The Art of

Chapter Eight (Part 9)

Table of Content

Chapter Eight (Part 11)

8.19 - Controlling the Listing
8.19.1 - The ECHO and %OUT Directives
8.19.2 - The TITLE Directive
8.19.3 - The SUBTTL Directive
8.19.4 - The PAGE Directive
8.19.5 - The .LIST .NOLIST and .XLIST Directives
8.19.6 - Other Listing Directives
8.20 - Managing Large Programs
8.20.1 - The INCLUDE Directive
8.20.2 - The PUBLIC EXTERN and EXTRN Directives
8.20.3 - The EXTERNDEF Directive
8.21 - Make Files
8.19 Controlling The Listing

MASM provides several assembler directives that are useful for controlling the output of the assembler. These directives include echo %out title subttl page .list .nolist and .xlist. There are several others but these are the most important.

8.19.1 The ECHO and %OUT Directives

The echo and %out directives simply print whatever appears in its operand field to the video display during assembly. Some examples of echo and %out appeared in the sections on conditional assembly and macros. Note that %out is an older form of echo provided for compatibility with old source code.. You should use echo in all your new code.

8.19.2 The TITLE Directive

The title assembler directive assigns a title to your source file. Only one title directive may appear in your program. The syntax for this directive is

                title   text 

MASM will print the specified text at the top of each page of the assembled listing.

8.19.3 The SUBTTL Directive

The subttl (subtitle) directive is similar to the title directive except multiple subtitles may appear within your source file. Subtitles appear immediately below the title at the top of each page in the assembled listing. The syntax for the subttl directive is

                subttl  text 

The specified text will become the new subtitle. Note that MASM will not print the new subtitle until the next page eject. If you wish to place the subtitle on the same page as the code immediately following the directive use the page directive (described next) to force a page ejection.

8.19.4 The PAGE Directive

The page directive performs two functions- it can force a page eject in the assembly listing and it can set the width and length of the output device. To force a page eject the following form of the page directive is used:


If you place a plus sign "+" in the operand field then MASM performs a page break increments the section number and resets the page number to one. MASM prints page numbers using the format


If you want to take advantage of the section number facility you will have to manually insert page breaks (with a "+" operand) in front of each new section.

The second form of the page command lets you set the printer page width and length values. It takes the form:

                page    length

where length is the number of lines per page (defaults to 50 but 56-60 is a better choice for most printers) and width is the number of characters per line. The default page width is 80 characters. If your printer is capable of printing 132 columns you should change this value to 132 so your listings will be easier to read. Note that some printers even if their carriage is only 8-1/2" wide will print at least 132 columns across in a condensed mode. Typically some control character must be sent to the printer to place it in condensed mode. You can insert such a control character in a comment at the beginning of your source listing.

8.19.5 The .LIST .NOLIST and .XLIST Directives

The .list .nolist and .xlist directives can be used to selectively list portions of your source file during assembly. .List turns the listing on .Nolist turns the listing off. .Xlist is an obsolete form of .Nolist for older code.

By sprinkling these three directives throughout your source file you can list only those sections of code that interest you. None of these directives accept any operands. They take the following forms:

8.19.6 Other Listing Directives

MASM provides several other listing control directives that this chapter will not cover. These let you control the output of macros conditional assembly segments and so on to the listing file. Please see the appendices for details on these directives.

8.20 Managing Large Programs

Most assembly language programs are not totally stand alone programs. In general you will call various standard library or other routines which are not defined in your main program. For example you've probably noticed by now that the 80x86 doesn't provide any instructions like "read" "write" or "printf" for doing I/O operations. In fact the only instructions you've seen that do I/O include the 80x86 in and out instructions which are really just special mov instructions and the echo/%out directives that perform assembly-time output not the run-time output you want. Is there no way to do I/O from assembly language? Of course there is. You can write procedures that perform the I/O operations like "read" and "write". Unfortunately writing such routines is a complex task and beginning assembly language programmers are not ready for such tasks. That's where the UCR Standard Library for 80x86 Assembly Language Programmers comes in. This is a package of procedures you can call to perform simple I/O operations like "printf".

The UCR Standard Library contains thousands of lines of source code. Imagine how difficult programming would be if you had to merge these thousands of lines of code into your simple programs. Fortunately you don't have to.

For small programs working with a single source file is fine. For large programs this gets very cumbersome (consider the example above of having to include the entire UCR Standard Library into each of your programs). Furthermore once you've debugged and tested a large section of your code continuing to assemble that same code when you make a small change to some other part of your program is a waste of time. The UCR Standard Library for example takes several minutes to assemble even on a fast machine. Imagine having to wait five or ten minutes on a fast Pentium machine to assemble a program to which you've made a one line change!

