Multi-Level IR Compiler Framework


MLIR is a generic and extensible framework, representing different dialects with their own operations, attributes, types, and so on. MLIR Dialects can express operations with a wide variety of semantics and different levels of abstraction. The downside to this is that MLIR transformations and analyses need to account for the semantics of every operation, or handle operations conservatively. Without care, this can result in code with special-cases for each supported operation type. To combat this, MLIR provides the concept of interfaces.


Interfaces provide a generic way of interacting with the IR. The goal is to be able to express transformations/analyses in terms of these interfaces without encoding specific knowledge about the exact operation or dialect involved. This makes the compiler more extensible by allowing the addition of new dialects and operations in a decoupled way with respect to the implementation of transformations/analyses.

Dialect Interfaces 

Dialect interfaces are generally useful for transformation passes or analyses that want to operate generically on a set of attributes/operations/types, which might even be defined in different dialects. These interfaces generally involve wide coverage over the entire dialect and are only used for a handful of transformations/analyses. In these cases, registering the interface directly on each operation is overly complex and cumbersome. The interface is not core to the operation, just to the specific transformation. An example of where this type of interface would be used is inlining. Inlining generally queries high-level information about the operations within a dialect, like legality and cost modeling, that often is not specific to one operation.

A dialect interface can be defined by inheriting from the CRTP base class DialectInterfaceBase::Base. This class provides the necessary utilities for registering an interface with the dialect so that it can be looked up later. Once the interface has been defined, dialects can override it using dialect-specific information. The interfaces defined by a dialect are registered in a similar mechanism to Attributes, Operations, Types, etc.

/// Define an Inlining interface to allow for dialects to opt-in.
class DialectInlinerInterface :
    public DialectInterface::Base<DialectInlinerInterface> {
  /// Returns true if the given region 'src' can be inlined into the region
  /// 'dest' that is attached to an operation registered to the current dialect.
  /// 'valueMapping' contains any remapped values from within the 'src' region.
  /// This can be used to examine what values will replace entry arguments into
  /// the 'src' region, for example.
  virtual bool isLegalToInline(Region *dest, Region *src,
                               BlockAndValueMapping &valueMapping) const {
    return false;

/// Override the inliner interface to add support for inlining affine
/// operations.
struct AffineInlinerInterface : public DialectInlinerInterface {
  /// Affine structures have specific inlining constraints.
  bool isLegalToInline(Region *dest, Region *src,
                       BlockAndValueMapping &valueMapping) const final {

/// Register the interface with the dialect.
AffineDialect::AffineDialect(MLIRContext *context) ... {

Once registered, these interfaces can be queried from the dialect by the transformation/analysis that wants to use them, without determining the particular dialect subclass:

Dialect *dialect = ...;
if (auto *interface = dialect->getInterface<DialectInlinerInterface>())
    ... // The dialect provides this interface.


An additional utility is provided via DialectInterfaceCollection. This CRTP class allows for collecting all of the dialects that have registered a given interface within the context.

class InlinerInterface : public
    DialectInterfaceCollection<DialectInlinerInterface> {
  /// The hooks for this class mirror the hooks for the DialectInlinerInterface,
  /// with default implementations that call the hook on the interface for a
  /// given dialect.
  virtual bool isLegalToInline(Region *dest, Region *src,
                               BlockAndValueMapping &valueMapping) const {
    auto *handler = getInterfaceFor(dest->getContainingOp());
    return handler ? handler->isLegalToInline(dest, src, valueMapping) : false;

MLIRContext *ctx = ...;
InlinerInterface interface(ctx);

Attribute/Operation/Type Interfaces 

Attribute/Operation/Type interfaces, as the names suggest, are those registered at the level of a specific attribute/operation/type. These interfaces provide access to derived objects by providing a virtual interface that must be implemented. As an example, the Linalg dialect may implement an interface that provides general queries about some of the dialects library operations. These queries may provide things like: the number of parallel loops; the number of inputs and outputs; etc.

These interfaces are defined by overriding the CRTP base class AttrInterface, OpInterface, or TypeInterface respectively. These classes take, as a template parameter, a Traits class that defines a Concept and a Model class. These classes provide an implementation of concept-based polymorphism, where the Concept defines a set of virtual methods that are overridden by the Model that is templated on the concrete object type. It is important to note that these classes should be pure in that they contain no non-static data members. Objects that wish to override this interface should add the provided trait *Interface<..>::Trait to the trait list upon registration.

struct ExampleOpInterfaceTraits {
  /// Define a base concept class that defines the virtual interface that needs
  /// to be overridden.
  struct Concept {
    virtual ~Concept();
    virtual unsigned getNumInputs(Operation *op) const = 0;

  /// Define a model class that specializes a concept on a given operation type.
  template <typename OpT>
  struct Model : public Concept {
    /// Override the method to dispatch on the concrete operation.
    unsigned getNumInputs(Operation *op) const final {
      return llvm::cast<OpT>(op).getNumInputs();

class ExampleOpInterface : public OpInterface<ExampleOpInterface,
                                              ExampleOpInterfaceTraits> {
  /// Use base class constructor to support LLVM-style casts.
  using OpInterface<ExampleOpInterface, ExampleOpInterfaceTraits>::OpInterface;

  /// The interface dispatches to 'getImpl()', an instance of the concept.
  unsigned getNumInputs() const {
    return getImpl()->getNumInputs(getOperation());

Once the interface has been defined, it is registered to an operation by adding the provided trait ExampleOpInterface::Trait. Using this interface is just like using any other derived operation type, i.e. casting:

/// When defining the operation, the interface is registered via the nested
/// 'Trait' class provided by the 'OpInterface<>' base class.
class MyOp : public Op<MyOp, ExampleOpInterface::Trait> {
  /// The definition of the interface method on the derived operation.
  unsigned getNumInputs() { return ...; }

/// Later, we can query if a specific operation(like 'MyOp') overrides the given
/// interface.
Operation *op = ...;
if (ExampleOpInterface example = dyn_cast<ExampleOpInterface>(op))
  llvm::errs() << "num inputs = " << example.getNumInputs() << "\n";

Utilizing the ODS Framework 

Operation interfaces require a bit of boiler plate to connect all of the pieces together. The ODS(Operation Definition Specification) framework provides simplified mechanisms for defining interfaces .

As an example, using the ODS framework would allow for defining the example interface above as:

def ExampleOpInterface : OpInterface<"ExampleOpInterface"> {
  let description = [{
    This is an example interface definition.

  let methods = [
      "Get the number of inputs for the current operation.",
      "unsigned", "getNumInputs"