CPU status flag behavior
The flags register, also called processor status or just P, is one of the six architectural registers on the 6502 family CPU. It is composed of six one-bit registers (see Status flags); instructions modify one or more bits and leave others unchanged.
Instructions that save or restore the flags map them to bits in the architectural 'P' register as follows:
7 bit 0 ---- ---- NVss DIZC |||| |||| |||| |||+- Carry: 1 if last addition or shift resulted in a carry, or if |||| ||| last subtraction resulted in no borrow |||| ||+-- Zero: 1 if last operation resulted in a 0 value |||| |+--- Interrupt: Interrupt inhibit |||| | (0: /IRQ and /NMI get through; 1: only /NMI gets through) |||| +---- Decimal: 1 to make ADC and SBC use binary-coded decimal arithmetic |||| (ignored on second-source 6502 like that in the NES) ||++------ s: No effect, used by the stack copy, see note below |+-------- Overflow: 1 if last ADC or SBC resulted in signed overflow, | or D6 from last BIT +--------- Negative: Set to bit 7 of the last operation
The B flag
There are six and only six flags in the processor status register within the CPU. Despite what some 6502 references might appear to claim on a first reading, there is no "B flag" stored within the CPU's status register.
Two interrupts (/IRQ and /NMI) and two instructions (PHP and BRK) push the flags to the stack. In the byte pushed, bit 5 is always set to 1, and bit 4 is 1 if from an instruction (PHP or BRK) or 0 if from an interrupt line being pulled low (/IRQ or /NMI). This is the only time and place where the B flag actually exists: not in the status register itself, but in bit 4 of the copy that is written to the stack.
|Instruction||Bits 5 and 4||Side effects after pushing|
|BRK||11||I is set to 1|
|/IRQ||10||I is set to 1|
|/NMI||10||I is set to 1|
Two instructions (PLP and RTI) pull a byte from the stack and set all the flags. They ignore bits 5 and 4.
The only way for an IRQ handler to distinguish /IRQ from BRK is to read the flags byte from the stack and test bit 4. The slowness of this is one reason why BRK wasn't used as a syscall mechanism. Instead, it was more often used to trigger a patching mechanism that hung off the /IRQ vector: a single byte in PROM, UVEPROM, flash, etc. would be forced to 0, and the IRQ handler would pick something to do instead based on the program counter.
Unlike bits 5 and 4, bit 3 actually exists in P, even though it doesn't affect the ALU operation on the 2A03 or 2A07 CPU the way it does in MOS Technology's own chips.