As with HLLs the solution is separate compilation (or separate assembly in MASM's case). First you break up your large source files into manageable chunks. Then you assemble the separate files into object code modules. Finally you link the object modules together to form a complete program. If you need to make a small change to one of the modules you only need to reassemble that one module you do not need to reassemble the entire program.

The UCR Standard Library works in precisely this way. The Standard Library is already assembled and ready to use. You simply call routines in the Standard Library and link your code with the Standard Library using a linker program. This saves a tremendous amount of time when developing a program that uses the Standard Library code. Of course you can easily create your own object modules and link them together with your code. You could even add new routines to the Standard Library so they will be available for use in future programs you write.

"Programming in the large" is a term software engineers have coined to describe the processes methodologies and tools for handling the development of large software projects. While everyone has their own idea of what "large" is separate compilation and some conventions for using separate compilation are one of the big techniques for "programming in the large." The following sections describe the tools MASM provides for separate compilation and how to effectively employ these tools in your programs.

8.20.1 The INCLUDE Directive

The include directive when encountered in a source file switches program input from the current file to the file specified in the parameter list of the include. This allows you to construct text files containing common equates macros source code and other assembler items and include such a file into the assembly of several separate programs. The syntax for the include directive is

                include filename

Filename must be a valid DOS filename. MASM merges the specified file into the assembly at the point of the include directive. Note that you can nest include statements inside files you include. That is a file being included into another file during assembly may itself include a third file.

Using the include directive by itself does not provide separate compilation. You could use the include directive to break up a large source file into separate modules and join these modules together when you assemble your file. The following example would include the PRINTF.ASM and PUTC.ASM files during the assembly of your program:

                include printf.asm
include putc.asm

<Code for your program goes here>


Now your program will benefit from the modularity gained by this approach. Alas you will not save any development time. The include directive inserts the source file at the point of the include during assembly exactly as though you had typed that code in yourself. MASM still has to assemble the code and that takes time. Were you to include all the files for the Standard Library routines your assemblies would take forever.

In general you should not use the include directive to include source code as shown above. Instead you should use the include directive to insert a common set of constants (equates) macros external procedure declarations and other such items into a program. Typically an assembly language include file does not contain any machine code (outside of a macro). The purpose of using include files in this manner will become clearer after you see how the public and external declarations work.

8.20.2 The PUBLIC EXTERN and EXTRN Directives

Technically the include directive provides you with all the facilities you need to create modular programs. You can build up a library of modules each containing some specific routine and include any necessary modules into an assembly language program using the appropriate include commands. MASM (and the accompanying LINK program) provides a better way: external and public symbols.

One major problem with the include mechanism is that once you've debugged a routine including it into an assembly wastes a lot of time since MASM must reassemble bug-free code every time you assemble the main program. A much better solution would be to preassemble the debugged modules and link the object code modules together rather than reassembling the entire program every time you change a single module. This is what the public and extern directives provide for you. Extrn is an older directive that is a synonym for extern. It provides compatibility with old source files. You should always use the extern directive in new source code.

To use the public and extern facilities you must create at least two source files. One file contains a set of variables and procedures used by the second. The second file uses those variables and procedures without knowing how they're implemented. To demonstrate consider the following two modules:

;Module #1:

public  Var1
DSEG            segment para public 'data'
Var1            word    ?
Var2            word    ?
DSEG            ends

CSEG            segment para public 'code'
assume  cs:cseg
Proc1           proc     near
mov     ax
add     ax
mov     Var1
Proc1           endp
CSEG            ends

;Module #2:
extern  Var1:word
CSEG            segment para public 'code'
mov     Var1
mov     Var2
call    Proc1
CSEG            ends

Module #2 references Var1 Var2 and Proc1 yet these symbols are external to module #2. Therefore you must declare them external with the extern directive. This directive takes the following form:

                extern  name:type {

Name is the name of the external symbol and type is the type of that symbol. Type may be any of near far proc byte word dword qword tbyte abs (absolute which is a constant) or some other user defined type.

The current module uses this type declaration. Neither MASM nor the linker checks the declared type against the module defining name to see if the types agree. Therefore you must exercise caution when defining external symbols. The public directive lets you export a symbol's value to external modules. A public declaration takes the form:

                public  name {
name ...}

Each symbol appearing in the operand field of the public statement is available as an external symbol to another module. Likewise all external symbols within a module must appear within a public statement in some other module.

Once you create the source modules you should assemble the file containing the public declarations first. With MASM 6.x you would use a command like

ML /c pubs.asm

The "/c" option tells MASM to perform a "compile-only" assembly. That is it will not try to link the code after a successful assembly. This produces a "pubs.obj" object module.

