Intermediate Representation

As Tint has grown the number of transforms on the AST has grown. This growth has lead to several issues:

  1. Transforms rebuild the AST and SEM which causes slowness
  2. Transforming in AST can be difficult as the AST is hard to work with

In order to address these goals, an IR is being introduced into Tint. The IR is mutable, it holds the needed state in order to be transformed. The IR is also translatable back into AST. It will be possible to generate an AST, convert to IR, transform, and then rebuild a new AST. This round-trip ability provides a few features:

  1. Easy to integrate into current system by replacing AST transforms piecemeal
  2. Easier to test as the resulting AST can be emitted as WGSL and compared.

The IR helps with the complexity of the AST transforms by limiting the representations seen in the IR form. For example, instead of for, while and loop constructs there is a single loop construct. alias and const_assert nodes are not emitted into IR. Dead code is eliminated during the IR construction.

As the IR can convert into AST, we could potentially simplify the SPIRV-Reader by generating IR directly. The IR is closer to what SPIR-V looks like, so maybe a simpler transform.


The IR breaks down into two fundamental pieces, the control flow and the expression lists. While these can be thought of as separate pieces they are linked in that the control flow blocks contain the expression lists. A control flow block may use the result of an expression as the condition.

The IR works together with the AST/SEM. There is an underlying assumption that the source Program will live as long as the IR. The IR holds pointers to data from the Program. This includes things like SEM types, variables, statements, etc.

Transforming from AST to IR and back to AST is a lossy operation. The resulting AST when converting back will not be the same as the AST being provided. (e.g. all for, while and loop constructs coming in will become while loops going out). This is intentional as it greatly simplifies the number of things to consider in the IR. For instance:

  • No alias nodes
  • No const_assert nodes
  • All loops become while loops
  • if statements may all become if/else

Code Structure

The code is contained in the src/tint/ir folder and is broken down into several classes. Note, the IR is a Tint internal representation and these files should never appear in the public API.


The Builder class provides useful helper routines for creating IR content. The Builder owns an ir::Module, it can be created with an existing Module by moving it into the builder. The Module is moved from the builder when it is complete.


The top level of the IR is the Module. The module stores a list of functions, entry_points, allocators and various other bits of information needed by the IR. The Module also contains a pointer to the Program which the IR was created from. The Program must outlive the Module.

The Module provides two methods from moving two and from a Program. The Module::FromProgram static method will take a Program and construct an ir::Module from the contents. The resulting module class then has a ToProgram method which will construct a new Program from the Module contents.


The BuilderImpl is internally used by the Module to do the conversion from a Program to a Module. This class should not be used outside the src/tint/ir folder.


Similar to the AST a transform system is available for IR. The transform has the same setup as the AST (and inherits from the same base transform class.)

Note, not written yet.


The IR flattens scopes. This also means that the IR will rename shadow variables to be uniquely named in the larger scoped block.

For an example of flattening:

  var x = 1;
    var y = 2;


  var x = 1;
  var y = 2;

For an example of shadowing:

  var x = 1;
  if (true) {
    var x = 2;


  var x = 1;
  if true {
    var x_1 = 2;

Control Flow Blocks

At the top level, the AST is broken into a series of control flow nodes. There are a limited set of flow nodes as compared to AST:

  1. Block
  2. Function
  3. If statement
  4. Loop statement
  5. Switch statement
  6. Terminator

As the IR is built a stack of control flow blocks is maintained. The stack contains function, loop, if and switch control flow blocks. A function is always the bottom element in the flow control stack.

The current instruction block is tracked. The tracking is reset to nullptr when a branch happens. This is used in the statement processing in order to eliminate dead code. If the current block does not exist, or has a branch target, then no further instructions can be added, which means all control flow has branched and any subsequent statements can be disregarded.

Note, this does have the effect that the inspector must be run to retrieve the module interface before converting to IR. This is because phony assignments in dead code add variables into the interface.

var<storage> b;

fn a() {
  _ = b;   // This pulls b into the module interface but would be
           // dropped due to dead code removal.

Control Flow Block

A block is the simplest control flow node. It contains the instruction lists for a given linear section of codes. A block only has one branch statement which always happens at the end of the block. Note, the branch statement is implicit, it doesn't show up in the expression list but is encoded in the branch_target.

In almost every case a block does not branch to another block. It will always branch to another control flow node. The exception to this rule is blocks branching to the function end block.

Control Flow Function

A function control flow block has two targets associated with it, the start_target and the end_target. Function flow starts at the start_target and ends just before the end_target. The end_target is always a terminator, it just marks the end of the function (a return is a branch to the function end_target).

Control Flow If

The if flow node is an if-else structure. There are no else-if entries, they get moved into the else of the if. The if control flow node has three targets, the true_target, false_target and possibly a merge_target.

The merge_target is possibly nullptr. This can happen if both branches of the if call return for instance as the internal branches would jump to the function end_target.

