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Base Platform ABI for the Arm® Architecture

Document number: IHI 0037D, current through ABI release 2018Q4

Date of Issue: 21st December 2018


Preamble

Abstract

This document describes the Base Platform Application Binary Interface for the Arm architecture. This is the base standard for the interface between executable files (including dynamic shared objects, DLLs, etc) and the systems that execute them.

Keywords

Executable file format and contents, dynamic shared object (DSO), dynamic link library (DLL), executable file loading, dynamic linking.

How to find the latest release of this specification or report a defect in it

Please check the Arm Developer site (https://developer.arm.com/products/software-development-tools/specifications) for a later release if your copy is more than one year old.

Please report defects in this specification to arm dot eabi at arm dot com.

Licence

THE TERMS OF YOUR ROYALTY FREE LIMITED LICENCE TO USE THIS ABI SPECIFICATION ARE GIVEN IN Your licence to use this specification (Arm contract reference LEC-ELA-00081 V2.0). PLEASE READ THEM CAREFULLY.

BY DOWNLOADING OR OTHERWISE USING THIS SPECIFICATION, YOU AGREE TO BE BOUND BY ALL OF ITS TERMS. IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO THIS, DO NOT DOWNLOAD OR USE THIS SPECIFICATION. THIS ABI SPECIFICATION IS PROVIDED "AS IS" WITH NO WARRANTIES (SEE Your licence to use this specification FOR DETAILS).

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This document may include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors.

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About This Document

Change control

Current status and anticipated changes

The following support level definitions are used by the Arm ABI specifications:

Release
Arm considers this specification to have enough implementations, which have received sufficient testing, to verify that it is correct. The details of these criteria are dependent on the scale and complexity of the change over previous versions: small, simple changes might only require one implementation, but more complex changes require multiple independent implementations, which have been rigorously tested for cross-compatibility. Arm anticipates that future changes to this specification will be limited to typographical corrections, clarifications and compatible extensions.
Beta
Arm considers this specification to be complete, but existing implementations do not meet the requirements for confidence in its release quality. Arm may need to make incompatible changes if issues emerge from its implementation.
Alpha
The content of this specification is a draft, and Arm considers the likelihood of future incompatible changes to be significant.

All content in this document is at the "Release" quality level.

Change history

Issue Date By Change
2.0 24th March 2005 LS First public release.
A 25th October 2007 LS Document renumbered (formerly GENC-005700 v2.0).
B 10th October 2008 LS Changed depth-first to the intended breadth-first in Obligations on static linkers generating pre-emption maps; made a minor correction to the dllimport example at the end of The DLL model and indirect addressing of imported entities.
C 30th November 2012 AC Adding export and import tables (if required): Clarify STB_WEAK definitions are treated as equivalent to STB_GLOBAL when generating a Windows-style export table. Post linking for DLL-like linkage: Give more details on export rules.
2018Q4 21st December 2018 OS Minor typographical fixes, updated links.

References

This document refers to, or is referred to by, the following documents.

Ref URL or other reference Title
AAELF   ELF for the Arm Architecture
AAPCS   Procedure Call Standard for the Arm Architecture
BSABI   ABI for the Arm Architecture (base standard)
CPPABI   C++ ABI for the Arm Architecture
RTABI   Run-time ABI for the Arm Architecture
BPABI This document Base Platform ABI for the Arm Architecture
ELF

http://www.sco.com/developers/gabi/2001-04-24/contents.html

http://refspecs.linuxfoundation.org/LSB_4.0.0/LSB-Core-generic/LSB-Core-generic/elf-generic.html

System V Application Binary Interface - DRAFT - 24 April 2001
GCPPABI http://itanium-cxx-abi.github.io/cxx-abi/abi.html Generic C++ ABI
ABInote http://refspecs.linuxfoundation.org/LSB_2.0.1/LSB-Core/LSB-Core/noteabitag.html Linux Standard Base Specification 2.0.1, Chapter 9. ABI note tag

Terms and abbreviations

The ABI for the Arm Architecture uses the following terms and abbreviations.

AAPCS
Procedure Call Standard for the Arm Architecture
ABI

Application Binary Interface:

  1. The specifications to which an executable must conform in order to execute in a specific execution environment. For example, the Linux ABI for the Arm Architecture.
  2. particular aspect of the specifications to which independently produced relocatable files must conform in order to be statically linkable and executable. For example, the C++ ABI for the Arm Architecture, the Run-time ABI for the Arm Architecture, the C Library ABI for the Arm Architecture.
AEABI
(Embedded) ABI for the Arm architecture (this ABI…)
Arm-based
… based on the Arm architecture …
core registers
The general purpose registers visible in the Arm architecture's programmer's model, typically r0-r12, SP, LR, PC, and CPSR.
EABI
An ABI suited to the needs of embedded, and deeply embedded (sometimes called free standing), applications.
Q-o-I
Quality of Implementation - a quality, behavior, functionality, or mechanism not required by this standard, but which might be provided by systems conforming to it. Q-o-I is often used to describe the tool-chain-specific means by which a standard requirement is met.
VFP
The Arm architecture's Floating Point architecture and instruction set. In this ABI, this abbreviation includes all floating point variants regardless of whether or not vector (V) mode is supported.

Your licence to use this specification

IMPORTANT: THIS IS A LEGAL AGREEMENT ("LICENCE") BETWEEN YOU (AN INDIVIDUAL OR SINGLE ENTITY WHO IS RECEIVING THIS DOCUMENT DIRECTLY FROM ARM LIMITED) ("LICENSEE") AND ARM LIMITED ("ARM") FOR THE SPECIFICATION DEFINED IMMEDIATELY BELOW. BY DOWNLOADING OR OTHERWISE USING IT, YOU AGREE TO BE BOUND BY ALL OF THE TERMS OF THIS LICENCE. IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO THIS, DO NOT DOWNLOAD OR USE THIS SPECIFICATION.

"Specification" means, and is limited to, the version of the specification for the Applications Binary Interface for the Arm Architecture comprised in this document. Notwithstanding the foregoing, "Specification" shall not include (i) the implementation of other published specifications referenced in this Specification; (ii) any enabling technologies that may be necessary to make or use any product or portion thereof that complies with this Specification, but are not themselves expressly set forth in this Specification (e.g. compiler front ends, code generators, back ends, libraries or other compiler, assembler or linker technologies; validation or debug software or hardware; applications, operating system or driver software; RISC architecture; processor microarchitecture); (iii) maskworks and physical layouts of integrated circuit designs; or (iv) RTL or other high level representations of integrated circuit designs.

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This Specification is owned by Arm or its licensors and is protected by copyright laws and international copyright treaties as well as other intellectual property laws and treaties. The Specification is licensed not sold.

