15.5 ALIGN

The ALIGN directive aligns the current location to a specified boundary by padding with zeros or NOP instructions.


ALIGN {expr{,offset{,pad{,padsize}}}}



is a numeric expression evaluating to any power of 2 from 20 to 231


can be any numeric expression


can be any numeric expression


can be 1, 2 or 4.


The current location is aligned to the next lowest address of the form:

offset + n * expr

n is any integer which the assembler selects to minimise padding.

If expr is not specified, ALIGN sets the current location to the next word (four byte) boundary. The unused space between the previous and the new current location are filled with:

  • Copies of pad, if pad is specified.

  • NOP instructions, if all the following conditions are satisfied:

    • pad is not specified.

    • The ALIGN directive follows ARM or Thumb instructions.

    • The current section has the CODEALIGN attribute set on the AREA directive.

  • Zeros otherwise.

pad is treated as a byte, halfword, or word, according to the value of padsize. If padsize is not specified, pad defaults to bytes in data sections, halfwords in Thumb code, or words in ARM code.


Use ALIGN to ensure that your data and code is aligned to appropriate boundaries. This is typically required in the following circumstances:

  • The ADR Thumb pseudo-instruction can only load addresses that are word aligned, but a label within Thumb code might not be word aligned. Use ALIGN 4 to ensure four-byte alignment of an address within Thumb code.

  • Use ALIGN to take advantage of caches on some ARM processors. For example, the ARM940T has a cache with 16-byte lines. Use ALIGN 16 to align function entries on 16-byte boundaries and maximize the efficiency of the cache.

  • In ARMv5TE, or in ARMv6 when SCTLR.U is 0, LDRD and STRD doubleword data transfers must be eight-byte aligned. Use ALIGN 8 before memory allocation directives such as DCQ if the data is to be accessed using LDRD or STRD. This is not required in ARMv6 when SCTLR.U is 1, or in ARMv7, because in these versions, doubleword data transfers can be word-aligned.

  • A label on a line by itself can be arbitrarily aligned. Following ARM code is word-aligned (Thumb code is halfword aligned). The label therefore does not address the code correctly. Use ALIGN 4 (or ALIGN 2 for Thumb) before the label.

Alignment is relative to the start of the ELF section where the routine is located. The section must be aligned to the same, or coarser, boundaries. The ALIGN attribute on the AREA directive is specified differently.


        AREA    cacheable, CODE, ALIGN=3
rout1   ; code         ; aligned on 8-byte boundary
        ; code
        MOV     pc,lr  ; aligned only on 4-byte boundary
        ALIGN   8      ; now aligned on 8-byte boundary
rout2   ; code

In the following example, the ALIGN directive tells the assembler that the next instruction is word aligned and offset by 3 bytes. The 3 byte offset is counted from the previous word aligned address, resulting in the second DCB placed in the last byte of the same word and 2 bytes of padding are to be added.

        AREA    OffsetExample, CODE
        DCB     1      ; This example places the two bytes in the first
        ALIGN   4,3    ; and fourth bytes of the same word.
        DCB     1      ; The second DCB is offset by 3 bytes from the 
                       ; first DCB.

In the following example, the ALIGN directive tells the assembler that the next instruction is word aligned and offset by 2 bytes. Here, the 2 byte offset is counted from the next word aligned address, so the value n is set to 1 (n=0 clashes with the third DCB). This time three bytes of padding are to be added.

        AREA    OffsetExample1, CODE
        DCB     1      ; In this example, n cannot be 0 because it
        DCB     1      ; clashes with the 3rd DCB. The assembler 
        DCB     1      ; sets n to 1.
        ALIGN   4,2    ; The next instruction is word aligned and 
        DCB     2      ; offset by 2.

In the following example, the DCB directive makes the PC misaligned. The ALIGN directive ensures that the label subroutine1 and the following instruction are word aligned.

        AREA    Example, CODE, READONLY
start   LDR     r6,=label1
        ; code
        MOV     pc,lr
label1  DCB     1      ; PC now misaligned
        ALIGN          ; ensures that subroutine1 addresses
subroutine1            ; the following instruction.
        MOV r5,#0x5
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