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This chapter tries to cover some of the issues, largely related to unusual forms of addressing and jump instructions, encountered when writing operating system code such as protected-mode initialisation routines, which require code that operates in mixed segment sizes, such as code in a 16-bit segment trying to modify data in a 32-bit one, or jumps between different-size segments.
The most common form of mixed-size instruction is the one used when writing a 32-bit OS: having done your setup in 16-bit mode, such as loading the kernel, you then have to boot it by switching into protected mode and jumping to the 32-bit kernel start address. In a fully 32-bit OS, this tends to be the only mixed-size instruction you need, since everything before it can be done in pure 16-bit code, and everything after it can be pure 32-bit.
This jump must specify a 48-bit far address, since the target segment is a 32-bit one. However, it must be assembled in a 16-bit segment, so just coding, for example,
jmp 0x1234:0x56789ABC ; wrong!
will not work, since the offset part of the address will be truncated to
and the jump will be an ordinary 16-bit
The Linux kernel setup code gets round the inability of
to generate the required instruction by
coding it manually, using
can go one better than that, by actually generating the right instruction
itself. Here's how to do it right:
jmp dword 0x1234:0x56789ABC ; right
prefix (strictly speaking, it should
come after the colon, since it is declaring the offset
field to be a doubleword; but NASM will accept either form, since both are
unambiguous) forces the offset part to be treated as far, in the assumption
that you are deliberately writing a jump from a 16-bit segment to a 32-bit
You can do the reverse operation, jumping from a 32-bit segment to a
16-bit one, by means of the
jmp word 0x8765:0x4321 ; 32 to 16 bit
prefix is specified in 16-bit
mode, or the
prefix in 32-bit mode, they
will be ignored, since each is explicitly forcing NASM into a mode it was
If your OS is mixed 16 and 32-bit, or if you are writing a DOS extender, you are likely to have to deal with some 16-bit segments and some 32-bit ones. At some point, you will probably end up writing code in a 16-bit segment which has to access data in a 32-bit segment, or vice versa.
If the data you are trying to access in a 32-bit segment lies within the first 64K of the segment, you may be able to get away with using an ordinary 16-bit addressing operation for the purpose; but sooner or later, you will want to do 32-bit addressing from 16-bit mode.
The easiest way to do this is to make sure you use a register for the address, since any effective address containing a 32-bit register is forced to be a 32-bit address. So you can do
mov eax,offset_into_32_bit_segment_specified_by_fs mov dword [fs:eax],0x11223344
This is fine, but slightly cumbersome (since it wastes an instruction and a register) if you already know the precise offset you are aiming at. The x86 architecture does allow 32-bit effective addresses to specify nothing but a 4-byte offset, so why shouldn't NASM be able to generate the best instruction for the purpose?
It can. As in section 9.1, you need only
prefix the address with the
keyword, and it
will be forced to be a 32-bit address:
mov dword [fs:dword my_offset],0x11223344
Also as in section 9.1, NASM is not fussy
about whether the
prefix comes before or
after the segment override, so arguably a nicer-looking way to code the
above instruction is
mov dword [dword fs:my_offset],0x11223344
Don't confuse the
outside the square brackets, which controls the size of the data
stored at the address, with the one
square brackets which controls the length of the address itself. The two
can quite easily be different:
mov word [dword 0x12345678],0x9ABC
This moves 16 bits of data to an address specified by a 32-bit offset.
You can also specify
prefixes along with the
prefix to indirect far jumps or calls. For
call dword far [fs:word 0x4321]
This instruction contains an address specified by a 16-bit offset; it loads a 48-bit far pointer from that (16-bit segment and 32-bit offset), and calls that address.
The other way you might want to access data might be using the string
and so on) or the
instruction. These instructions, since they
take no parameters, might seem to have no easy way to make them perform
32-bit addressing when assembled in a 16-bit segment.
This is the purpose of NASM's
prefixes. If you are coding
in a 16-bit segment but it is supposed to
be accessing a string in a 32-bit segment, you should load the desired
and then code
The prefix forces the addressing size to 32 bits, meaning that
. To access a string in a 16-bit segment
when coding in a 32-bit one, the corresponding
prefix can be used.
prefixes can be applied to any instruction in NASM's instruction table, but
most of them can generate all the useful forms without them. The prefixes
are necessary only for instructions with implicit addressing:
(section A.112), and
(section A.169). Also, the
various push and pop instructions (
as well as the more usual
prefixes to force a particular one of
to be used as a stack pointer, in case the
stack segment in use is a different size from the code segment.
applied to segment registers in 32-bit mode, also have the slightly odd
behaviour that they push and pop 4 bytes at a time, of which the top two
are ignored and the bottom two give the value of the segment register being
manipulated. To force the 16-bit behaviour of segment-register push and pop
instructions, you can use the operand-size prefix
o16 push ss o16 push ds
This code saves a doubleword of stack space by fitting two segment registers into the space which would normally be consumed by pushing one.
(You can also use the
prefix to force the
32-bit behaviour when in 16-bit mode, but this seems less useful.)
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