All MIPS instructions are 32 bits, or 4 bytes, long. The fixed length is almost universal in RISC processors. The 32-bit size is currently the most common size. This could change in a few years.
When MIPS instructions are classified according to coding format, they fall into four categories: R-type, I-type, J-type, and coprocessor. These formats are closely related to the execution activities in the processor circuitry.
The coprocessor coding format is not described here. Although the use of a coprocessor is advantageous for an embedded processor, desktop and server processors have not used them for about 20 years.
Many MAL instructions get expanded into 2 or 3 MIPS instructions. These expansions are often used to deal with immediate operands and idiosyncracies of the MIPS instruction set. Some of these expansions use $at as a temporary register.
MIPS assemblers normally make the following expansions. For some instructions more than one expansion may be applied. There are other expansions that are not described here.
li reg, immis expanded to
lui reg, imm[31:16] ori reg, reg, imm[15:0]
move reg1, reg2is expanded to
or reg1, reg2, $0
la reg, labelis expanded to
li reg, labelAddress
load or store reg, labelis expanded to
la $at, label load or store reg, 0($at)
op reg1, reg2, immis expanded to
li $at, imm op reg1, reg2, $at
Instruction execution involves the following activities, which are approximately in order. The program counter (PC) hold the address of the next instruction. The arithmetic-logic unit (ALU) performs arithmetic and logical operations such as adds and subtracts. The ALU is designed to combine two source operands to produce a result.
The instruction is fetched at the address specified by the PC.
Program counter (PC) update
A new value for the PC is computed in preparation for fetching the next instruction. Part of the update, computing the address of the following instruction, is done automatically. For branches and jumps, this value is later updated under the direction of control signals.
Control signals are generated to implement the instruction.
Source operand fetch
Control signals direct the selection of two source operands for the ALU.
Arithmetic-logic unit (ALU) operation
Control signals direct the ALU to perform an appropriate operation for the instruction.
Control signals direct memory to read or write data. Control signals select the source of the address. For a write, control signals also select the source of the data to be written.
Control signals select the destination register. Control signals also select the source of the data to be written.