2.7.2. Implementing stacks with LDM and STM

The load and store multiple instructions can update the base register. For stack operations, the base register is usually the stack pointer, sp. This means that you can use these instructions to implement push and pop operations for any number of registers in a single instruction.

The load and store multiple instructions can be used with several types of stack:

Descending or ascending

The stack grows downwards, starting with a high address and progressing to a lower one (a descending stack), or upwards, starting from a low address and progressing to a higher address (an ascending stack).

Full or empty

The stack pointer can either point to the last item in the stack (a full stack), or the next free space on the stack (an empty stack).

To make it easier for the programmer, stack-oriented suffixes can be used instead of the increment or decrement, and before or after suffixes. Table 2.9 shows the stack-oriented suffixes and their equivalent addressing mode suffixes for load and store instructions.

Table 2.9. Stack-oriented suffixes and equivalent addressing mode suffixes

Stack-oriented suffixFor store or push instructionsFor load or pop instructions
FD (Full Descending stack)DB (Decrement Before)IA (Increment After)
FA (Full Ascending stack)IB (Increment Before)DA (Decrement After)
ED (Empty Descending stack)DA (Decrement After)IB (Increment Before)
EA (Empty Ascending stack)IA (Increment After)DB (Decrement Before)

Table 2.10 shows the load and store multiple instructions with the stack-oriented suffixes for the various stack types.

Table 2.10. Suffixes for load and store multiple instructions

Stack typeStoreLoad
Full descendingSTMFD (STMDB, Decrement Before)LDMFD (LDM, increment after)
Full ascendingSTMFA (STMIB, Increment Before)LDMFA (LDMDA, Decrement After)
Empty descendingSTMED (STMDA, Decrement After)LDMED (LDMIB, Increment Before)
Empty ascendingSTMEA (STM, increment after)LDMEA (LDMDB, Decrement Before)

For example:

    STMFD    sp!, {r0-r5}  ; Push onto a Full Descending Stack
    LDMFD    sp!, {r0-r5}  ; Pop from a Full Descending Stack


The Procedure Call Standard for the ARM Architecture (AAPCS), and ARM and Thumb C and C++ compilers always use a full descending stack.

The PUSH and POP instructions assume a full descending stack. They are the preferred synonyms for STMDB and LDM with writeback.

Stacking registers for nested subroutines

Stack operations are very useful at subroutine entry and exit. At the start of a subroutine, any working registers required can be stored on the stack, and at exit they can be popped off again.

In addition, if the link register is pushed onto the stack at entry, additional subroutine calls can be made safely without causing the return address to be lost. If you do this, you can also return from a subroutine by popping pc off the stack at exit, instead of popping lr and then moving that value into pc. For example:

subroutine  PUSH    {r5-r7,lr} ; Push work registers and lr
            ; code
            BL      somewhere_else
            ; code
            POP     {r5-r7,pc} ; Pop work registers and pc


Use this with care in mixed ARM and Thumb systems. In ARMv4T systems, you cannot change state by popping directly into pc. In these cases you must pop the address into a temporary register and use the BX instruction.

In ARMv5T and above, you can change state in this way.

See Chapter 5 Interworking ARM and Thumb in the Developer Guide for more information on mixing ARM and Thumb.

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