The Instruction Set

The 6502 has a relatively basic set of instructions, many having similar functions (e.g. memory access, arithmetic, etc.). The following sections list the complete set of 56 instructions in functional groups.

Load/Store Operations

These instructions transfer a single byte between memory and one of the registers. Load operations set the negative (N) and zero (Z) flags depending on the value of transferred. Store operations do not affect the flag settings.

LDA Load Accumulator N,Z
LDX Load X Register N,Z
LDY Load Y Register N,Z
STA Store Accumulator  
STX Store X Register  
STY Store Y Register  

Register Transfers

The contents of the X and Y registers can be moved to or from the accumulator, setting the negative (N) and zero (Z) flags as appropriate.

TAX Transfer accumulator to X N,Z
TAY Transfer accumulator to Y N,Z
TXA Transfer X to accumulator N,Z
TYA Transfer Y to accumulator N,Z

Stack Operations

The 6502 microprocessor supports a 256 byte stack fixed between memory locations $0100 and $01FF. A special 8-bit register, S, is used to keep track of the next free byte of stack space. Pushing a byte on to the stack causes the value to be stored at the current free location (e.g. $0100,S) and then the stack pointer is post decremented. Pull operations reverse this procedure.

The stack register can only be accessed by transferring its value to or from the X register. Its value is automatically modified by push/pull instructions, subroutine calls and returns, interrupts and returns from interrupts.

TSX Transfer stack pointer to X N,Z
TXS Transfer X to stack pointer  
PHA Push accumulator on stack  
PHP Push processor status on stack  
PLA Pull accumulator from stack N,Z
PLP Pull processor status from stack All


The following instructions perform logical operations on the contents of the accumulator and another value held in memory. The BIT instruction performs a logical AND to test the presence of bits in the memory value to set the flags but does not keep the result.

AND Logical AND N,Z
EOR Exclusive OR N,Z
ORA Logical Inclusive OR N,Z
BIT Bit Test N,V,Z


The arithmetic operations perform addition and subtraction on the contents of the accumulator. The compare operations allow the comparison of the accumulator and X or Y with memory values.

ADC Add with Carry N,V,Z,C
SBC Subtract with Carry N,V,Z,C
CMP Compare accumulator N,Z,C
CPX Compare X register N,Z,C
CPY Compare Y register N,Z,C

Increments & Decrements

Increment or decrement a memory location or one of the X or Y registers by one setting the negative (N) and zero (Z) flags as appropriate,

INC Increment a memory location N,Z
INX Increment the X register N,Z
INY Increment the Y register N,Z
DEC Decrement a memory location N,Z
DEX Decrement the X register N,Z
DEY Decrement the Y register N,Z


Shift instructions cause the bits within either a memory location or the accumulator to be shifted by one bit position. The rotate instructions use the contents if the carry flag (C) to fill the vacant position generated by the shift and to catch the overflowing bit. The arithmetic and logical shifts shift in an appropriate 0 or 1 bit as appropriate but catch the overflow bit in the carry flag (C).

ASL Arithmetic Shift Left N,Z,C
LSR Logical Shift Right N,Z,C
ROL Rotate Left N,Z,C
ROR Rotate Right N,Z,C

Jumps & Calls

The following instructions modify the program counter causing a break to normal sequential execution. The JSR instruction pushes the old PC onto the stack before changing it to the new location allowing a subsequent RTS to return execution to the instruction after the call.

JMP Jump to another location  
JSR Jump to a subroutine  
RTS Return from subroutine  


Branch instructions break the normal sequential flow of execution by changing the program counter if a specified condition is met. All the conditions are based on examining a single bit within the processor status.

BCC Branch if carry flag clear  
BCS Branch if carry flag set  
BEQ Branch if zero flag set  
BMI Branch if negative flag set  
BNE Branch if zero flag clear  
BPL Branch if negative flag clear  
BVC Branch if overflow flag clear  
BVS Branch if overflow flag set  

Branch instructions use relative address to identify the target instruction if they are executed. As relative addresses are stored using a signed 8 bit byte the target instruction must be within 126 bytes before the branch or 128 bytes after the branch.

Status Flag Changes

The following instructions change the values of specific status flags.

CLC Clear carry flag C
CLD Clear decimal mode flag D
CLI Clear interrupt disable flag I
CLV Clear overflow flag V
SEC Set carry flag C
SED Set decimal mode flag D
SEI Set interrupt disable flag I

System Functions

The remaining instructions perform useful but rarely used functions.

BRK Force an interrupt B
NOP No Operation  
RTI Return from Interrupt All

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This page was last updated on 2nd January 2002