  1. Subject to the provisions of Clauses 2 and 3, Arm hereby grants to LICENSEE, under any intellectual property that is (i) owned or freely licensable by Arm without payment to unaffiliated third parties and (ii) either embodied in the Specification or Necessary to copy or implement an applications binary interface compliant with this Specification, a perpetual, non-exclusive, non-transferable, fully paid, worldwide limited licence (without the right to sublicense) to use and copy this Specification solely for the purpose of developing, having developed, manufacturing, having manufactured, offering to sell, selling, supplying or otherwise distributing products which comply with the Specification.
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  3. This Licence shall immediately terminate and shall be unavailable to LICENSEE if LICENSEE or any party affiliated to LICENSEE asserts any patents against Arm, Arm affiliates, third parties who have a valid licence from Arm for the Specification, or any customers or distributors of any of them based upon a claim that a LICENSEE (or LICENSEE affiliate) patent is Necessary to implement the Specification. In this Licence; (i) "affiliate" means any entity controlling, controlled by or under common control with a party (in fact or in law, via voting securities, management control or otherwise) and "affiliated" shall be construed accordingly; (ii) "assert" means to allege infringement in legal or administrative proceedings, or proceedings before any other competent trade, arbitral or international authority; (iii) "Necessary" means with respect to any claims of any patent, those claims which, without the appropriate permission of the patent owner, will be infringed when implementing the Specification because no alternative, commercially reasonable, non-infringing way of implementing the Specification is known; and (iv) English law and the jurisdiction of the English courts shall apply to all aspects of this Licence, its interpretation and enforcement. The total liability of Arm and any of its suppliers and licensors under or in relation to this Licence shall be limited to the greater of the amount actually paid by LICENSEE for the Specification or US$10.00. The limitations, exclusions and disclaimers in this Licence shall apply to the maximum extent allowed by applicable law.

Arm Contract reference LEC-ELA-00081 V2.0 AB/LS (9 March 2005)

Acknowledgements

This specification has been developed with the active support of the following organizations. In alphabetical order: Arm, CodeSourcery, Intel, Metrowerks, Montavista, Nexus Electronics, PalmSource, Symbian, Texas Instruments, and Wind River.

Introduction and Rationale

The role of this standard in the ABI for the Arm Architecture

This Base Platform ABI standardizes the interface between executable files (including dynamic shared objects, dynamic link libraries, and the like) and their execution environments (or platforms). The Base Platform ABI completes version 2.0 of the ABI for the Arm Architecture (base standard) by setting standards for tools producing executable files usable in a wide range of execution environments.

The ABI for the Arm Architecture [BSABI] defines four broad families of execution environment categorized by how they manage the address space and how they handle dynamically loaded binaries. This is summarized pictorially in the central area of the figure below.

bpabi32-execution-environment.png

Figure 1, Execution environment traits determining the structure of the Base Platform ABI

The three platform categories that support dynamically loaded shared libraries use two fundamentally different shared library models. Two categories share some aspects of the Windows dynamic link library (DLL) model while one uses the Linux-like dynamic shared object (DSO) model. This is summarized in the upper area of Figure 1, Execution environment traits determining the structure of the Base Platform ABI.

Relationship to v1.0 of the ABI for the Arm Architecture

Version 1.0 of the ABI for the Arm Architecture (base standard) governs the interface between producers of relocatable files and static linking. It guarantees little about the form or utility of any executable file produced. Some aspects of target execution environments show through version 1.0 in the procedure call standard [AAPCS] and the run-time ABI [RTABI] because they affect code generation and, hence, the interface to relocatable code. However, version 1.0 does not regulate the interface to those execution environments.

Underpinning the variations between platform families are three fundamentally different ways to address static data, depicted in the lower region of Figure 1, Execution environment traits determining the structure of the Base Platform ABI as procedure call standard or build option variants. In fact there is a further dimension to this variation not depicted there that doubles the number of ways to address imported static data (discussed in Making sense of ABI-supported addressing modes).

Base platform categories

We categorize execution environments according to how they organize the address space and whether they can dynamically load shared objects. We then define a parameterized standard that works across the categories.

In order of increasing conceptual complexity the four platform categories are:

  • Single address space, no dynamic shared objects (often known as "bare metal" or the "bare platform").

    Typically, a program is committed to read-only memory (or FLASH memory). Loading and dynamic linking are performed off line before creating a ROM image. If there is an operating system (often termed an RTOS, micro-kernel or nano-kernel) it is statically linked into the ROM image. An RTOS may, nonetheless, be able to load executable files.

  • Single address space with DLL-like shared objects (example: Palm OS).

    The OS and some applications are committed to read-only memory, but other modules can be loaded dynamically into RAM. At the user level, loadable modules provide functionality similar to that of Windows DLLs and executable files. The system and all its applications exist in a single virtual address space.

  • Multiple address spaces with Windows-like organization and DLL-like shared objects (example: Symbian OS).

    DLL can be shared among several processes, each of which has its own virtual address space. A segment of a DLL is mapped at the same virtual address in each process that maps it. DLLs behave similarly (but not identically) to Windows DLLs.

  • Multiple address spaces with SVr4-like organization and SVr4-like DSOs (example: Arm Linux).

    A DSO can be shared among several processes, each of which has its own virtual address space. A segment of a DSO can be mapped at a different virtual address in each process that maps it.

(Aside: DSOs, DLLs, and executable files structure systems at the highest level. Shared objects are useful for structuring large systems for bare platforms if dynamic linking and loading operations can be performed off line - in effect in a second phase of static linking. Some bare platforms may also be able to load executable files dynamically. End aside).

The base platform ABI tool flow

This base platform ABI sets a standard for executable and shared object files - in effect, a standard for the tool chains that produce them. This ABI is based on the tool flow depicted below.

A simple post-linker (see Simple post linking for our definition of simple) converts a BPABI-conforming executable or shared object file into a platform-specific format. The post linker is simple enough to be supplied by a platform vendor.

conversion done this way can easily be built into a static linker, at low cost. We expect that tool vendors serious about a specific platform will do this.

Either way, the cost supporting a specific platform ABI derived from this base platform ABI (under the simple post-linking constraint) will be moderate.

bpabi32-tool-flow.png

Figure 2, Base platform ABI tool flow and its relationship to concrete platforms

Platform-specific elements are shown grayed. Others are generic to all ABIs derived from this base platform ABI.

Simple post linking

A BPABI post linker is a simple tool compared to a static linker. Some bounds on its complexity are:

  • Post linking must be at least as complex as navigating a generic (ELF) executable file (or similar).

    (This mirrors the structural complexity of utilities such as the ADS/RVCT fromelf, the SUN/Solaris elfdump, the Linux objdump, and the Windows dumpbin).

  • In general, post linking should not be more complex than the most general form of dynamic linking (platform specific aspects can increase the complexity arbitrarily, but ABI-specific aspects do not).

    (Among the concrete platforms under consideration, Linux has the most complex behavior when an executable or shared object file is loaded and linked dynamically. For platforms that do less dynamically, the post linker must perform some of these dynamic linking tasks off line. There is no more to do to prepare an executable file for execution than SVr4 does dynamically).

Making sense of ABI-supported addressing modes

Basic concepts and terminology

Own data

Programming languages such as C and C++ typically recognize three fundamentally different classes of data.