Next assemble the file containing the external definitions and link in the code using the MASM command:

ML exts.asm pubs.obj

Assuming there are no errors this will produce a file "exts.exe" which is the linked and executable form of the program.

Note that the extern directive defines a symbol in your source file. Any attempt to redefine that symbol elsewhere in your program will produce a "duplicate symbol" error. This as it turns out is the source of problems which Microsoft solved with the externdef directive.

8.20.3 The EXTERNDEF Directive

The externdef directive is a combination of public and extern all rolled into one. It uses the same syntax as the extern directive that is you place a list of name:type entries in the operand field. If MASM does not encounter another definition of the symbol in the current source file externdef behaves exactly like the extern statement. If the symbol does appear in the source file then externdef behaves like the public command. With externdef there really is no need to use the public or extern statements unless you feel somehow compelled to do so.

The important benefit of the externdef directive is that it lets you minimize duplication of effort in your source files. Suppose for example you want to create a module with a bunch of support routines for other programs. In addition to sharing some routines and some variables suppose you want to share constants and macros as well. The include file mechanism provides a perfect way to handle this. You simply create an include file containing the constants macros and externdef definitions and include this file in the module that implements your routines and in the modules that use those routines:

Note that extern and public wouldn't work in this case because the implementation module needs the public directive and the using module needs the extern directive. You would have to create two separate header files. Maintaining two separate header files that contain mostly identical definitions is not a good idea. The externdef directive provides a solution.

Within your headers files you should create segment definitions that match those in the including modules. Be sure to put the externdef directives inside the same segments in which the symbol is actually defined. This associates a segment value with the symbol so that MASM can properly make appropriate optimizations and other calculations based on the symbol's full address:

; From "HEADER.A" file:

cseg            segment para public 'code'

externdef Routine1:near

cseg            ends

dseg            segment para public 'data'

externdef i:word

dseg            ends

This text adopts the UCR Standard Library convention of using an ".a" suffix for assembly language header files. Other common suffixes in use include ".inc" and ".def".

8.21 Make Files

Although using separate compilation reduces assembly time and promotes code reuse and modularity it is not without its own drawbacks. Suppose you have a program that consists of two modules: pgma.asm and pgmb.asm. Also suppose that you've already assembled both modules so that the files pgma.obj and pgmb.obj exist. Finally you make changes to pgma.asm and pgmb.asm and assemble the pgma.asm but forget to assemble the pgmb.asm file. Therefore the pgmb.obj file will be out of date since this object file does not reflect the changes made to the pgmb.asm file. If you link the program's modules together the resulting .exe file will only contain the changes to the pgma.asm file it will not have the updated object code associated with pgmb.asm. As projects get larger as they have more modules associated with them and as more programmers begin working on the project it gets very difficult to keep track of which object modules are up to date.

This complexity would normally cause someone to reassemble (or recompile) all modules in a project even if many of the .obj files are up to date simply because it might seem too difficult to keep track of which modules are up to date and which are not. Doing so of course would eliminate many of the benefits that separate compilation offers. Fortunately there is a tool that can help you manage large projects: nmake. The nmake program will a little help from you can figure out which files need to be reassemble and which files have up to date .obj files. With a properly defined make file you can easily assemble only those modules that absolutely must be assembled to generate a consistent program.

A make file is a text file that lists assembly-time dependencies between files. An .exe file for example is dependent on the source code whose assembly produce the executable. If you make any changes to the source code you will (probably) need to reassemble or recompile the source code to produce a new .exe file.

Typical dependencies include the following:

A make file generally consists of a dependency statement followed by a set of commands to handle that dependency. A dependency statement takes the following form:

dependent-file : list of files


pgm.exe: pgma.obj pgmb.obj

This statement says that "pgm.exe" is dependent upon pgma.obj and pgmb.obj. Any changes that occur to pgma.obj or pgmb.obj will require the generate of a new pgm.exe file.

The nmake.exe program uses a time/date stamp to determine if a dependent file is out of date with respect to the files it depends upon. Any time you make a change to a file MS-DOS and Windows will update a modification time and date associated with the file. The nmake.exe program compares the modification date/time stamp of the dependent file against the modification date/time stamp of the files it depends upon. If the dependent file's modification date/time is earlier than one or more of the files it depends upon or one of the files it depends upon is not present then nmake.exe assumes that some operation must be necessary to update the dependent file.

When an update is necessary nmake.exe executes the set of (MS-DOS) commands following the dependency statement. Presumably these commands would do whatever is necessary to produce the updated file.

