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Visual Studio 11 Developer Preview Native ARM Compiler

In my previous post, I outlined the news that Microsoft has ported Windows 8 to run on ARM-based devices.

While we await details of which specific devices Windows 8 will run upon, we can at least get started with the process of making sure our existing code can compile for Windows/ARM.

In order to do this, we can use the ARM cross compiler & linker for C/C++ that Microsoft included within Visual Studio 11 Developer Preview.

On a machine with Dev11 installed, you can find the command-line tools themselves in the following folder:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 11.0\VC\bin\x86_arm\

Visual Studio, however, makes it a breeze to compile your code to ARM binaries. Simply open the Configuration Manager and then drop-down the “Active Solution Platform” selector.


If you don’t see ARM in the list of available platforms, hit “New” and select “ARM” (copying settings from Win32).


Your project is now ready to be built as ARM code.

When you rebuild your project, your ARM binaries will be placed in the debug or release folder under “<project folder>\ARM\”. If you now open this folder in the Developer Command Prompt and type “dumpbin /headers <name of EXE> | more”, you’ll see that the file is marked as being an ARM binary:


If you then run “dumpbin /disasm <name of exe> | more”, you’ll see the code within the EXE being disassembled and displayed on the screen:


Now, of course, just because your code may compile doesn’t necessarily mean it will run without issues on an ARM device but at least you can get a head-start while we wait for Microsoft to release details of, and hopefully make available, real ARM devices running Windows.

For developers using a language targeting the CLR (i.e. C#, VB.NET), your code should generally require little/no change whatsoever and should run unmodified on an ARM device. The main reasons you may need to modify your code before running on ARM include:

  • Your code contains “unsafe” code that makes assumptions about machine/processor architecture specifics which may require modification when running on an ARM device
  • Your code is an add-in and is built specifically targeting x86 / x64. in this case you will need to modify and rebuild your assembly.
  • Your code references an API that has been removed/modified in Win8 in which case you’ll need to modify your code to work-around the missing API. Microsoft hasn’t released details yet about whether any API’s have been removed in Windows/ARM.

In general, aim to keep most of your .NET code clean and machine architecture independent and the job of porting your code from Intel to ARM will be much easier.

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