  • Local, automatic, or stack data (terminology varies) are usually allocated to registers or the run-time stack. If any datum is in memory and needs to be addressed it is addressed SP-relative (or, depending on the language and compiler, frame pointer-relative). These data are of no further concern to this specification.
  • Dynamically allocated data are created with malloc or new (or whatever the language supports) and thereafter addressed indirectly via pointers that may themselves be local, dynamically allocated, or static. These data are of no further concern to this specification.
  • Own, static, or extern data (terminology varies) are statically allocated to memory. The allocation is done partly at compile time and partly at static link time. It does not change during the execution of the program. We shall use the term own data to encompass C/C++ static, function-local static, and extern data that the compiler does not allocate to a register. (Advanced compilers can sometimes allocate C/C++ static data to registers).

The rest of this section about ABI-supported addressing modes is about addressing own data and functions.

Static, extern, imported, and exported

Among own data, languages and execution environments distinguish between static, extern, imported, and exported. These categories are not entirely independent, and the meaning of imported and exported depends on the execution environment.

  • Static data are local to a compilation unit (or to a function within a compilation unit). A (2-pass) compiler can always see the definition of a static datum.
  • Extern data are visible between compilation units. In general, one compilation unit defines a datum and others refer to it. In general, a reference to an extern datum cannot be bound until static link time (or later). The compiler making the reference cannot know where the data will be allocated.
  • Some extern data definitions and some function definitions may be exported. That is, they may be visible to, and referenced from, another static link unit (another executable, DLL, DSO, or shared library).
  • Some extern references may be imported. That is, they refer to definitions from another static link unit

Import affects addressing because the location of an imported entity is unknown to the static linker. In some cases, a compiler must generate different code to address imported entities (ABI supported indirect addressing).

Import and export can be explicitly described (as is typical in DLL-based environments) or implicit, implied by extern, (as, by default, in SVr4-based environments).

Explicit export and import are usually mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, an exported entity may need to be treated as if it were imported into the exporting link unit. See Absolute addressing and SVr4 (Linux) application code and Dynamic resolution of vague linkage for justification.

Shared libraries and applications

At its simplest, a program consists of some application code written by a user, statically linked with some library code provided with the development tools and/or the execution environment. In this model a program might interact with the execution environment in a limited way - for example by executing trap instructions or calling OS entry points at fixed addresses - but it is essentially self sufficient.

more sophisticated model makes some or all of the library code into dynamically loadable binaries (shared libraries), and the application code into an application binary or executable.

Each executable and shared library file is built from some translation units. Some extern references between translation units which in the simple, single-binary program model were resolved statically can no longer be fixed by the static linker. A dynamic linking phase is needed before the program starts executing, to resolve those references.

Note that this model can still be used to construct a standalone (self sufficient) program by performing the dynamic linking off line (in effect in a second, later phase of static linking). This is necessary to create the ROM image of a system that can dynamically load components but that carries some of them in ROM.

Comparing the DSO and DLL library models

The SVr4 model attempts to maintain precisely the same environment for application relocatable objects whether they are linked statically with their libraries or dynamically with DSOs containing library code. By default, all extern entities are imported and exported unless the producing tool chain is told otherwise (by Q-o-I means). In general, programmers do not need to be aware of import and export issues.

In contrast, DLL models usually make import and export explicit and partition the set of extern entities into imported references, exported definitions, and hidden definitions (local to the DLL or application, but not local to a translation unit). Depending on the design of the execution environment, a programmer might need to be aware of import and export.

ABI supported direct addressing modes

Absolute addressing

The simplest way to address an extern entity is absolutely, via an address constant. For example:

extern int X;
int f(void)
{
  return X;
}
   LDR   r0, LX       ; &X
   LDR   r0, [r0, #0] ; X
   BX    lr
LX DCD   X

The address constant at LX points to the extern entity X. It is given its value by a static linker. The address constant itself is addressed PC-relative but a compiler will ensure that it is generated close enough to the load.

(If we wanted to be pedantic we might describe this as short PC-relative RO-indirect).

In general, this is the most efficient form of static data addressing supported by the Arm architecture, but there are difficulties with it.

  • If X is imported rather than extern - so the address constant cannot be relocated at static link time - this mode of addressing will require the read-only segment to be relocated on being loaded.
  • If several processes map the same instance of this code, each process must allocate its copy of X at the same address (because they all share the same pointer to X at LX).

Note that absolute references work uniformly for both writable data and read-only data.

Absolute addressing and SVr4 (Linux) application code

SVr4 application code uses absolute addressing and a trick to avoid the need to relocate the RO segment.

When an application is linked against a shared library that defines a datum used by the application (X, say), the linker allocates space for X in the application's zero-initialized (dot-bss) memory and resolves the application's references to extern X to the application's definition of X. It then subjects this definition to a dynamic, copy relocation. At dynamic link time, the value of X will be copied from the DSO that defined it into the application, and the DSO's reference to X will be linked to the application's definition (the DSO's definition will be pre-empted).

From the perspective of a DSO, an exported datum (X) must be addressed as if it were imported, because if a definition is provided by an application, that is exactly what will happen.

Absolute addressing, Windows-like (Symbian OS) code, and standalone code

Windows-like DLL models - in particular, Symbian OS - use absolute addressing in both applications and DLLs (but see also How DLLs and their applications address imported data).

Absolute addressing is the preferred choice for standalone (RTOS-based) applications.

SB-relative addressing (Palm OS-like)

SB-relative addressing supports shared libraries in a single address space. The simple version of it is structurally similar to absolute addressing. The writable static data associated with a shared library is addressed using an offset from a dedicated static base register (see [AAPCS]). For example:

extern int X;
int f(void)
{
  return X;
}
    LDR   r0,LX      ; &X - SB
    ADD   r0,r0,sb   ; &X
    LDR   r0,[r0,#0] ; X
    BX    lr
LX  DCDO  X

Here, the offset of X from SB is loaded short PC-relative from the literal pool. The offset of data defined by the application or shared library can be fixed at static link time, though, in general, it needs to be re-based when the executable file is first loaded.

References to imported data can be handled the same way if the operating system preserves the invariant that the offset of a library's static data from SB is the same in every process that threads the library. This is effectively the same constraint that Windows DLLs have, but on the offsets of data from SB rather than on the addresses of data.

More complex versions of SB-relative addressing are possible that formulate an offset from SB in a sequence of instructions. For example, for offsets smaller than 20 bits, the above code could be re-written as:

extern int X;
int f(void)
{
  return X;
}
ADD   r0, sb, #:SB_OFFSET_19_12: X
LDR   r0, [r0, #:SB_OFFSET_11_0: X
BX    lr

However, this complicates relocation of the read-only segment at load time. In general, systems prefer to use only simple dynamic relocations (for example, relocations of 32-bit data locations).

An offset from SB implicitly addresses a writable location and it will need to be relocated dynamically if it is used to address a read-only place. (Recall, the DLL model gives independently chosen base addresses to the read-only and read-write segments of the executable file). In practice that encourages references to be made as follows.

Table 1, Inter-segment addressing in DLLs using SB-relative addressing

From

To

Read-only Read-write
Read-only PC-relative (PC-relative addressing (SVr4 DSOs)) or Absolute Absolute (Absolute addressing)
Read-write SB-relative (this section) Absolute

Of course, the absolute addresses here require dynamic relocation.

