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About c : Stack-allocation-padding-and-alignment

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I’ve been trying to gain a deeper understanding of how compilers generate machine code, and more specifically how GCC deals with the stack. In doing so I’ve been writing simple C programs, compiling them into assembly and trying my best to understand the outcome. Here’s a simple program and the output it generates:

asmtest.c:

void main() {
    char buffer[5];
}

asmtest.s:

pushl   %ebp
movl    %esp, %ebp
subl    $24, %esp
leave
ret

What’s puzzling to me is why 24 bytes are being allocated for the stack. I know that because of how the processor addresses memory, the stack has to be allocated in increments of 4, but if this were the case, we should only move the stack pointer by 8 bytes, not 24. For reference, a buffer of 17 bytes produces a stack pointer moved 40 bytes and no buffer at all moves the stack pointer 8. A buffer between 1 and 16 bytes inclusive moves ESP 24 bytes.

Now assuming the 8 bytes is a necessary constant (what is it needed for?), this means that we’re allocating in chunks of 16 bytes. Why would the compiler be aligning in such a way? I’m using an x86_64 processor, but even a 64bit word should only require an 8 byte alignment. Why the discrepancy?

For reference I’m compiling this on a Mac running 10.5 with gcc 4.0.1 and no optimizations enabled.

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