deemed appropriate. An example of this is SimpleThread, where all of the thread's architectural state has been added in. However, it is not necessary (or even feasible in some cases) for all of the thread's state to be centrally located in a ThreadState derived class. The DetailedCPU keeps register values and rename maps in its own classes outside of ThreadState. ThreadState is only used to provide a more convenient way to centrally locate some state, and provide sharing across CPU models.