The Art of

Chapter Five (Part 2)

Table of Content

Chapter Five (Part 4)

5.6.3 - Structures
5.6.4 - Arrays of Structures and Arrays/Structures as Structure Fields
5.6.5 - Pointers to Structures

5.6.3 Structures

The second major composite data structure is the Pascal record or C structure. The Pascal terminology is probably better since it tends to avoid confusion with the more general term data structure. However MASM uses "structure" so it doesn't make sense to deviate from this. Furthermore MASM uses the term record to denote something slightly different furthering the reason to stick with the term structure.

Whereas an array is homogeneous whose elements are all the same the elements in a structure can be of any type. Arrays let you select a particular element via an integer index. With structures you must select an element (known as a field) by name.

The whole purpose of a structure is to let you encapsulate different but logically related data into a single package. The Pascal record declaration for a student is probably the most typical example:

student = record
                Name: string [64];
                Major: integer;
                SSN:    string[11];
                Midterm1: integer;
                Midterm2: integer;
                Final: integer;
                Homework: integer;
                Projects: integer;

Most Pascal compilers allocate each field in a record to contiguous memory locations. This means that Pascal will reserve the first 65 bytes for the name the next two bytes hold the major code the next 12 the Social Security Number etc.

In assembly language you can also create structure types using the MASM struct statement. You would encode the above record in assembly language as follows:

student         struct
Name            char    65 dup (?)
Major           integer ?
SSN             char    12 dup (?)
Midterm1        integer ?
Midterm2        integer ?
Final           integer ?
Homework        integer ?
Projects        integer ?
student         ends

Note that the structure ends with the ends (for end structure) statement. The label on the ends statement must be the same as on the struct statement.

The field names within the structure must be unique. That is the same name may not appear two or more times in the same structure. However all field names are local to that structure. Therefore you may reuse those field names elsewhere in the program.

The struct directive only defines a structure type. It does not reserve storage for a structure variable. To actually reserve storage you need to declare a variable using the structure name as a MASM statement e.g.

John	student		{}

The braces must appear in the operand field. Any initial values must appear between the braces. The above declaration allocates memory as shown in below:

If the label John corresponds to the base address of this structure then the Name field is at offset John+0 the Major field is at offset John+65 the SSN field is at offset John+67 etc.

To access an element of a structure you need to know the offset from the beginning of the structure to the desired field. For example the Major field in the variable John is at offset 65 from the base address of John. Therefore you could store the value in ax into this field using the instruction mov John[65] ax. Unfortunately memorizing all the offsets to fields in a structure defeats the whole purpose of using them in the first place. After all if you've got to deal with these numeric offsets why not just use an array of bytes instead of a structure?

Well as it turns out MASM lets you refer to field names in a structure using the same mechanism C and Pascal use: the dot operator. To store ax into the Major field you could use mov John.Major ax instead of the previous instruction. This is much more readable and certainly easier to use.

Note that the use of the dot operator does not introduce a new addressing mode. The instruction mov John.Major ax still uses the displacement only addressing mode. MASM simply adds the base address of John with the offset to the Major field (65) to get the actual displacement to encode into the instruction.

You may also specify default initial values when creating a structure. In the previous example the fields of the student structure were given indeterminate values by specifying "?" in the operand field of each field's declaration. As it turns out there are two different ways to specify an initial value for structure fields. Consider the following definition of a "point" data structure:

Point           struct
x               word    0
y               word    0
z               word    0
Point           ends

Whenever you declare a variable of type point using a statement similar to

CurPoint        Point   {}

MASM automatically initializes the CurPoint.x CurPoint.y and CurPoint.z variables to zero. This works out great in those cases where your objects usually start off with the same initial values. Of course it might turn out that you would like to initialize the X Y and Z fields of the points you declare but you want to give each point a different value. That is easily accomplished by specifying initial values inside the braces:

Point1          point   {0
Point2          point   {1
Point3          point   {0

MASM fills in the values for the fields in the order that they appear in the operand field. For Point1 above MASM initializes the X field with zero the Y field with one and the Z field with two.

