Target Machine Models and Instruction Selection

In the field of compiler design, one important aspect is the selection of appropriate instructions for a target machine model. The target machine model represents the architecture and design of the hardware on which the compiled code will run. Efficient instruction selection is crucial for optimizing the performance of the compiled code.

Target Machine Models

Target machine models define the characteristics and capabilities of the hardware on which the compiled code will execute. These models provide a way to abstract the specific hardware details and give compiler designers a high-level representation to work with.

There are various target machine models, including stack machines, accumulator machines, register machines, and complex instruction-set computers (CISC) or reduced instruction-set computers (RISC).

  • Stack Machines: In a stack machine, instructions operate on a stack of operands. The operands are implicitly pushed and popped from the stack, simplifying instruction formats. However, stack machines typically have slower performance due to memory accesses for data movement.

  • Accumulator Machines: In an accumulator machine, one operand is implicitly taken from an accumulator register, and the result is stored back in the accumulator. This model is simple and memory-efficient but can be limiting in terms of parallelism.

  • Register Machines: Register machines use explicit register operands. They usually have a large set of general-purpose registers, allowing more flexibility in instruction selection and optimization. Register machines tend to have better performance compared to stack and accumulator machines.

  • CISC and RISC: CISC and RISC architectures represent different approaches to designing target machine models. CISC architectures have complex instructions that can perform multiple operations, while RISC architectures usually have a reduced set of simple instructions. RISC architectures often provide better performance due to simpler instruction execution and pipelining capabilities.

Instruction Selection

Instruction selection is the process of choosing appropriate machine instructions to implement a high-level language construct or an intermediate representation (IR) instruction. The goal is to generate efficient code that utilizes the capabilities of the target machine model.

Several factors influence instruction selection, such as the available instruction set, cost models, and performance considerations. Modern compilers often employ sophisticated algorithms and heuristics to determine the best instructions for each code segment.

Here are some key techniques used in instruction selection:

  • Pattern Matching: Compiler designers define patterns representing high-level language constructs or IR instructions. These patterns are matched against the code being compiled, and if a match is found, the corresponding machine instruction is selected.

  • Cost Models: Cost models estimate the cost (e.g., execution time, memory usage) associated with different instructions. The compiler uses these cost models to select instructions that minimize the overall cost of the generated code.

  • Code Generation Frameworks: Compiler designers often build code generation frameworks that provide reusable components for instruction selection. These frameworks include libraries of pre-defined patterns, algorithms for pattern matching, and optimization techniques.


Target machine models and instruction selection play a vital role in compiler design. The choice of target machine model affects the performance and efficiency of the compiled code. Instruction selection algorithms and techniques help generate optimized code that takes advantage of the target machine's capabilities. By understanding these concepts, compiler designers can create more efficient and performant compilers that produce high-quality machine code.

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