PC-relative addressing (SVr4 DSOs)

An SVr4 (Linux) DSO can be mapped at a different virtual address in each process that uses it. Writable data is at a fixed offset from the code (a DSO has only one independent base address) so it can be addressed relative to the current place. For example:

static int X;
int f(void)
{
  return X;
}
   LDR   r0, LX     ; &X - (P + 8)
P  ADD   r0,pc,r0   ; &X
   LDR   r0,[r0,#0] ; X
   BX    lr
LX DCD   |X + (LX - P - 8) - .|

In general, an imported datum X will be at a different address in each process, and it can be at a different relative address (see Own data addressing by SVr4 (Linux) DSOs and applications), so there is no sharable offset to it. Because of this, each potentially imported datum must be addressed PC-relative indirect, via a writable location that can be relocated when the DSO is loaded.

The SVr4 ABI calls the set of such locations the Global Offset Table (GOT), and we call this addressing style GOT-relative.

As we noted above, every extern datum defined by a DSO is also potentially imported because of potential pre-emption at dynamic link time.

ABI supported indirect addressing

The indirect addressing modes use one of the direct addressing modes to address a pointer that can be initialized at dynamic link time. The effect is as if the code on the left had been written as the code on the right:

extern Thing theThing;
// ...
// ...
Thing t = theThing;
extern Thing theThing;
Thing* pThing = &theThing;
// ...
Thing T = *pThing;

Whatever the primary addressing mode, the indirection is always absolute via an address (using an offset would always be less efficient at run time and would eliminate no dynamic relocations).

Own data addressing by SVr4 (Linux) DSOs and applications

As noted above, use of PC-relative indirect (SVr4 GOT-relative) addressing modes follows from two choices.

  • An SVr4 DSO has a single base address (its RW segment is at an offset from its RO segment that was fixed when the DSO was statically linked).
  • An SVr4 DSO can be loaded at a different virtual address in each process that loads it.

So although there is an invariant offset from any place in the RO segment to own data that is not imported, there is no invariant offset to any imported data.

As noted earlier, SVr4 does not make export and import explicit, and chooses that application code should be oblivious to whether it is linked statically or dynamically to its library code. These decisions make all extern data used by a DSO potentially imported and, therefore, to be addressed PC-relative indirect.

For SVr4, we can make some clear statements independent of further considerations.

  • Application code addresses its own data absolutely and calls non-imported functions PC-relative.
  • Application code calls imported functions via a procedure linkage stub generated by the static linker.
(An imported function is simply one not defined by the application).
  • DSO addresses static and restricted visibility data PC-relative and extern data PC-relative indirect.
  • A DSO calls static functions PC-relative and extern functions via a procedure linkage stub generated by the static linker. The stub calls indirectly through a writable function pointer (the PLTGOT entry).
How DLLs and their corresponding applications address not-imported data

The DLL model preserves the invariant that each process threading an instance of a DLL's RO segment maps its RW segment at the same virtual address (or the same offset from SB if there is only one address space). If this cannot be maintained when another process P threads the DLL, P must load a new instance of the RO segment.

A significant difference between a DLL and an application that uses it is that when there are multiple virtual address spaces, the execution addresses of the segments of an application can be known at static link time, whereas a DLL (and a single address space application) might need to be relocated dynamically.

  • Multiple address space DLLs and application code address local own data absolutely.

    Address constants embedded in a DLL's RO segment must be relocated when the segment is first loaded.

  • Single address space DLLs and application code address local own data SB-relative.

    The offsets from SB embedded in a DLL's RO segment must be relocated when the segment is first loaded.

  • DLL and application code calls DLL-local functions PC-relative.

Note

To avoid relocating the RO segment of a single address space application on first loading, some offset from SB must be reserved to applications - analogous to reserving fixed base addresses for multiple VA applications.

How DLLs and their applications address imported data

The DLL model per se - whether deployed in a single address space Palm OS-style, or multiple address spaces in the style of Symbian OS or Windows - neither requires nor forbids indirect addressing of imported data. Three factors influence a platform's choice.

  • The management of multiple processes (an OS consideration).
  • Whether or not a DLL loaded into RAM can patch a collection of DLLs in ROM (a platform consideration).
  • Whether or not the system can resolve vague linkage at dynamic link time.
Imported data and the management of multiple processes

Depending on how the operating system manages the address space of a process, it might be possible for process P1 to have mapped DLL-1's RW segment at A1, and for process P2 to be unable to map it there. P2 will subsequently create a copy of DLL-1's RO segment and map a copy of the data of DLL-1 at A2.

Now consider the case that P1 and P2 both load DLL-2 that imports X from DLL-1.

If X is addressed directly via a (dynamically relocated) literal L in the read-only segment, L must be relocated to two different values, A1 and A2 (which is impossible).

There are three ways a DLL-based OS can deal with this problem.

  • It can ensure that a DLL's address space slots are reserved in all (future) processes. This enforces the data address invariant globally and ensures that there is only one copy of the RO segment of a DLL in the system.
  • It can accept that when more than one instance of a DLL has been created, separate instances of all referring DLLs must be created.
  • It can insist that imported data be addressed indirectly (as MS Windows does), allowing one instance of DLL2 to refer via its P1 and P2 data instances to P1's DLL-1 or P2's DLL-1.

Real DLL-based systems employ a combination of these strategies. For example, Symbian OS currently uses the first two, but not the third, while Palm OS currently uses the first and third, but not the second.

Imported entity addressing and ROM patching

Suppose that DLL-2 imports a function F and data X from DLL-1, and suppose that both DLLs have been committed to ROM. Now suppose that DLL-1 must be patched by loading a new version into Flash or RAM.

For this to be effective, DLL-2 must be made to refer to the new version of DLL-1 without changing any part of DLL-2. This can only be done if the linkage between DLL-2 and DLL-1 is via writable RAM locations. In effect all imported entities must be addressed indirectly via RAM.

An SVr4 DSO already does this. Every extern entity with normal visibility is addressed via a (writable) GOT entry. Even a procedure linkage stub (PLT entry) must do this (via its PLTGOT entry).

A DLL might be required do this, or it might not (How DLLs and their applications address imported data). However, to support being patched, a DLL too must address imported entities indirectly.

Because the DLL model does not import and export extern entities by default, indirect addressing forces import of data to be made explicit at translation time (because different code must be generated to access imported data), or it restricts import to import by address (effectively making the indirection explicit in the source code).

(Aside: The effect on the import of functions is less visible because a procedure linkage stub is usually generated by the linker. As far as a compiler is concerned, every extern function is potentially imported. If a linkage stub must be hand written it is also easy to arrange that import is by address initializing a writable location - in effect, the PLTGOT model. End aside).

Dynamic resolution of vague linkage

RTTI, v-tables, and other entities generated by translating C++ pose a potential problem because, in general, there is no unique locus of definition. For example, if a class has no key function, RTTI and v-tables must be generated everywhere they are used (according the C++ ABI for the Arm Architecture [CPPABI], which, in this respect, follows the Generic C++ ABI for Itanium [GCPPABI]). These entities have vague linkage.

