Who even does this any more? Embedded stuff maybe. And of course, there’s these guys.

The best way to write some assembly language is to let GCC do it for you. The advantages are many.

  • Obviously it does all the work.

  • A variety of instruction sets are possible.

#include <stdio.h>
int main(){
    return 0;

To create an assembly language program

gcc -O0 -S xed.c

Which will produce a file named xed.s.

    .file   "xed.c"
    .section    .rodata
    .string "xed.ch"
    .globl  main
    .type   main, @function
    pushq   %rbp
    .cfi_def_cfa_offset 16
    .cfi_offset 6, -16
    movq    %rsp, %rbp
    .cfi_def_cfa_register 6
    movl    $.LC0, %edi
    call    puts
    movl    $0, %eax
    popq    %rbp
    .cfi_def_cfa 7, 8
    .size   main, .-main
    .ident  "GCC: (Debian 4.9.2-10) 4.9.2"
    .section    .note.GNU-stack,"",@progbits

For example the line movl $0,%eax is setting up a return code.

Assembly To Executable

If you have an assembly (dot s) file that you want to turn into an executable binary use GCC like this.

$ gcc -o xed xed.s
$ ./xed


There is also nasm (Netwide Assembler) which I think works like this in its simplest form.

$ nasm -f elf someassmbly.asm

Other formats (for the -f option) include bin (e.g. DOS .COM, .SYS), aout (Linux a.out), elf32 (same as elf), elf64, obj (some DOS thing), win32 (same as win), and win64.

You might also need a -d ELF_TYPE.

Executable To Assembly

What if you have an executable that you want to understand how it works? This is very hard but if the program is sufficiently simple, you may be able to convert it to assembly and have a look in human readable terms. The program objdump is the key.

Example of objdump
$ objdump -d ./xed | sed -n '/<main/,/^$/p'
0000000000400506 <main>:
  400506:   55                      push   %rbp
  400507:   48 89 e5                mov    %rsp,%rbp
  40050a:   bf a4 05 40 00          mov    $0x4005a4,%edi
  40050f:   e8 cc fe ff ff          callq  4003e0 <puts@plt>
  400514:   b8 00 00 00 00          mov    $0x0,%eax
  400519:   5d                      pop    %rbp
  40051a:   c3                      retq
  40051b:   0f 1f 44 00 00          nopl   0x0(%rax,%rax,1)


These are like C’s preprocessor but for the assembler. For example the %define MYCONSTANT, 64 will allow for something like this.


Note that these (nasm) directives begin with %. A common one is this.

%include "asm_io.inc'


A line of assembly code can take the following form.

Label:                 [; Comment]
[Label:] Opcode [Source Operand][, Destination Operand] [; Comment]

Obviously the labels are niceties provided by the assembler to get to the desired locations. Generally assembly closely adheres to the real way the CPU sees the world, i.e. instruction codes followed by the correct required number of operands.


It’s complicated. Square brackets seem to indicate that registers are to be used like a pointer. In other words the value of the register will indicate the location required. Something sort of like this.

mov ax, [ebx] ; ax= *ebx


Common registers names
  • 32-bit: EAX, EBX, ECX, EDX, ESI, EDI, ESP, EBP

  • 16-bit: AX, BX, CX, DX, SI, DI, SP, BP

  • 8-bit: AH, AL, BH, BL, CH, CL, DH, DL

  • Flags: EFLAGS (bit mask signalling stuff like interrupts, overflow, privilege level).

  • Instruction pointer: EIP (offset into the current code segment)


The fastest operands are immediate created by the processor; for example constant numbers like $0x10 or $0 as in the sample program’s exit code above. Prefix is $. These are stored in the code segment itself right where they’re used and so no data fetching or addressing is needed.

Registers can be used for operands (basically an opcode’s parameters). Prefix is %.

Also memory addresses can be operands though this is slower. I’m not sure these have a prefix.

Also I/O ports can be used as operands with the speed being potentially even slower yet.


  • mov <dest>, <src> - Operands must be the same size and both can not be memory. The order looks wrong, but I’ve seen it this way.

  • add <X>, <amount> - Increments X by amount where X is a register. Amount can be a register too, but it’s not changed.

  • sub <X>, <amount - Like add but subtracting.

  • inc <X> - Like add with an amount of 1.

  • dec <X> - Like sub with an amount of 1.

  • shr <X>, <amount> - Shift bit right. Also shl. Amount of 1 divides by 2.

  • ror <X>, <amount> - Rotate bit shift right preserving the lost bits on the other end. Also rol.

  • xor <X>, <X> - As shown in place.

  • neg <X> - Negates.

  • not <X> - Bitwise not.

  • and <X>, <Y> - Bitwise and.

  • or <X>, <Y> - Bitwise or.

  • cmp <X>, <Y> - Compare

  • ret - Return. Details?


Many CPUs have a LIFO stack that can be directly used.

  • push dword <value> - Pushes value onto the stack. Not sure about the exact function of dword in this case.

  • pop <X> - Pops the top of the stack into X.

  • call <subprog> - Pushes the current address on the stack and heads off the execute the subprogram.

  • ret - Pops an address from the stack (unless you mangled it) and resumes execution there.