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Note: This is more of just my notes on x86 Assembley language than it is an actual blog post.

Binary is completely unusable but Assembley Language is usable and very close to binary.

Each line of assembley code is one operation.

Operation codes are called mneomics.

Registers have names that indiviudally identify them.

Addresses are specified using labels.


Adjust: mov eax num1 ; get first number

adjust is the label mov is the opcode eax is the register num1 is a label anything after “;” is a comment.

This can be translated to binary usign an assembler. _asm.


EAX - Accumulator Register Register for general purpose data storage. On an x86 CPU it looks like this:

      AH AL
31  15  8 7 9


mov eax, 42 ; put 42 into eax
mov ax, count ; gets 16 bit variable
mov al, 'x' ; put ascii value of x in low bite
inc eax ; increment eax

A simple assignment statement like

num = count1 + count2 - 10
mov eax, count1
add eax, count2
sub eax, 10
mov num, eax

EBX - Base register

ECX - Counter register

Often used for loops (seen later) It can be used with sepcial jump instructions

JECXZ ; jump if ecx is zero
JCXZ ; jump if cx is zero

EDX - Data register

Flags Register

Allows us to query the effect of the previous instruction. The status of an operation is stored in the Flags register. The flags register ocntains these flags:

S: sign (indicates whether result is +ve (positive) or -ve (negative))
Z: zero (indicates if result is zero or not)
C: carry (indicates an arhimetic carry)
O: overflow (arhimetic overflow error)

The flags register can be used in conjunction with jump instructions to control program flow. So if flag O then jmp here etc

ESP Register

Jump Instructions

The simplest jump instruction is the unconditional jump. It jumps no matter what, as soon as it is reached in the instruction pointer.

It has the syntax

JMP <address of the target instruction>

The address of the target instruction is normally a label

Conditional Jump

Just like an if statement.

Jumps that test flags:

Instruction Jumps if 0 or 1 reason
JC Carry flag is set =1 If arthimetic carry happens
JNC Carry flag is clear =0 if no carry happens
JZ Zero flag is set =1 if last result was a 0
JNZ zero flag is clear =0 if last result was not 0
JS Sign flag is set =1 Result is positive
JNS Sign flag is not set =0 result is negative
JO overflow flag is set =1 arhimetic overflow error has occured
JNO Overflow flag is clear =0 arhimetic overflow error has not occured

Something cool to note is that every instruction has an inverse and the inverse has “N” in the middle of it, probably meaning “Not”.

Example of using a jmp

mov eax, num ; moves contents of num into eax
sub eax, 10
jnz store ; if number is not a zero then jump to store, otherwise run this
mov eax, 100

  mov num, eax

Comparing values

CMP is the most common way of comparing two values. if eax and ebx contain the same number then cmp eax, ebx will set the Z flag.

Conditional jumps using comparison operators

Instruction What it does
JE The first argument is equal to the second argument
JNE The first argument is not equal to the second argument
JG / JNLE First argument is Greater than second argument
JLE / JNG First argument is Less than second argument
JGE / JNL First argument is greater or equal than second argument


Loops in assembley are simple

While loop


Do-while loop


A for loop can be made in assembley. Take this example

for (int x = 1; x <= 10; x++){
  y = y + x;

First attempt

mov eax, 1 ; using eax as the variable x
floop:   ; start of for loop
  add y, eax ; update y
  inc eax ; x++
  cmp eax, 10
  jle floop ; counts up to 11, jump back to floop if cmp eax, 10 results in the less than flag

We can improve this by counting in reverse:

mov eax, 10
  add y, eax
  dec eac ; x--
  jnz floop ; go to floop if previous operation does not result in 0

We can use ECX to improve the previous loop like so:

mov ecx, 10
  add y, ecx
  loop floop

Addresses and values

In assembley we can get the address of a variable with the LEA (load effective address) instruction We often use EBX

LEA EBX, val

We can access the value pointed to by the address using register indirect addressing mode

mov eax, [ebx]

Subroutines (functions)

Once a subroutine goes to a place in code, how does it know where to return?

It stores the return address into the instruction pointer register which always points at the next instruction.

So let’s say you have the code


and 101 points to a memory location which is a subroutine. The subroutine is 5 lines long, so the code changes to


where 20-something is the address of each instruction in the sub routine.

