4.2 When to use interworking

There are several reasons for choosing to switch between ARM and Thumb state.


Changing to ARM state for speed or functionality reasons is mainly a concern on processors that support Thumb without the 32-bit Thumb instructions. On processors that support the 32-bit Thumb instructions, the Thumb instruction set provides almost the same functionality as the ARM instruction set, and similar performance in some cases.

When you write code for an ARM processor that supports Thumb instructions, you probably build most of your application to run in Thumb state. This gives the best code density. With 8-bit or 16-bit wide memory, it also gives the best performance. However, you might want parts of your application to run in ARM state for reasons such as:


Some parts of an application might be speed critical. These sections might be more efficient running in ARM state than in Thumb state.

Some systems include a small amount of fast 32-bit memory. ARM code can be run from this without the overhead of fetching each instruction from 8-bit or 16-bit memory.


Thumb instructions are less flexible than their equivalent ARM instructions. Some operations are not possible in Thumb state. A state change to ARM is required to carry out the following operations:

  • accesses to CPSR to enable or disable interrupts, and to change mode.

  • accesses to coprocessors

  • execution of Digital Signal Processor (DSP) math instructions that can not be performed in C language.

Exception handling

The processor automatically enters ARM state when a processor exception occurs. This means that the first part of an exception handler must be coded with ARM instructions, even if it reenters Thumb state to carry out the main processing of the exception. At the end of such processing, the processor must be returned to ARM state to return from the handler to the main application.

Standalone Thumb programs

An ARM processor that supports Thumb instructions always starts in ARM state. To run simple Thumb assembly language programs, add an ARM header that carries out a state change to Thumb state and then calls the main Thumb routine.

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