In all cases, the if node will have a true_target and a false_target, the target block maybe just a branch to the merge_target in the case where that branch of the if was empty.

Control Flow Loop

All of the loop structures in AST merge down to a single loop control flow node. The loop contains the start_target, continuing_target and a merge_target.

In the case of a loop, the merge_target always exists, but may actually not exist in the control flow. The target is created in order to have a branch for continue to branch too, but if the loop body does a return then control flow may jump over that block completely.

The chain of blocks from the start_target, as long as it does not break or return will branch to the continuing_target. The continuing_target will possibly branch to the merge_target and will branch to the start_target for the loop.

A while loop is decomposed as listed in the WGSL spec:

while (a < b) {
  c += 1;


loop {
  if (!(a < b)) {
  c += 1;

A for loop is decomposed as listed in the WGSL spec:

for (var i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
  c += 1;


var i = 0;
loop {
  if (!(i < 10)) {

  c += 1;

  continuing {

Control Flow Switch

The switch control flow has a target block for each of the case/default labels along with a merge_target. The merge_target while existing, maybe outside the control flow if all of the case branches return. The target exists in order to provide a break target.

Control Flow Terminator

The terminator control flow is only used as the end_target of a function. It does not contain instructions and is only used as a marker for the exit of a function.

Expression Lists.

Note, this section isn't fully formed as this has not been written at this point.

The expression lists are all in SSA form. The SSA variables will keep pointers back to the source AST variables in order for us to not require PHI nodes and to make it easier to move back out of SSA form.


All expressions in IR are single operations. There are no complex expressions. Any complex expression in the AST is broke apart into the simpler single operation components.

var a = b + c - (4 * k);


%t0 = b + c
%t1 = 4 * k
%v0 = %t0 - %t1

This also means that many of the short forms i += 1, i++ get expanded into the longer form of i = i + 1.

Short-Circuit Expressions

The short-circuit expressions (e.g. a && b) will be convert into an if structure control flow.

let c = a() && b()


let c = a();
if (c) {
  c = b();


There are several types of registers used in the SSA form.

  1. Constant Register
  2. Temporary Register
  3. Variable Register
  4. Return Register
  5. Function Argument Register
Constant Register

The constant register %c holds a constant value. All values in IR are concrete, there are no abstract values as materialization has already happened. Each constant register holds a single constant value (e.g. 3.14) and a pointee to the type (maybe? If needed.)

Temporary Register

The temporary register %t hold the results of a simple operation. The temporaries are created as complex expressions are broken down into pieces. The temporary register tracks the usage count for the register. This allows a portion of a calculation to be pulled out when rebuilding AST as a common calculation. If the temporary is used once it can be re-combine back into a large expression.

Variable Register

The variable register %v potentially holds a pointer back to source variables. So, while each value is written only once, if the pointer back to an AST variable exists we can rebuild the variable that value was originally created from and can assign back when converting to AST.

Return Register

Each function has a return register %r where the return value will be stored before the final block branches to the end_target.

Function Argument Register

The function argument registers %a are used to store the values being passed into a function call.

Type Information

The IR shares type information with the SEM. The types are the same, but they may exist in different block allocations. The SEM types will be re-used if they exist, but if the IR needs to create a new type it will be created in the IRs type block allocator.

Loads / Stores and Deref

Note, have not thought about this. We should probably have explicit load/store operations injected in the right spot, but don't know yet.


Instead of going to a custom IR there are several possible other roads that could be travelled.

Mutable AST

Tint originally contained a mutable AST. This was converted to immutable in order to allow processing over multiple threads and for safety properties. Those desires still hold, the AST is public API, and we want it to be as safe as possible, so keeping it immutable provides that guarantee.

Multiple Transforms With One Program Builder

Instead of generating an immutable AST after each transform, running multiple transforms on the single program builder would remove some of the performance penalties of going to and from immutable AST. While this is true, the transforms use a combination of AST and SEM information. When they transform they do not create new SEM information. That means, after a given transform, the SEM is out of date. In order to re-generate the SEM the resolver needs to be rerun. Supporting this would require being very careful on what transforms run together and how they modify the AST.

Adopt An Existing IR

There are already several IRs in the while, Mesa has NIR, LLVM has LLVM IR. There are others, adopting one of those would remove the requirements of writing and maintaining our own IR. While that is true, there are several downsides to this re-use. The IRs are internal to the library, so the API isn't public, LLVM IR changes with each iteration of LLVM. This would require us to adapt the AST -> IR -> AST transform for each modification of the IR.

They also end up being lower level then is strictly useful for us. While the IR in Tint is a simplified form, we still have to be able to go back to the high level structured form in order to emit the resulting HLSL, MSL, GLSL, etc. (Only SPIR-V is a good match for the lowered IR form). This transformation back is not a direction other IRs maybe interested in so may have lost information, or require re-determining (determining variables from SSA and PHI nodes for example).

Other technical reasons are the maintenance of and CMake files in order to integrate into our build systems, along with resulting binary size questions from pulling in external systems.