Rust logo Research is characterized by allowing yourself to make mistakes: performing experiments; drawing conclusions; later, realizing that your experiment was not sufficient and you got it wrong; and trying again. Back in March, we thought that we knew how to deal with vectorized Rust: tell the compiler not to auto-vectorize code; tell the compiler not to use vector instructions; and use existing conditional compilation feature flags to disable hand-vectorized code. Unfortunately, two of those three ideas don’t work – but we think we have a viable approach now.

The first of these ideas probably works: you can tell the compiler not to auto-vectorize code. If you are using cargo, you can control this with RUSTFLAGS; if you are using rustc directly, you can directly disable auto-vectorization when invoking rustc. And, if your program calls C code (or uses a crate that calls C code) and uses the CC-rs crate to compile the code, then you can easily pass flags to the C compiler to disable auto-vectorization. (If your program calls C code that was not compiled using the CC-rs crate, you will need to modify the C code’s build system – which is a bit more work.)

The reason that telling the compiler not to use vector instructions does not work is that it is not possible to turn off the x86 architecture’s SSE2 instructions without breaking floating point. We recently realized that the -Ctarget-feature=-sse2 flag turns of both SSE2 vector instructions and also support for IEEE floating point. With IEEE floating point disabled, LLVM attempts to use the old 80-bit x87 floating point unit and then fails an assertion while compiling your code. In short, you cannot use the -sse2 flag with Rust. It took us a while to recognize that we could not just disable SSE2 because, the technique we were using to disable SSE2 in the standard library turned out to do nothing. We thought that we could do this using the environment variable RUSTFLAGS_STAGE_NOT_0 to disable SSE2 (and other x86 vector extensions) when compiling the standard library. Alas, this environment variable has been renamed so our attempt to disable SSE2 was being ignored.

Finally, the reason that using existing conditional compilation feature flags to disable hand-vectorized code does not work is that there is no single feature flag that everybody uses. In some crates, the miri flag is used to disable vectorization but, as you might imagine, the miri flag has other effects. In other crates, there is an explicit way of disabling vectorization using some crate-specific feature flag. And, in other crates, there is no way to disable vectorization. It might be a good idea to have a standard feature flag to disable hand-vectorized code but, at least for now, attempts to disable hand-vectorized code require different approaches for each crate you want to use.

Emulate, don’t eliminate

Before I describe our new solution to this problem, it’s worth asking whether this matters? If your approach to verification is to use function contracts to limit the scope of your work to the function you are currently working on, then it will not matter at all. On the other hand, if your goal is like ours of verifying entire programs without the overhead of specifying every function, then this will probably matter a lot because, even if the code you wrote does not use vector instructions, the chances are high that your code depends on a crate that depends on a crate that uses one of regex/aho-corasick, hashbrown or std::collections::HashMap – all of which use vector instructions. So, if you are interested in verifying entire programs, you probably need a way of handling vector instructions. Alas, no Rust verification tools that we know of actually support vector instructions: they just fail with a message about unsupported instructions.

Our new approach to handling vector instructions is to emulate vector instructions instead of trying to eliminate them. That is we need a SIMD emulation library and then we need to arrange for verification tools to use that emulation library when they encounter vector instructions instead of reporting that they have found an unsupported instruction.

Our SIMD emulation library implements the processor-specific SIMD intrinsics that we have been finding in the LLVM bitcode generated from Rust programs. (This is probably a subset of the intrinsics that you would need if your verification tools are based on MIR. We would happily add additional intrinsics if other verification tools need them.)

Implementing the SIMD emulation library

SIMD instruction sets are typically quite large: there are a lot of instructions to support but there three features of SIMD instructions that reduce the effort required to write an emulation library.

  1. Almost all SIMD instructions fit into one of three patterns: map-like instructions such as vector addition that process vector elements independently of each other; fold-like instructions that combine vector elements to give either a shorter vector or a scalar value; and permutation instructions that rearrange vector elements.

  2. Almost all SIMD instructions are based on taking a large register and dividing it into a number of elements of with 8, 16, 32 or 64 bits and, with the exception of Arm’s SVE, the register size and the number of elements is a fixed power of two.

