The difference between asm, asm volatile and clobbering memory

See the “Extended Asm” page in the GCC documentation.

You can prevent an asm instruction from being deleted by writing the keyword volatile after the asm. […] The volatile keyword indicates that the instruction has important side-effects. GCC will not delete a volatile asm if it is reachable.


An asm instruction without any output operands will be treated identically to a volatile asm instruction.

None of your examples have output operands specified, so the asm and asm volatile forms behave identically: they create a point in the code which may not be deleted (unless it is proved to be unreachable).

This is not quite the same as doing nothing. See this question for an example of a dummy asm which changes code generation – in that example, code that goes round a loop 1000 times gets vectorised into code which calculates 16 iterations of the loop at once; but the presence of an asm inside the loop inhibits the optimisation (the asm must be reached 1000 times).

The "memory" clobber makes GCC assume that any memory may be arbitrarily read or written by the asm block, so will prevent the compiler from reordering loads or stores across it:

This will cause GCC to not keep memory values cached in registers across the assembler instruction and not optimize stores or loads to that memory.

(That does not prevent a CPU from reordering loads and stores with respect to another CPU, though; you need real memory barrier instructions for that.)

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