After translation, each such definition is wrapped in GRP_COMDAT section group. A static linker retains only one copy, but a dynamic linker can encounter multiple definitions, one from each shared object. This is harmless if:

  • All participants in the dynamic link step end up using the same definition of each entity.
  • Or, the implementation of the One Definition Rule (ODR) does not require a unique address for each entity.

To guarantee a unique address, an entity with vague linkage must be treated as both exported by, and imported into, each executable file that defines it. Each defining file must be able to defer to (be preempted by) another's definition at dynamic link time.

The problem of resolving dynamic vague linkage is depicted in Figure 3, below. The illustrative scenario is based on C++ run-time type information (RTTI). It arises naturally and frequently in programs written in C++ but the problem is by no means restricted to programs written in C++, or to RTTI.

  • DLL-B contains the definitions relevant to class B (which has a key function) and class A (which does not).
  • DLL-C similarly contain class C's definitions (and, again, class C has a key function), and class A's.

Both DLL-B and DLL-C export RTTI for class A. In a relocatable file, RTTI for class A is emitted into a COMDAT group, and in a static link step involving classes B and C, only one copy of the RTTI for class A would be retained.

There are three possible use cases for DLL-B and DLL-C in relation to RTTI-A.

Process 1
Link program B (that uses classes A, B) with DLL-B.
Process 2
Link program C (that uses classes A, C) with DLL-C.
Process 3
Link program BC (that uses classes A, B, C) with DLL-B and DLL-C.

Processes 1, 2, and 3 can execute simultaneously as depicted below.

bpabi32-dynamic-linkage-problem.png

Figure 3, The dynamic vague linkage problem

The One Definition Rule (ODR) for process 3 requires that all users of the RTTI-A should use the same copy of it. In the static link step generating program BC, the linker knows that references to RTTI-A must resolve to DLL-C::RTTI-A, say. (It could choose DLL-B::RTTI-A, but the argument is symmetrical).

Now there is a problem in process 1. References to RTTI-A from DLL-B must resolve to DLL-B::RTTI-A (process 1 does not load DLL-C so resolution to DLL-C::RTTI-A is impossible). Unless the reference is private to the process, it must point to two different places in two different processes (the dashed red pointer from DLL-B to DLL-C::RTTI-A in process 3, and the solid black pointer from DLL-B to DLL-B::RTTI-A in process 1).

If we want to resolve vague linkage dynamically, we must address imported data indirectly via private-to-the-process locations.

The DLL model and indirect addressing of imported entities

Under the DLL model, indirect addressing goes hand in hand with explicit data import. If imported data must be addressed indirectly, a compiler must know what is imported so that it can compile an extra indirection into the access code. A pseudo storage class like __declspec(dllimport) is often used to tell a compiler that an extern datum is imported.

Alternatively, and equivalently, import must be limited to import by address used to initialize a writable pointer.

The following examples illustrate these points.

extern Thing* pThing;                 // (*pThing) can always be imported because pThing
                                      // is a writable pointer initialized by an address
extern Thing theThing;                // theThing cannot be imported if imported data
                                      // must be addressed indirectly
__declspec(dllimport) extern Thing T; // T is imported, and will be addressed
                                      // indirectly if this is required

In general, imported functions do not need to be identified to a compiler. A reference to an imported function will be made via a procedure linkage stub created by a linker, so a compiler can generate the same code for an imported call as for an extern call. Under this ABI - and especially in Thumb state - it is not generally beneficial to inline linkage stubs.

Summary of ABI addressing modes

The following tables list the addressing modes used by the execution environments serving as exemplars for the platform categories encompassed by this ABI.

Table 2, Not imported (e.g. static) own data
Ref to Single address space Multiple virtual address space
Bare platform Palm OS DLL Symbian OS DLL Arm Linux DSO
RW Absolute SB-relative Absolute PC-relative
RO Absolute PC-relative or Absolute Absolute PC-relative
Table 3, Imported data referred to by not patchable executable files
Ref to Single address space Multiple virtual address space
Bare platform Palm OS DLL Symbian OS DLL Arm Linux application
RW Absolute

SB-relative

(non-standard)

Absolute Absolute (copy relocated, patchable)
RO Absolute

Absolute or PC-relative

(non-standard)

Absolute
Table 4, Imported own data referred to by patchable executable files
Ref to Single address space Multiple virtual address space
Bare platform with DLL structure Palm OS Symbian OS DLL Arm Linux DSO
RO or RW

Absolute indirect

(non-standard)

SB-relative indirect

Absolute indirect

(non-standard)

PC-relative indirect

Implications of the one definition rule for execution environments

and C++ require that each data object and each function in a program has a single definition. This is the One Definition Rule (ODR). The ODR guarantees to a programmer that each addressable object and function defined in the source program has a unique address.

A static linker usually enforces the ODR by faulting multiple definitions of the same symbol, or by discarding all but one definition. This section examines the effect of the ODR on DLL and DSO dynamic linkage.

SVr4 and the ODR

SVr4 application code need not be aware of whether it will be linked statically or dynamically with the libraries it uses. In effect, the dynamic linker must maintain the ODR the same way a static linker does for entities local to an executable file.

It is easy to specify the treatment of data and clear that a dynamic linker can easily enforce the ODR for data.

  • A data definition exported by an application pre-empts an identically named definition by a DSO. Consequently:

    • Application code can always use an absolute address for an imported or exported datum.

      (It is as if the imported datum is defined by the application).

    • DSO code must always address imported/exported data PC-relative indirect.

It is harder to specify the treatment of functions.

  • All code must address imported functions PC-relative indirect (via the [PLT]GOT).
  • DSO code formulating the address of an extern function can simply load the corresponding [PLT]GOT entry. The dynamic linker looks after its value.

Application code can address an extern function F directly. If F turns out to be imported, the only possible resolution of F at static link time is to the PLT entry for F, generating two ugly alternatives.

  • The read-only segment of the application can be dynamically relocated.

    This is considered by SVr4 systems to be highly undesirable (in any system in which applications might be shared between processes there is a serious cost to the loss of sharing).

  • The dynamic linker can pre-empt the definition of F with the application's PLT entry for F.

    This is the standard Linux solution, but there are problems with it.

    • Calls through a function pointer initialized to F must now indirect through a PLT entry.
    • To avoid calling via two PLT entries, the dynamic linker must ensure that a PLTGOT entry for F points directly to F, not to the application's PLT entry, and in any DSO that both calls F and takes F's address there must be a separate GOT entry for F that points to the application's PLT entry.

All calls to F (whether direct or indirect) traverse exactly one PLT entry.

Alternatively, application code could take the address of a function using absolute indirect (GOT-relative) addressing (reducing import to import by address initializing a writable location).

Of the two alternatives, the second is cleaner and has higher performance, and taking the address of a function other than to initialize an own-data function pointer is so rare that there is no issue with the extra GOT entry.

DLLs and the ODR

The DLL model presents essentially the same difficulties as the SVr4 model, but with some variations according to the taste of the target platform.

  • It is routine to relocate read-only segments on first loading.

    So, in the absence of resolving vague linkage dynamically, a DLL can take the address of an exported entity or an imported entity as if it were local to the DLL, and obtain the same address as any other observer.

