common algorithmic language

Common Intermediate Language

Common Intermediate Language (CIL, pronounced either "sil" or "kil") (formerly called Microsoft Intermediate Language or MSIL) is the lowest-level human-readable programming language in the Common Language Infrastructure and in the .NET Framework. Languages which target the .NET Framework compile to CIL, which is assembled into bytecode. CIL is an object-oriented assembly language, and is entirely stack-based. It is executed by a virtual machine.

CIL was originally known as Microsoft Intermediate Language (MSIL) during the beta releases of the .NET languages. Due to standardization of C# and the Common Language Infrastructure, the bytecode is now officially known as CIL. Because of this legacy, CIL is still frequently referred to as MSIL, especially by long-standing users of the .NET languages.

General information

During compilation of .NET programming languages, the source code is translated into CIL code rather than platform or processor-specific object code. CIL is a CPU- and platform-independent instruction set that can be executed in any environment supporting the .NET framework (either the .NET runtime on Microsoft Windows operating system, or the independently derived Mono, which can be used to execute some bytecode on Linux or Unix-based operating systems). CIL code is verified for safety during runtime, providing better security and reliability than natively compiled binaries.

Bytecode instructions

CIL bytecode has instructions for the following groups of tasks:

Just-in-time compilation

Just-in-time compilation involves turning the byte-code into code immediately executable by the CPU. The conversion is performed gradually during the program's execution. JIT compilation provides environment-specific optimization, runtime type safety, and assembly verification. To accomplish this, the JIT compiler examines the assembly metadata for any illegal accesses and handles violations appropriately.

Native image generator compilation

The native image generator (NGEN) produces a native binary image for the current environment. The byte-code is either skipped entirely or converted into native CPU instructions completely before runtime. This eliminates the JIT overhead at the expense of portability; whenever an NGEN-generated image is run in an incompatible environment, .NET framework automatically reverts to using JIT. Once NGEN is run against an assembly, the resulting native image is placed into the Native Image Cache for use by all other .NET assemblies. This makes it possible, for example, to use NGEN to process .NET assemblies at installation time, saving processor time later on, when the end-user invokes the application on their system.

NGEN is intended to make the assembly execute faster by removing the JIT compilation process at runtime, but this does not always improve performance because some optimizations can be done only by a JIT compiler (i.e. if the JIT compiler knows that the code is already running with full trust, it can skip certain expensive security checks). Because of this fact, it makes sense to use NGEN only after benchmarking the application performance before and after it.

Metadata

Metadata is information about compiled classes. Like the type library in the Component Object Model, it enables applications to support and discover the interfaces, classes, types, methods, and fields in the assembly. The process of reading metadata is called reflection.

Executing CIL

  • Source code is converted to Common Intermediate Language, .NET’s equivalent to Assembly language for a CPU.
  • CIL is then assembled into bytecode and a .NET assembly is created.
  • Upon execution of a .NET assembly, its bytecode is passed through the Common Language Runtime's JIT compiler to generate native code. (NGEN compilation eliminates this step at run time.)
  • The native code is executed by the computer's processor.

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