  3. Almost all SIMD instructions have either two vector arguments or a vector argument and a scalar argument.

These observations allow us to make very effective use of Rust’s macros and Rust’s Fn trait when writing our emulation library.

For example, the x86 architecture has a family of instructions called PSRLI that combine a vector with a scalar immediate value. Each element of the vector argument is shifted by the distance specified by the scalar argument.

The action on each vector element can be described by a scalar function that shifts a scalar value by a scalar shift amount. For example, for 32-bit elements, the function looks like this.

/// Logical shift right by 8-bit immediate (0 if shift distance too large)
pub fn srl_immed_u32_u8(x: u32, imm8: u8) -> u32 {
    if imm8 > 31 {
    } else {
        x >> imm8

To implement the corresponding vector function, we “lift” the scalar function so that it operates on vectors instead. Since this pattern is very common, we do this by defining a lifting function such as this one that operates on vectors of four elements to produce a function with one vector argument and one scalar argument.

// lift a binary operation over vector and scalar
pub fn lift4_vs_v<F, A, B, R>(f: F, a: A::Vec, b: B) -> R::Vec
    F: Fn(A, B) -> R,
    A: Vector4,
    B: Copy,
    R: Vector4,
    let r0 = f(A::get0(&a), b);
    let r1 = f(A::get1(&a), b);
    let r2 = f(A::get2(&a), b);
    let r3 = f(A::get3(&a), b);
    R::new(r0, r1, r2, r3)

It is now easy to combine these functions to emulate the 32-bit version of the PSRLI instruction.

unsafe extern "C" fn llvm_x86_sse2_psrli_d(a: u32x4, imm8: i32) -> u32x4 {
    lift4_vs_v(scalar::srl_immed_u32_u8, a, imm8 as u8)

Note that the type u32x4 is the Rust type representing a vector of four 32-bit values. This type implements the trait Vector4 used in the definition of lift4_vs_v.

And, by defining traits Vector2, Vector4, Vector8, Vector16 and Vector32, and associated lifting functions, we can very quickly implement other versions of the SSE2 PSRLI instruction.

unsafe extern "C" fn llvm_x86_sse2_psrli_b(a: u8x16, imm8: i32) -> u8x16 {
    lift16_vs_v(scalar::srl_immed_u8_u8, a, imm8 as u8)

unsafe extern "C" fn llvm_x86_sse2_psrli_w(a: u16x8, imm8: i32) -> u16x8 {
    lift8_vs_v(scalar::srl_immed_u16_u8, a, imm8 as u8)

unsafe extern "C" fn llvm_x86_sse2_psrli_q(a: u64x2, imm8: i32) -> u64x2 {
    lift2_vs_v(scalar::srl_immed_u64_u8, a, imm8 as u8)

Using the SIMD emulation library

There is no compiler flag that will cause rustc or LLVM to use our SIMD emulation library so whether our verification tool uses MIR or LLVM IR, the output of the compiler will contain calls to the official SIMD intrinsics instead of the SIMD emulation library.

One option for using the SIMD emulation library would be to modify our verification tool to recognize calls to SIMD intrinsics and, instead, to treat them as calls to the emulation functions.

But, one of our project goals is to be able to use as many different verification tools as possible and we did not want to have to modify multiple tools. So, instead, we extended the post-processor rvt-patch-llvm that we wrote to handle initializers and command-line arguments to replace all calls to SIMD intrinsics with calls to our SIMD emulation library. (The code that does the patching is here.)


Handling processor-specific vector intrinsics was harder than we originally thought.

Although it initially seemed to be effective, we realized that our approach of trying to eliminate vector intrinsics was not working. This forced us to “bite the bullet” and write a partial SIMD emulation library. This turned out to be easier than we had feared because, although SIMD instruction sets are huge, they contain a large amount of regularity.

Our emulation library meets our needs but we believe that it would also be useful to teams developing other Rust verification tools. We would be very happy to work with other Rust verification teams to create a single SIMD emulation library that meets everybody’s needs.