  • Usually, import and export are expressed explicitly rather than being by default for all extern entities.

    So, if imported entities must be addressed indirectly, a compiler can always know exactly to formulate the address of an extern entity (for example, absolute-indirect if imported, absolute otherwise).

Under the usual explicit import and export model, preservation of the ODR would follow from the discipline that only one DLL, or the application, may define (export) an entity, and all others must refer to (import) it.

As we discussed in Dynamic resolution of vague linkage, this is not possible for entities with vague linkage. They have multiple definitions from which a dynamic linker must choose one to impose program wide.

SVr4-based systems solve the resulting dynamic linking problem straightforwardly because the dynamic linker looks up symbol names while relocating an executable file. Pre-emption follows naturally from the way the symbol table for a process is constructed.

In general, a DLL-based system must perform the required symbol table juggling at static link time when the application that will generate a process is created. This is the only point at which all the DLLs to be linked into the process are known and symbol tables are still available. By dynamic link time, otherwise global symbol names will have been translated into DLL-local ordinal numbers, and no process-wide symbol table will be built by the loader.

So, dynamic vague linkage must be resolved when an application is created, and recorded in the resulting BPABI executable file in a form that post-linkers can translate into platform-specific dynamic relocation directives. This observation motivates the specification given in Encoding symbol pre-emption in BPABI executable files.

Relating executables and shared objects to executable files

Terminology

[ELF] already gives precise definitions to the words segment and section. Section is not relevant to the executable view of an ELF file, so it is not available for more general usage here. We use (program) segment with its strict ELF meaning to denote a contiguous part of an executable file read by a loader or dynamic linker. Where segment explicitly or implicitly has type PT_LOAD, it refers a contiguous part of an executable file loaded into memory to initialize an executable image.

We also need a word to describe part of an executable image loaded into virtual memory. We use the word region, familiar to users of Arm development tools. An (execution) region contains the minimum needed to support execution of the program on a bare platform. A (program) segment usually contains one (execution) region. On some platforms it also contains other platform-specific data associated with loading or dynamic linking.

Finally, we need a term for part of an executable file that serves a distinct, coherent purpose. We use the word component. A segment is also a component. So is the content of a region when it is stored in an executable file. On some platforms there are components that are not part of any region or segment. Clearly, a component can have sub-components.

Logical content of an executable file

The figure below depicts a typical set of components present in an executable file. Not all components are present in all platform-specific formats, and the encoding of dynamic linking data varies greatly between platforms. (The dynamic components shown in the figure are a mélange of DLL and SVr4 components).

bpabi32-exe-file.png

Figure 4, Components of a typical executable file and the relationships between them

Other than bare execution environments that do not load executable files dynamically, the platforms of immediate interest to this ABI base their executable file models directly or loosely on the SVr4 executable file model or the Windows DLL/executable file model.

Salient features of SVr4 executable files

An SVr4 executable file has a dynamic symbol table to which dynamic relocations refer. Imports and exports are neither segregated nor tabulated separately from the symbol table.

procedure linkage table (PLT) - usually in the RO segment - implements inter-file procedure linkage via function addresses stored in a subsection of the global object table (GOT) called the PLTGOT. The GOT is in the RW segment. It contains addresses of global data and functions. It is initialized during dynamic linking. In effect, the GOT is the import table, although it also contains exported addresses and some addresses internal to the DSO (depending on the details of how global symbol visibility was controlled, if at all).

The RO segment includes RO regions from the dynamic components. The RW segment includes all RW regions.

All file components required for dynamic linking and execution are included in one of the (two) loaded segments.

Salient features of Windows executable files

A Windows executable file has no dynamic symbol table as such. Imports and exports are separately tabulated and symbolic linkage information is (optionally) attached to the export table and the import table.

The RO segment usually includes all sharable, RO components. The RW segment includes all RW regions.

All file components required for dynamic linking and execution are included in one of the (two) loaded segments.

Executable file structure, static linking, and post linking

Linker and post linker roles

This base platform ABI defines a clear division of responsibility for static linking between:

  • A generic static linker of relatively high functionality and complexity.
  • A platform-specific post linker of low complexity and relatively low functionality.

This division of responsibility is possible because we can find standards that work across the platforms and executable file models of interest to this ABI for at least the following.

  • Required executable file components.
  • Name binding during linking.

The primary role of a generic static linker is to create:

  • The RO and RW execution regions.
  • Maximally symbolic (least bound to target platform) dynamic components.

Although conforming static linkers are generic to all execution environments derived from this base platform ABI, and can generate the same file components in the same order independent of the target platform, some target-specific attributes must be built into an executable file during the static linking step. Some parameters and steering commands given to a generic static linker must, inevitably, be specific to the target platform.

(Aside: This ABI only loosely constrains the order of components in an executable file. ELF gives considerable freedom to place content in almost any order [other than the ELF header, which must be first]. End aside).

A post linker creates a platform-specific executable file if the generic linker does not do so directly. A post linker is specific to a target platform.

  • It may not alter the RO or RW regions other than as described by dynamic relocations (which it may process).
  • It may extend execution regions at their ends only, and then only if a suitable address-space gap exists, or can be created, between the regions.
Executable file structure

We observed in Simple post linking that of the concrete platforms this standard attempts to encompass, Linux has the most symbolic executable file format.

Figure 5, SVr4 and base platform views of the same executable file components, below, depicts an SVr4 view and a BPABI view of the most important components of an executable file.

  • Both views start with a fixed size header (shown as the ELF header) from which other sub-components of the file can be found.
  • Both views contain a read-only executable segment followed by a read-write data segment.

In the SVr4 view, the RO segment contains in some order (the order is conventional rather than essential):

  • The ELF file header.
  • Directories of contents (shown as an array of ELF program headers) that describe each component of the file, both in the file and in virtual memory.
  • The read-only region of the program (the essence of what a generic static linker producers).
  • The shareable dynamic linking components (dynamic linking RO components).

In the BPABI view of the same components the RO segment contains only the RO execution region.

In the SVr4 view, the read-write component contains:

  • The initialized read-write data region (the essence of what a generic static linker produces).
  • Process-specific dynamic linking components (for Linux, at least the GOT).

In the BPABI view of the same components the RW segment contains only the RW execution region.

bpabi32-platform-views.png

Figure 5, SVr4 and base platform views of the same executable file components

In the execution environments abstracted by this ABI, the read-write directory entry (RW program header) also describes the zero-initialized (ZI or bss) execution region. It must immediately follow the initialized RW region in virtual memory. This precludes extension of the RW region by a post linker unless all references from RO and RW to ZI are exposed via dynamic relocations.

Because an SVr4 DSO executable region must address its RW and ZI regions pc-relative, a Linux executable is both rigid and compact in virtual memory. This precludes extension of the RO segment by a post linker unless all references from the RO region to RW and ZI are exposed via dynamic relocations.

Interpretation of addresses in SVr4 executable files

Virtual addresses are used to locate all structures in an SVr4 executable file.

SVr4 executable file is rigid and compact. It is designed to be mapped into virtual memory, as described by its two PT_LOAD-type program headers, and processed after mapping. There is one base address for the executable file. If the file is a DSO, the base address is unknown to the static linker and assumed by it to be 0.

