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Microsoft KB Archive/104674

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Article ID: 104674

Article Last Modified on 10/14/2003


  • Microsoft Macro Assembler 6.0 Standard Edition
  • Microsoft Macro Assembler 6.0a
  • Microsoft Macro Assembler 6.0b
  • Microsoft Macro Assembler 6.1 Standard Edition
  • Microsoft Macro Assembler 6.1a
  • Microsoft Macro Assembler 6.11 Standard Edition

This article was previously published under Q104674


Interrupt handlers in assembler may either stand alone or use the old interrupt handler for functions not covered by the new handler. Using the old handler is called chaining, and is needed for many MS-DOS and BIOS interrupts. A handler that does not chain uses an IRET (interrupt return) statement rather than a normal return statement (RET, RETN, RETF).

There are two ways to chain to an old interrupt handler:

  • Jumps are used when the chain is the last thing in your new handler, and in this case your handler's IRET statement is never executed. -or-

  • Calling the old handler is done when you need to return to your handler for further processing after the original handler has finished. In this case, your return statement is very important.

The difference between IRET and RET is that IRET pops an extra 2 bytes off the stack (the flags register is popped). An interrupt call always pushes the flags onto the stack before pushing on the far return address. In general, hardware interrupt handlers use an IRET statement while software interrupt handlers use a RETF 2 (far return) statement.


Interrupt handlers that chain to Interrupt 21h are special cases because they always chain to the old interrupt. If they didn't chain, they would need to provide replacements for all of the MS-DOS functions, which would essentially involve rewriting the operating system. If the chaining is done at the end of the new handler using a JMP instruction, no special return is needed. In fact, the return statement in the new handler is never executed.

Most software interrupts, including interrupt 21h functions, set the flags to particular values, and those values are used as part of the returned information from the handler. The original values are not restored from the stack when the interrupt returns. IRET is not used. Instead, a RETF 2 statement is used to do a far return and pop 2 bytes off the stack.

If an Interrupt 21h handler chains to the original handler using a CALL statement, it must not use IRET. The system will probably hang if you have an IRET in the handler because some functions may be called repeatedly by MS-DOS until a certain flag is returned. Executing IRET restores the prior values of the flags and destroys any values set by the Interrupt 21h call. Thus, it appears as if the flags never get set, so an infinite loop results.

If the code after the CALL in your Interrupt 21h handler modifies the flags, you may need to put a PUSHF ... POPF around that code. The sample code below creates a "do-nothing" replacement for Interrupt 21h and illustrates these points. If the "RETF 2" is replaced with an IRET, a system hang will result.

Sample Code

; assembly options needed: none
   .MODEL tiny, pascal, os_dos

Old_INT_21   FPFUNC  ?     ; Data in code segment
                           ; holds old interrupt address.

   jmp SetNewInterrupt     ; Skip the new handler.
New_INT_21 PROC    FAR
   ; May do some work here.
   ; If nothing needs to be done after the old
   ; handler is called, a jump can be used as follows:
   ;    jmp cs:Old_INT_21
   ; If the jump is used, the remaining code is not executed.
   cli                          ; Interrupts off.
   call    cs:Old_INT_21        ; Call original handler.
   ; Chance to do other things.
   retf 2

SetNewInterrupt PROC
   mov     ax, 3521h
   int     21h                     ; Get addr of Interrupt 21 handler.
   mov     WORD PTR cs:Old_INT_21[0], bx  ; Save offset of 21 handler.
   mov     WORD PTR cs:Old_INT_21[2], es  ; Save seg of 21 handler.

   push    ds
   mov     ax, cs
   mov     ds, ax                  ; Seg of new handler into ds.
   mov     dx, OFFSET New_INT_21   ; Offset of new handler into dx.
   mov     ax, 2521h
   int     21h                     ; Install new 21h handler.
   pop     ds                      ; Restore ds.

      ; calc paragraphs to retain

   mov     dx, OFFSET SetNewInterrupt
   mov     cl, 4
   shr     dx, cl
   inc     dx
   mov     ax, 3100h               ; Make new handler resident.
   int 21h


SetNewInterrupt ENDP


Additional query words: 6.00 6.00a 6.00b 6.10

Keywords: KB104674