A subroutine in assembley is programmed as

The procedure is called by

call label

You can use C functions inside assembley

The call instruction records the current value of EIP (instruction pointer) as the return address

Puts the require subroutine address into EIP so the next instruction to be executed is the first instruction of the subroutine.

The RET instruction (return) retrives the stored return address and puts it back into the EIP, causing execution to return to the instruction after the CALL.

The Stack

A stack is a memory arrangement (data structure) for storing and retrieving information (values)

the order of storing values from the stack can be described as LIFO

Stacks are incredibly useful almost every assembley language has special instructions for implementing a stack

in the x86 assembley language there are PUSH and POP instructions

Push and POP operations make use of the stack pointer register ESP which holds the address of the item which is currently on top of the stack

Recall that in x86 architectur, the stack grows dowm in memory.


The PUSH instruction:

  • decrements the address in ESP so that it points to a free space on the stack
  • writes an item to the memory location pointed to by the ESP

ESP stands for extended stack pointer.

Pop instruction

The POP instruction:

  • fetches the item addresssed by the ESP
  • Increments the ESP by the correct amount to removethe item from the stack

Adjusting the stack

Items can be removed rom the stack or space reserved on top of the stack by directly altering the stack pointer: ADD ESP, 8 ; take 8 bytes off the stack SUB ESP, 256 ; Create 256 bytes on stack

ESP always puts it to the top of the stack.

The stack grows downwards so if we have a stack like


And we add an item, X, like so


So it grows downwards!!


The simplest kind of subroutines perform an identical function each time it runs.

Value parameters

The information you give to a subroutine is simply a value.

Reference parameters

Consider another subroutine: “given two variables, exchange (swap) their values”. The situation is different here, having only the values of the variables is not enough.

In calling the subroutine we will need to tell it the addresses of the variables.

Such parameters are called reference paraemters.

What you need is not the content but an address, a reference, where it is. Hence the term “pass by reference”.

Calling external functions

We can call functions, especially C functions, in assembley. We can call a function using the call command like so:

call printf

When we call printf it can and will delete and overwrite registers. Because of this we need to store our register data somewhere. We can store this data in a stack. We store the data like so:

mov ecx, 10 ; sets up loop counter
  push ecx ; save the loop counter on stack
  lea eax, msg ; saves the address of message into eax
  push eax ; put the paraemter ontop top of stack
  call printf ; calls C function which prints first thing on stack, can mess up register data
  pop eax ; remove paraemter
  pop ecx ; restores saved loop counter
  loop loop1 ; goes back to top of loop

Calling formatted printf’s

We can insert data into a printf statement like so:

printf("Number is %d\n", n);

If we want to do this in assembleu, we need to push it in reverse order. So first we push

and then we push the string

 ```Number is...```
aThis is how the stack works, items added always go to the top of the stack.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
int main (void){
  char msg[] = "Number is %d\n";
  int n = 157;

  _asm {
    push n ; push the int first
    lea eax, msg
    push eax ; now stack the string
    call printf 
    add esp, 8 ; clean 8 bytes from stack
  return 0;

To call Scanf we need to give it 2 paraemters, format string and num. Scanf reads info from the terminal.

char fmt = "%d"; int num;
_asm {
  lea eax, num ; we need to push the address of num into eax

  push eax
  lea eax, fmt ; now the format string
  push eax
  call scanf
  add esp, 8 ; clean stack

We need to pass the address of something and not the value.

Clean stack means take stuff of that you put on. Always try to restore stack to the state you found it in. It’s 8 bytes in this example because each variable is 4 bytes and we’ve pushed 2 things, which is 2 * 8 = 16.


When we add data ESP goes down the stack like so: | :—: | | ESP |

And in order to place it back to where the extended stack pointer (ESP) back to where it was we add some number to it like so:


In order to know what to put to make the stack go back to where it was, you need to know the architecture and how much space things (data types) take up.

Stack frame

A stack frame is an area pushed onto the stack which contains everything to do with the subroutine call.

The stackframe holds:

  • return address
  • parameters
  • local variables


Because of nested calls, several (many) stack frames may be present simultaneously

The ESP always points to the top of the stack; however this may alter as space is created for local data

another register, the EBP remains stable and can be used to access parameters and variables.


A recursive subroutine or procedure is one that may in some circumstances call itself to perform some subsidiary task.

Mutual recursion

Sub1 calls sub2 and sub2 in turn calls sub1

Factorial function

factorial(1) = 1
factorial(n) = n * factorial(n-1)