LLVM Support

The Chapel compiler can be built with LLVM support in able to enable the following features:

  1. extern block support (see C Interoperability). This feature uses the clang parser. Note that it is not necessary to use the LLVM code generator in order to use extern block support.
  2. Experimental LLVM code generator. The --llvm flag activates the LLVM code generator. Note that by default, a Chapel compiler built with LLVM support still uses the C backend.
  3. Experimental LLVM communication optimizations. You can activate these communication optimizations with --llvm --llvm-wide-opt. Some benchmark programs run faster with these LLVM communication optimizations.

Building the LLVM support

To build the compiler with LLVM support for extern blocks, --llvm code generation, but no support for --llvm-wide-opt:

source ./util/setchplenv.bash
export CHPL_LLVM=llvm
# or, if you have already installed compatible LLVM libraries
# export CHPL_LLVM=system

make # you might want to do e.g. make -j 16 for a parallel build

To build the compiler with LLVM support for extern blocks, --llvm code generation, and also support --llvm-wide-opt:

source ./util/setchplenv.bash
export CHPL_LLVM=llvm
export CHPL_WIDE_POINTERS=node16 # optional but useful with --llvm-wide-opt
                                 # see discussion below

make # you might want to do e.g. make -j 16 for a parallel build


  • If you have a built llvm in third-party/llvm/install, even if you forget to export CHPL_LLVM=llvm, the default will be to use the built llvm. You can override this default by setting CHPL_LLVM=none.
  • the Makefile in third-party/llvm will unpack LLVM and Clang source releases and build them
  • LLVM code generation has not been tested on all supported configurations, and some features (such as building a library instead of an executable) are not yet supported.
  • You can set the environment variable CHPL_LLVM_DEVELOPER to request a debug build of LLVM.

Activating the LLVM support

To compile a program using the LLVM backend, add --llvm to the chpl command line.

If you pass a --savec directory, the LLVM backend will emit two .bc files in that directory:

  • chpl__module.bc is the version that will be linked
  • chpl__module-nopt.bc is the generated code without optimizations applied.

Passing --fast will cause LLVM optimizations to run.

The --ccflags option can control which LLVM optimizations are run, using the same syntax as flags to clang.

Additionally, if you build your compiler with CHPL_WIDE_POINTERS=node16 and then compile a program with --llvm --llvm-wide-opt --fast, you will allow LLVM optimizations to work with global memory. For example, the Loop Invariant Code Motion (LICM) optimization might be able to hoist an access of a remote variable - ie, a 'get' - out of a loop. This optimization has produced better performance with some benchmarks.

CHPL_WIDE_POINTERS=node16 is necessary to use --llvm-wide-opt because of historical limitations in LLVM support for pointers in different address spaces having different sizes. The default CHPL_WIDE_POINTERS=struct uses a 128-bit wide pointer, but CHPL_WIDE_POINTERS=node16 packs wide pointers into a pointer-sized value (normally 64 bits) which includes 16 bits of node number in order to avoid these problems. We plan to remove this requirement in the future to enable --llvm-wide-opt to work with CHPL_WIDE_POINTERS=struct.


  • --llvm-wide-opt currently requires CHPL_WIDE_POINTERS=node16, which means that it will not work with the numa locale model since packed pointers will not have a sublocale.
  • --llvm-wide-opt may add communication to or from a task's stack, so it may not function correctly for combinations of tasking and communication layers in which some task has a stack outside of an acceptable region for communication (e.g. operations on the initial 'main' thread may fail with CHPL_COMM=gasnet, CHPL_GASNET_SEGMENT=fast).

How --llvm-wide-opt works

Communication optimization within LLVM uses the address space feature of LLVM in order to create a conceptual global address space. In particular, instead of generating a call to the runtime functions to 'put' or 'get', when --llvm-wide-opt is enabled, the Chapel compiler will generate a load, store, or memcpy using an address space 100 pointer. Address space 100 pointers represent global memory - and address space 0 pointers continue to represent local memory. The existing LLVM optimization passes will operate normally on these address space 100 operations. The LLVM documentation describes these optimizations and which are normally run.

Because it may be necessary to build a global pointer or to gather information from it - for example when constructing a global pointer from a node number and a local address, or extracting the node number or the address - the LLVM code generated with --llvm-wide-opt includes calls to nonexistent functions to mark these operations:

  • .gf.addr extracts an address from a global pointer
  • .gf.loc extracts a locale from a global pointer
  • .gf.node extracts a node number from a global pointer
  • .gf.make constructs a global pointer from a locale and an address
  • .gf.g2w converts a global pointer to a wide pointer
  • .gf.w2g converts a wide pointer to a global pointer

These functions will be replaced with the usual runtime functions once all global pointers are lowered into wide pointers by the global-to-wide pass.

After the usual LLVM optimization passes run, two Chapel LLVM passes run:

  • aggregate-global-ops bundles together sequences of loads or sequences of stores on adjacent global memory locations into a single memcpy. That way, adjacent loads will generate a single 'get' instead of several 'get' calls.
  • global-to-wide converts operations on address space 100 pointers, notably including load, store, memcpy, and memset operations, into calls to the Chapel runtime. It converts address space 100 pointers into packed pointers and any of the special function calls (e.g. .gf.addr to extract the local address portion of a global pointer) into the usual operations on a packed pointer. In the future, we would like to support converting address space 100 pointers into the usual Chapel wide pointer format.