Register Allocation and Assignment

In the field of compiler design, one of the key tasks is to efficiently manage the limited number of registers available in a computer's architecture. Register allocation and assignment techniques aim to optimize the usage of these registers in a program, ultimately improving the performance and efficiency of the compiled code.


Registers are high-speed storage locations within a CPU that are directly accessible by the processor. They typically store data temporarily during program execution, which allows for faster access and manipulation compared to memory locations. However, the number of registers in a CPU is limited, making their efficient use crucial.

Register allocation refers to the process of determining which variables and data should be stored in registers during different stages of program execution. The goal is to minimize the number of memory accesses, which are slower than register accesses, thereby improving the overall performance of the program.

Register Assignment

Once the decision is made to allocate variables to registers, the next step is to assign each variable to a specific register or a memory location. This process is called register assignment. There are different approaches to register assignment based on various factors like the number of registers available, the size of the program, and the complexity of the program's control flow.

Global Register Allocation

Global register allocation, also known as global optimization, assigns registers to variables and data across the entire program. This approach aims to minimize the number of spills (where variables need to be moved between registers and memory) and increase the number of variables that can be stored in registers throughout the program's execution. Global register allocation is typically performed during the compilation phase.

Local Register Allocation

Local register allocation, also referred to as local optimization, assigns registers to variables on a block-by-block basis, such as within a function or a loop. Unlike global register allocation, local allocation does not consider the entire program's control flow. Instead, it focuses on maximizing performance within specific regions. Local register allocation is typically performed during the code generation phase.

Register Allocation Techniques

Several techniques have been developed to perform register allocation and assignment efficiently. Some popular techniques include:

Graph Coloring

Graph coloring is a widely used technique for register allocation. It models the register allocation problem as a graph, where each node represents a variable or a data element that needs to be assigned to a register. The edges between nodes represent the interference between variables, meaning they cannot be assigned to the same register simultaneously. Graph coloring algorithms aim to find a valid coloring of the graph, where each node (variable) is assigned a different color (register).

Linear Scan Register Allocation

Linear scan register allocation is a simpler approach that scans the program's code linearly. It assigns variables to registers whenever they are used and frees the registers when the variables go out of scope. If all the registers are occupied at a certain point, the algorithm spills the least frequently used variable to memory. Linear scan register allocation is relatively fast and provides decent register allocation results.

Iterated Register Coalescing

Iterated register coalescing is an approach that combines the benefits of both graph coloring and linear scan register allocation. It starts with a graph coloring-based register allocation, followed by a coalescing phase that merges similar variables and eliminates unnecessary moves between registers. This technique allows for better register utilization while still maintaining correctness.


Register allocation and assignment are critical steps in compiler design, optimizing the usage of limited CPU registers to enhance program performance. Global and local register allocation techniques, such as graph coloring, linear scan, and iterated register coalescing, play a fundamental role in achieving efficient register usage. By carefully considering these techniques during the compilation process, compilers can generate code that maximizes register utilization and minimizes memory access, resulting in faster and more efficient programs.

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