The type of the initial value in the operand field must match the type of the corresponding field in the structure definition. You cannot for example specify an integer constant for a real4 field nor could you specify a value greater than 255 for a byte field.

MASM does not require that you initialize all fields in a structure. If you leave a field blank MASM will use the specified default value (undefined if you specify "?" rather than a default value).

5.6.4 Arrays of Structures and Arrays/Structures as Structure Fields

Structs may contain other structures or arrays as fields. Consider the following definition:

Pixel           struct
Pt              point   {}
Color           dword   ?
Pixel           ends

The definition above defines a single point with a 32 bit color component. When initializing an object of type Pixel the first initializer corresponds to the Pt field not the x-coordinate field. The following definition is incorrect:

ThisPt          Pixel   {5

The value of the first field ("5") is not an object of type point. Therefore the assembler generates an error when encountering this statement. MASM will allow you to initialize the fields of ThisPt using declarations like the following:

ThisPt          Pixel   {
ThisPt          Pixel   {{}
ThisPt          Pixel   {{1
ThisPt          Pixel   {{1


The first and second examples above use the default values for the Pt field (x=0 y=0 z=0) and set the Color field to 10. Note the use of braces to surround the initial values for the point type in the second third and fourth examples. The third example above initializes the x y and z fields of the Pt field to one two and three respectively. The last example initializes the x and z fields to one and lets the y field take on the initial value specified by the Point structure (zero).

Accessing Pixel fields is very easy. Like a high level language you use a single period to reference the Pt field and a second period to access the x y and z fields of point:

                mov     ax
mov     ThisPt.Pt.Y
mov     ThisPt.Pt.Z
mov     ThisPt.Color

You can also declare arrays as structure fields. The following structure creates a data type capable of representing an object with eight points (e.g. a cube):

Object8         struct
Pts             point   8 dup (?)
Color           dword   0
Object8         ends

This structure allocates storage for eight different points. Accessing an element of the Pts array requires that you know the size of an object of type point (remember you must multiply the index into the array by the size of one element six in this particular case). Suppose for example that you have a variable CUBE of type Object8. You could access elements of the Pts array as follows:

; CUBE.Pts[i].X := 0;
mov     ax
mul     i               ;6 bytes per element.
mov     si
mov     CUBE.Pts[si].X

The one unfortunate aspect of all this is that you must know the size of each element of the Pts array. Fortunately MASM provides an operator that will compute the size of an array element (in bytes) for you more on that later.

5.6.5 Pointers to Structures

During execution your program may refer to structure objects directly or indirectly using a pointer. When you use a pointer to access fields of a structure you must load one of the 80x86's pointer registers (si di bx or bp on processors less than the 80386) with the offset and es ds ss or cs (fs/gs on the 386 and later) with the segment of the desired structure. Suppose you have the following variable declarations (assuming the Object8 structure from the previous section):

Cube            Object8 {}
CubePtr         dword   Cube

CubePtr contains the address of (i.e. it is a pointer to) the Cube object. To access the Color field of the Cube object you could use an instruction like mov eax Cube.Color. When accessing a field via a pointer you need to load the address of the object into a segment:pointer register pair such as es:bx. The instruction les bx CubePtr will do the trick. After doing so you can access fields of the Cube object using the disp+bx addressing mode. The only problem is "How do you specify which field to access?" Consider briefly the following incorrect code:

                les     bx
mov     eax

There is one major problem with the code above. Since field names are local to a structure and it's possible to reuse a field name in two or more structures how does MASM determine which offset Color represents? When accessing structure members directly (.e.g. mov eax Cube.Color) there is no ambiguity since Cube has a specific type that the assembler can check. es:bx on the other hand can point at anything. In particular it can point at any structure that contains a Color field. So the assembler cannot on its own decide which offset to use for the Color symbol.

MASM resolves this ambiguity by requiring that you explicitly supply a type in this case. Probably the easiest way to do this is to specify the structure name as a pseudo-field:

                les     bx
mov     eax

By specifying the structure name MASM knows which offset value to use for the Color symbol.

Chapter Five (Part 2)

Table of Content

Chapter Five (Part 4)

Chapter Five: Variables and Data Structures (Part 3)
26 SEP 1996