Linux Fu: Preprocessing Beyond Code

If you glanced at the title and thought, “I don’t care — I don’t write C code,” then hang on a minute. While it is true that C has a preprocessor and you can notoriously do strange and — depending on your point of view — horrible or wonderful things with it, there are actually other options and you don’t have to use any of them with a C program. You can actually use the C preprocessor with almost any kind of text file. And it’s not the only preprocessor you can abuse this way. For example, the m4 preprocessor is wildly complex, vastly underused, and can handle C source code or anything else you care to send to it.


I’ll define a preprocessor as a program that transforms its input file into an output file, reacting to commands that are probably embedded in the file itself. Most often, that output is then sent to some other program to do the “real” work. That covers cpp, the C preprocessor. It also covers things like sed. Honestly, you can easily create custom preprocessors using C, awk, Python, Perl, or any other programming language. There are many other standard programs that you could think of as preprocessors, for example, tr. However, one of the most powerful is made to preprocess complex input files called m4. For some reason — maybe because of its complexity — you don’t see much m4 in the wild.

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Macro Assembly For AVR Chips


Here’s an interesting tip that can help improve your ability to write assembly code. In an effort to remove the complexity of assembly code for an AVR project [Quinn Dunki] figured out how to use macros when writing AVR code with the GNU toolchain. Anyone using AVR-GCC should keep this in mind if they ever want or need to pound out a project in assembly language.

If you look at the code snippet above you’ll see two commands that are obviously not assembly; PulseVRAMWrite and DisableVRAMWrite. These are macros that direct the assembler to roll in a hunk of code. But avr-as, the assembler used with this toolchain, lacks the ability to handle macros. That’s too bad because we agree with [Quinn] that these macros make the code easier to read and greatly reduce the¬†probability¬†of error from a typo since the code in the macro will be used repeatedly.

The answer is to alter the makefile to use GNU M4. We hadn’t heard of it, but sure enough it’s already installed on our Linux Mint system (“man m4” for more info). It’s a robust macro processor that swaps out all of her macros based on a separate file which defines them. The result is an assembly file that will play nicely with avr-as.

Her implementation is to help in development of the GPU for her Veronica computer project.