Saturday, February 16, 2019

Building a Simple trace utility

One of the early development tools for assembly language programmers was a trace tool. This was a simple tool that you ran and it would print out what the program was running at every step of the process. This type of tool could be considered the predecessor to the debugger. My eventual plans are to turn this tool into a debugger eventually. For developing the random number generator libraries I don't need that much of a utility. All that is really needed is the ability to load an assembly language file, assemble it, then run the file printing the command being executed and the state of the registers.
Trace utilities can be thought of as an automated single-step through the program that runs until a break statement is encountered. It is handy for seeing what is happening in non-linear programs such as the following demo:

    LDA #0
LDX #3
ADC #3
BNE loop

While the above example may be fairly simply to manually figure out, seeing what is happening line-by-line can still be useful for debugging as it is very easy to overlook something obvious, especially if it is a mistake that you have made yourself. It is also very handy for demonstrating what a piece of code is doing, which is also very important for explaining the mathematical functions that I will be writing in the remainder of this chapter.

People who have been following this series from the beginning will remember that I said that an emulator was essentially a disassembler that also had an interpreter attached to it. As we already have a dissasembler, and we have an emulator that can run just an individual instruction while storing the state of the registers in an accessible data class, the actual trace part of the trace utility is simply calling the dissasembler to get the assembly instructions, then running that step, then grabbing the register state and printing the results.

// run until break
m6502.state.ip = 0
var traceString = ""
var ipAddress = m6502.state.ip
while ( ipAddress ) != 0) {
traceString = "(" + m6502.state.tick +") " +
ipAddress.toString(16) + ":" +
ipAddress = m6502.state.ip
traceString = traceString + "# A:" + m6502.state.acc.toString(16) +
", X:" + m6502.state.x.toString(16) +
", Y:" + m6502.state.y.toString(16) +
", Flags:" + m6502.state.flags.toString(16)

When this is run on our sample program, we get the following results.

(0) 0:LDA #$0# A:0, X:0, Y:0, Flags:22
(2) 2:LDX #$3# A:0, X:3, Y:0, Flags:20
(4) 4:CLC # A:0, X:3, Y:0, Flags:20
(6) 5:ADC #$3# A:3, X:3, Y:0, Flags:20
(8) 7:DEX # A:3, X:2, Y:0, Flags:20
(10) 8:BNE $4# A:3, X:2, Y:0, Flags:20
(13) 4:CLC # A:3, X:2, Y:0, Flags:20
(15) 5:ADC #$3# A:6, X:2, Y:0, Flags:20
(17) 7:DEX # A:6, X:1, Y:0, Flags:20
(19) 8:BNE $4# A:6, X:1, Y:0, Flags:20
(22) 4:CLC # A:6, X:1, Y:0, Flags:20
(24) 5:ADC #$3# A:9, X:1, Y:0, Flags:20
(26) 7:DEX # A:9, X:0, Y:0, Flags:22
(28) 8:BNE $4# A:9, X:0, Y:0, Flags:22

Not the prettiest of output, but that can be easily tweaked. So with a very tiny amount of work, we now have a useful tool for writing and testing chunks of assembly language. We are now ready to start building the math libraries that we will be needing for writing our random number generators. We will start covering multiplication next fortnight.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Preparing for Random Assembly

In the last post we covered the basics of a linear congruential generator and the simplest form of the permuted congruential generator. Now I am going write some generic 6502 implementation of these generators. This will require covering a few topics that not been covered yet as well such as writing a simple trace utility so the results can be seen. This fortnight I will break down the topics that will be covered over the next few months.

The first step is to create a simple trace utility that will let you run some assembly language code showing the effected registers and memory as the program runs. This is the equivalent of using a debugger to single-step through the code. One alternative to this would be to use an existing emulator that contains a debugger, but there are three reasons why I am not going this route. First, a trace utility would be fun to write. Second, I ultimately want my emulator to also be an IDE so development tools like the trace would be great to have. Finally, going with the existing emulator would require writing for a specific platform which at a minimum means a bunch of boilerplate code obfuscating the code. Writing a trace utility should not take too long, probability only one or two posts.

For the pure 8 bit version of LCG we need 8-bit multiply which is something  that the 6502 does not do.  Software multiply is possible so we will look at a couple of ways of doing this before implementing our 8-bit LCG.

Before getting to the 16-bit version of LCG we will have to take a look at how to perform multibyte math and then expand my multiply routine to 16-bits which is a bit of work.

Finally we will implement the 16 bit version of LCG and the most basic version of PCG.