All dynamic linkage data are included in one or other of the loadable segments.

Because of the minimum granularity at which access to virtual memory (VM) can be controlled (often 4, 8, or 64KB), there can be a gap in VM between a file's loadable segments. Most SVr4 systems do not represent the gap explicitly in the executable file (it would be filled with zeroes). Consequently, an offset from the base address in VM is not the same as an offset in the file (but the PT_LOAD-type program headers describe how to convert between memory offsets and file offsets).

A Dynamic Array address value is the address in virtual memory after mapping at the assumed base address.

Interpretation of addresses in BPABI executable files

Virtual addresses are used to locate structures in the loadable segments of an executable file. File offsets are used to locate structures (such as dynamic linkage data) that are not part of any loadable segment.

A base platform executable file has two (or more) loadable segments and separate dynamic linkage data. It is designed to be post processed to produce a file that can be loaded, linked dynamically, and executed.

An address value that refers to a location in one of the loadable segments is the virtual address of the location after loading the segment into memory at its given base address. The two PT_LOAD-type program segment headers describe how to translate such virtual addresses to file offsets.

For the convenience of post linkers, an address that refers to dynamic linkage data is the offset in the executable file of that data. A post linker may later translate this to an address in memory.

Consequently, some Dynamic Array address values are addresses in virtual memory after mapping at the segment base addresses and some are file offsets.

Base platform static linking and post linking

This section gives an overview of the division of responsibility between generic static linking and post linking for the specific platform operating systems of greatest influence on this standard.

Arm Linux and similar

We expect that there will be no post linking to do.

If post linking were used, its only purpose would be to generate the GOT from extended dynamic relocations. This functionality can be more conveniently integrated into, and provided as an option by, a static linker that otherwise targets the base platform ABI.

In summary, when given appropriate steering options, a generic static linker must generate the following.

  • The file components and an ELF view of them similar to that depicted in blue in the upper half of Figure 5, SVr4 and base platform views of the same executable file components.
  • PLT (and other intra-call veneer) entries, position independent if the executable file is a DSO.
  • All GOT entries (only these would be created by post linking if a post linker were used).
  • Dynamic relocations (as defined by [AAELF]), a full dynamic symbol table, and symbol version data.

Symbian OS and Palm OS DLLs

Generic static linker

Appropriate steering options must be specified to the generic static linker. That linker must generate:

  • The same file components as for an SVr4 executable file, and an ELF view of them, describing the RO region and the RW + ZI region, similar to that depicted in red in the lower half of Figure 5, SVr4 and base platform views of the same executable file components.
  • Appropriate procedure linkage veneers ([not] PI, and direct, or PLTGOT-indirect, as specified by linker option).
  • An extended set of dynamic relocations, a full dynamic symbol table, and symbol version data.

The type of the procedure linkage veneers depends on the target platform.

  • If a DLL is to be ROM-resident and its imported references are to be patchable, or the target system wishes to resolve vague linkage dynamically, the static linker must generate procedure linkage veneers that are relocated by GOT-generating relocation directives.

    (Aside: Imported data references must be relocated by GOT-generating relocation directives, but this must have been done by the compiler because different code must be generated to address imported data indirectly. End aside).

  • Otherwise, the generic static linker should generate procedure linkage veneers that are relocated directly with respect to their imported symbols.

    (Aside: References to imported data are then no different to references to extern data. End aside).

Platform-specific post linker

The platform-specific post linker is responsible for:

  • Translating symbolic references to ordinal-based (or other platform-specific) references, and ensuring the integrity and long-term validity of this translation.
  • Adding an export table and, if required, import tables.
  • Translating ELF relocation directives into the platform-specific relocation format.
  • Reformatting the executable file and discarding symbolic components unused by the platform.
Translating symbolic references to ordinals (or similar)

Somewhere the post linker must maintain a map must between symbols and their platform-specific equivalents (as depicted in Figure 2, Base platform ABI tool flow and its relationship to concrete platforms).

For Windows, the equivalent of a symbol is the ordinal number of its entry in a DLL's export table, and this map has, traditionally, been maintained in dot-def files, one per DLL.

It is logically equivalent to store this data in a section, with OS- or processor-specific type ([ELF] chapter 4, Sections) in the executable file itself, or to hold it in a database specific to the platform.

If no corresponding map exists when a DLL is first post linked, the post linker must create one.

The post linker must ensure consistency between the map and the symbol table of the generic executable. For example, once an entry point has been numbered, it cannot, in general, be renumbered.

Adding export and import tables (if required)

Windows-style export table can be generated by post-processing the dynamic symbol table. All defined STB_GLOBAL symbols whose visibility is not restricted by STV_HIDDEN should be exported. STB_WEAK is treated as equivalent to STB_GLOBAL for this purpose.

Windows-style import tables can be generated by processing the dynamic relocation section. Each [PLT]GOT-generating directive generates an import table entry for the corresponding symbol. The symbol's version data contains the identity of the DLL the symbol is being imported from.

A single pass through the dynamic relocations can collate the import data by DLL. It is then necessary to process each referenced DLL's map entries (for example, its dot-def file) to convert each imported symbol into an ordinal (its index in its import address table) or similar.

Translating ELF relocation directives to platform-specific form

A 32-bit-ELF relocation directive uses 8 bits to denote the relocation type, 32 bits to denote the place being relocated, and 24 bits to select a 16-byte symbol with respect to which the relocation is performed (which then points to a string value, the name of the symbol).

Many space-saving optimizations are possible because, in general, only 32-bit places can be relocated dynamically. Three example schemes are listed below, in increasing order of sophistication.

  • If a naive indirect import table is used, no optimization is necessary - the corresponding export table is simply copied during dynamic linking. Such an import table can be placed at the end of the ZI region.
  • Entries in an indirect import table can be initialized to the indexes (ordinals) of the entries in the corresponding export table. Such an import table must be placed at the end of the RW region, and, In turn, this requires all references to ZI to be relocated (as the ZI data will have been displaced).
  • If no import table is used dynamically, a relocation table can list the places in this DLL to be patched by the dynamic loader. The list can be compressed by, for example, storing only the difference between consecutive offsets. Each place can be initialized to, for example, the index in X's export table of the required address value. The compact list of places can be placed after the shared (RO) segment.
Reformatting the executable file

A post linker must do the following.

  • Create a platform-specific file header and directory structure.

  • Copy the RO region, and add generated RO components such as the export table and direct import tables. In general, there will be gap in the virtual address space between the RO and RW segments, allowing the former to be extended at its end without needing to relocate the latter.

  • Copy the RW region, and add generated RW components such as initialized, indirect import tables.

  • Relocate references to ZI data by the amount it extended the RW region. This can be done by processing the dynamic relocation directives.

    (Aside: In the RWPI procedure call standard variant [AAPCS] - used by Palm OS - this requires a static linker option to retain appropriate static relocation directives in the dynamic relocation section. End aside).

  • Adjust the ZI description and append any ZI import tables to it.

The Base Platform ABI Specification

Scope and terminology

The subject matter of this specification is the following.

