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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.

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

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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:

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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:

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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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