Bisecting LLVM code


git bisect is a useful tool for finding which revision caused a bug.

This document describes how to use git bisect. In particular, while LLVM has a mostly linear history, it has a few merge commits that added projects – and these merged the linear history of those projects. As a consequence, the LLVM repository has multiple roots: One “normal” root, and then one for each toplevel project that was developed out-of-tree and then merged later. As of early 2020, the only such merged project is MLIR, but flang will likely be merged in a similar way soon.

Basic operation

See for a good overview. In summary:

git bisect start
git bisect bad main
git bisect good f00ba

git will check out a revision in between. Try to reproduce your problem at that revision, and run git bisect good or git bisect bad.

If you can’t repro at the current commit (maybe the build is broken), run git bisect skip and git will pick a nearby alternate commit.

(To abort a bisect, run git bisect reset, and if git complains about not being able to reset, do the usual git checkout -f main; git reset --hard origin/main dance and try again).

git bisect run

A single bisect step often requires first building clang, and then compiling a large code base with just-built clang. This can take a long time, so it’s good if it can happen completely automatically. git bisect run can do this for you if you write a run script that reproduces the problem automatically. Writing the script can take 10-20 minutes, but it’s almost always worth it – you can do something else while the bisect runs (such as writing this document).

Here’s an example run script. It assumes that you’re in llvm-project and that you have a sibling llvm-build-project build directory where you configured CMake to use Ninja. You have a file repro.c in the current directory that makes clang crash at trunk, but it worked fine at revision f00ba.

# Build clang. If the build fails, `exit 125` causes this
# revision to be skipped
ninja -C ../llvm-build-project clang || exit 125

../llvm-build-project/bin/clang repro.c

To make sure your run script works, it’s a good idea to run ./ by hand and tweak the script until it works, then run git bisect good or git bisect bad manually once based on the result of the script (check echo $? after your script ran), and only then run git bisect run ./ Don’t forget to mark your run script as executable – git bisect run doesn’t check for that, it just assumes the run script failed each time.

Once your run script works, run git bisect run ./ and a few hours later you’ll know which commit caused the regression.

(This is a very simple run script. Often, you want to use just-built clang to build a different project and then run a built executable of that project in the run script.)

Bisecting across multiple roots

Here’s how LLVM’s history currently looks:


A is the first commit in LLVM ever, 97724f18c79c.

B is the first commit in MLIR, aed0d21a62db.

D is the merge commit that merged MLIR into the main LLVM repository, 0f0d0ed1c78f.

C is the last commit in MLIR before it got merged, 0f0d0ed1c78f^2. (The ^n modifier selects the n’th parent of a merge commit.)

git bisect goes through all parent revisions. Due to the way MLIR was merged, at every revision at C or earlier, only the mlir/ directory exists, and nothing else does.

As of early 2020, there is no flag to git bisect to tell it to not descend into all reachable commits. Ideally, we’d want to tell it to only follow the first parent of D.

The best workaround is to pass a list of directories to git bisect: If you know the bug is due to a change in llvm, clang, or compiler-rt, use

git bisect start -- clang llvm compiler-rt

That way, the commits in mlir are never evaluated.

Alternatively, git bisect skip aed0d21a6 aed0d21a6..0f0d0ed1c78f explicitly skips all commits on that branch. It takes 1.5 minutes to run on a fast machine, and makes git bisect log output unreadable. (aed0d21a6 is listed twice because git ranges exclude the revision listed on the left, so it needs to be ignored explicitly.)