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I've been reading about span class="inlinecode"div and span class="inlinecode"mul assembly operations, and I decided to see them in action by writing a simple program in C:

File division.c

#include 
#include 

int main()
{
    size_t i = 9;
    size_t j = i / 5;
    printf("%zu
",j);
    return 0;
}

And then generating assembly language code with:

gcc -S division.c -O0 -masm=intel

But looking at generated span class="inlinecode"division.s file, it doesn't contain any div operations! Instead, it does some kind of black magic with bit shifting and magic numbers. Here's a code snippet that computes span class="inlinecode"i/5:

mov     rax, QWORD PTR [rbp-16]   ; Move i (=9) to RAX
movabs  rdx, -3689348814741910323 ; Move some magic number to RDX (?)
mul     rdx                       ; Multiply 9 by magic number
mov     rax, rdx                  ; Take only the upper 64 bits of the result
shr     rax, 2                    ; Shift these bits 2 places to the right (?)
mov     QWORD PTR [rbp-8], rax    ; Magically, RAX contains 9/5=1 now, 
                                  ; so we can assign it to j

What's going on here? Why doesn't GCC use div at all? How does it generate this magic number and why does everything work?

Integer division is one of the slowest arithmetic operations you can perform on a modern processor, with latency up to the dozens of cycles and bad throughput. (For x86, see Agner Fog's instruction tables and microarch guide).

If you know the divisor ahead of time, you can avoid the division by replacing it with a set of other operations (multiplications, additions, and shifts) which have the equivalent effect. Even if several operations are needed, it's often still a heck of a lot faster than the integer division itself.

Implementing the C / operator this way instead of with a multi-instruction sequence involving div is just GCC's default way of doing division by constants. It doesn't require optimizing across operations and doesn't change anything even for debugging. (Using -Os for small code size does get GCC to use div, though.) Using a multiplicative inverse instead of division is like using lea instead of mul and add

As a result, you only tend to see div or idiv in the output if the divisor isn't known at compile-time.

For information on how the compiler generates these sequences, as well as code to let you generate them for yourself (almost certainly unnecessary unless you're working with a braindead compiler), see libdivide.

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