The dependency statement must begin in column one. Any commands that must execute to resolve the dependency must start on the line immediately following the dependency statement and each command must be indented one tabstop. The pgm.exe statement above would probably look something like the following:

pgm.exe: pgma.obj pgmb.obj
ml /Fepgm.exe pgma.obj pgmb.obj

(The "/Fepgm.exe" option tells MASM to name the executable file "pgm.exe.")

If you need to execute more than one command to resolve the dependencies you can place several commands after the dependency statement in the appropriate order. Note that you must indent all commands one tab stop. Nmake.exe ignores any blank lines in a make file. Therefore you can add blank lines as appropriate to make the file easier to read and understand.

There can be more than a single dependency statement in a make file. In the example above for example pgm.exe depends upon the pgma.obj and pgmb.obj files. Obviously the .obj files depend upon the source files that generated them. Therefore before attempting to resolve the dependencies for pgm.exe nmake.exe will first check out the rest of the make file to see if pgma.obj or pgmb.obj depends on anything. If they do nmake.exe will resolve those dependencies first. Consider the following make file:

pgm.exe: pgma.obj pgmb.obj
ml /Fepgm.exe pgma.obj pgmb.obj

pgma.obj: pgma.asm
ml /c pgma.asm

pgmb.obj: pgmb.asm
ml /c pgmb.asm

The nmake.exe program will process the first dependency line it finds in the file. However the files pgm.exe depends upon themselves have dependency lines. Therefore nmake.exe will first ensure that pgma.obj and pgmb.obj are up to date before attempting to execute MASM to link these files together. Therefore if the only change you've made has been to pgmb.asm nmake.exe takes the following steps (assuming pgma.obj exists and is up to date).

1. Nmake.exe processes the first dependency statement. It notices that dependency lines for pgma.obj and pgmb.obj (the files on which pgm.exe depends) exist. So it processes those statements first.

2. Nmake.exe processes the pgma.obj dependency line. It notices that the pgma.obj file is newer than the pgma.asm file so it does not execute the command following this dependency statement.

3. Nmake.exe processes the pgmb.obj dependency line. It notes that pgmb.obj is older than pgmb.asm (since we just changed the pgmb.asm source file). Therefore nmake.exe executes the DOS command following on the next line. This generates a new pgmb.obj file that is now up to date.

4. Having process the pgma.obj and pgmb.obj dependencies nmake.exe now returns its attention to the first dependency line. Since nmake.exe just created a new pgmb.obj file its date/time stamp will be newer than pgm.exe's. Therefore nmake.exe will execute the ml command that links pgma.obj and pgmb.obj together to form the new pgm.exe file.

Note that a properly written make file will instruct nmake.exe to assembly only those modules absolutely necessary to produce a consistent executable file. In the example above nmake.exe did not bother to assemble pgma.asm since its object file was already up to date.

There is one final thing to emphasize with respect to dependencies. Often object files are dependent not only on the source file that produces the object file but any files that the source file includes as well. In the previous example there (apparently) were no such include files. Often this is not the case. A more typical make file might look like the following:

pgm.exe: pgma.obj pgmb.obj
ml /Fepgm.exe pgma.obj pgmb.obj

pgma.obj: pgma.asm pgm.a
ml /c pgma.asm

pgmb.obj: pgmb.asm pgm.a
ml /c pgmb.asm

Note that any changes to the pgm.a file will force nmake.exe to reassemble both pgma.asm and pgmb.asm since the pgma.obj and pgmb.obj files both depend upon the pgm.a include file. Leaving include files out of a dependency list is a common mistake programmers make that can produce inconsistent .exe files.

Note that you would not normally need to specify the UCR Standard Library include files nor the Standard Library .lib files in the dependency list. True your resulting .exe file does depend on this code but the Standard Library rarely changes so you can safely leave it out of your dependency list. Should you make a modification to the Standard Library simply delete any old .exe and .obj files and force a reassembly of the entire system.

Nmake.exe by default assumes that it will be processing a make file named "makefile". When you run nmake.exe it looks for "makefile" in the current directory. If it doesn't find this file it complains and terminates. Therefore it is a good idea to collect the files for each project you work on into their own subdirectory and give each project its own makefile. Then to create an executable you need only change into the appropriate subdirectory and run the nmake.exe program.

Although this section discusses the nmake program in sufficient detail to handle most projects you will be working on keep in mind that nmake.exe provides considerable functionality that this chapter does not discuss. To learn more about the nmake.exe program consult the documentation that comes with MASM.

Chapter Eight (Part 9)

Table of Content

Chapter Eight (Part 11)

Chapter Eight: MASM: Directives & Pseudo-Opcodes (Part 10)
26 SEP 1996