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What is Halt And Catch Fire?

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Halt and catch fire is a mythical hardware instruction that invokes a catastrophic failure.

Technical Details

Hardware instructions are often known by three letter assembly mnemonics. The mnemonic for halt-and-catch-fire is HCF. According to the myth, this instruction will cause certain models of hardware to crash, potentially in a way that damages the hardware itself.
Various models of hardware do offer instructions to halt hardware. This is intended as a way for an operating system to handle a severe crash by halting all processing.
It is also common for hardware to offer instructions that aren't intended to be used as they are installed for quality control tests and other vendor specific purposes. Some hardware is also released with bugs such as halting when issued a non-existent instruction.
In terms of instructions that can actually damage hardware, this is rare for a single instruction. In some cases, repeating certain instructions in an endless loop does cause damage. For example, an instruction to convert the processor from 64-bit to 32-bit operation may not be intended for repetitive invocations.


Halt-and-catch-fire is an inside joke amongst assembly programmers that is typically applied to unpopular hardware that is perceived as unstable. The term is analogous to a self destruct function that is implemented on equipment such as rocket boosters to prevent them from going too far astray when they malfunction.
Overview: Halt And Catch Fire
A mythical machine instruction that invokes a catastrophic failure that is said to exist on various computing hardware.
Related Concepts
Next: Self-Destruct Mechanism

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