  • The common, cross platform, static linker functionality needed to make executable and shared object files for a wide variety of specific platforms.
  • common, cross platform, file format from which simpler platform-specific formats can be derived using simple post-linking (discussed in Simple post linking).

This specification is a necessarily compromise between maximizing the utility of Base Platform executable files, and minimizing the burden on their producers and consumers.

For a discussion of our use of the words segment, section, region, and component, please see Terminology.

Executable file format

The carrier file format is ELF with type ET_EXEC (for application executable files) and ET_DYN (for DSO/DLL executable files).

For information about ELF see [ELF]. Chapter 5 gives details relating to program loading and dynamic linking referred to in the following subsections of this section. Chapter 4 gives general details of ELF and its linking view. ELF for the Arm Architecture [AAELF] specifies the processor-specific values used by Arm.

Only the executable (program segment) view features in this ABI.

platform executable or dynamic shared object (DSO, DLL, or shared library) file contains two loadable segments (described by ELF program headers of type PT_LOAD).

  • A read-only segment contains executable code and read-only data. Its program header describes the segment as readable and executable (PF_R + PF_X set).
  • A read-write segment contains initialized data and data initialized to zero by the execution environment. Its program header describes the segment as readable and writable (PF_R + PF_W set).

An executable file (of ELF type ET_EXEC) that cannot be loaded dynamically (for example, that might execute from ROM) may contain any number of executable segments described by ELF program headers of type PT_LOAD.

No read-write segment shall contain executable code.

Each segment shall be contiguous in the address space and in the ELF file.

Other ELF segment headers (of type PT_DYNAMIC, PT_INTERP, PT_PHDR, etc) may be present or required by the target platform. These describe components of the executable file of interest to loaders and dynamic linkers. In general these segments are not separately loadable.

  • Under the SVr4 ABI, the corresponding file components are included in the loadable segments and the program headers serve only as directory entries to locate them in virtual memory.
  • Under this base platform ABI, the corresponding file components are not included in any loadable segment. Their program headers serve as directory entries to locate them in the executable file.

Figure 5, SVr4 and base platform views of the same executable file components shows how a static linker can describe the same file components in two different ways.

ELF header

The ELF file header shall be mapped by a program header of type PT_PHDR. The ELF file header shall be the first component of the executable file at file offset 0.

Segment base addresses and alignments are target-specific. How they are specified to a static linker is Q-o-I.

Loadable segments must be at least 8-byte aligned in order to preserve alignment guarantees assumed by compilers complying with the [AAPCS].

Symbol binding and versioning

Overview of common static linking models

Each executable or shared object file is generated by a static linking step in which a collection of relocatable files - including, perhaps, some extracted from static libraries - are linked to form the executable file.

In place of linking against a static library, you may instead link against a previously linked executable file.

  • Under Linux you can link against a previously linked dynamic shared object (DSO).
  • Under Windows you can link against an import library corresponding to a previously linked DLL.

Historically, a Windows import library contained the import data sections and linkage stubs - PLT entries in SVr4-terminology - matching the export data section generated when the DLL was created. It was a real library of relocatable object files. Today these are called long format import libraries, and, in contrast, short format import libraries contain only a few bits of information about each exported symbol, its name, and the name of the DLL exporting it. A linker can construct import data tables from this summary, a synopsis of the data in the DLL it corresponds to, but it could just as easily be extracted directly from the exporting DLL, SVr4 style.

The advantage of a long format import library is that its use requires no additional inbuilt linker functionality. It can be generated independently of the linker, using simple tools (e.g. using an assembler), and then the link step that generates a DLL is then no different to any other link step. This tool flow also inherently solves the problem of creating two DLLs that refer to one another. One of them need to be linked first, but in the modern flow neither can be! In the old flow, an import library for one of the DLLs can be manufactured before the DLL is linked.

The SVr4 DSO-creating tool flow is structurally similar to the Windows DLL-creating tool flow using short format import libraries.

The relationship between binding and linking

Executable and shared object files can contain references to symbols defined elsewhere (imported symbols) and can export symbol definitions to be used elsewhere. Dynamic linking matches the symbols imported by an executable file to those exported by previously loaded executable files.

Static binding

Under the static binding model, when a static linker creates an executable or shared object file it knows which DSO/DLL will resolve each imported symbol at dynamic link time. The binding of references to definitions is fixed at static link time, even though linking (converting symbolic references to addresses) is done dynamically.

Static binding is used by:

  • SUN Solaris and Linux in the presence of versioned symbols.
  • Microsoft Windows, Palm OS , Symbian OS.

Static binding is required to support non-symbolic dynamic linking (such as DLL linking by ordinal).

Dynamic binding

Under the dynamic binding model, a static linker cannot know which DSO/DLL will resolve an imported symbol at dynamic link time. The binding of references to definitions is delayed until the link is made.

Dynamic binding is used by SUN Solaris and Linux in the absence of versioned symbols, and by older SVr4-based and other Unix systems.

This ABI requires and supports static binding

The symbols relevant to this specification are contained in the dynamic symbol table of an executable file. Conventionally, the dynamic symbol table is an ELF section of type SHT_DYNSYM and name .dynsym.

Each symbol in the dynamic symbol table that has global binding (STB_GLOBAL) is either imported or exported. Undefined symbols - defined in the section with index SHN_UNDEF - are imported. Defined symbols are exported.

Local symbols (with binding STB_LOCAL) can participate in load-time relocation but play no part in binding.

As required generically by the ELF specification, the static linker must ensure that symbols that have restricted visibility (STV_HIDDEN, for example) in relocatable files are removed from the dynamic symbol table, or converted to dynamic symbols with local binding.

Symbol versioning

This ABI adopts the GNU-extended Solaris symbol versioning mechanism described in [AAELF].

The processing of symbols and versions by complying static linkers

This section describes how a static linker must process symbols and versions when creating a base platform executable file, DLL, or DSO from a collection of relocatable files and previously linked executable file.

Creating version definitions for symbols exported by a shared library (DSO or DLL)

Version definitions are created when a shared object executable file (ELF type ET_DYN) is statically linked. Plain executable files (ELF type ET_EXEC) do not require version definitions.

The list of version definitions in an executable file conventionally includes a first element with index 1 and flags VER_FLG_BASE that gives the version of the shared object rather than the version of any symbol within it.

typical Linux value of the base version might be "libm.so.6" whereas the versions of the symbols defined in this library might be "GLIB_2.0" or "GLIBC_2.1".

Version data for symbols exported from this executable file can be provided in three ways.

  • By linker steering file (Q-o-I).
  • Using the GNU mechanism to associate versions with symbol definitions.
  • By default, perhaps further controlled by linker option, as described in Option to support forced static binding.

The essence of the GNU mechanism is that a symbol defined with a particular version has the textual name name@[@]version.

  • The form using '@@' denotes a default, or latest, version. There must be exactly one such definition of name in a link step, and this defines the version seen by subsequent static links against this executable file.
  • The form using '@' defines a previous version of name. There can be any number of previous versions, but these will only be seen during dynamic linking. (These symbols will refer to their corresponding versions via indexes with bit 15 set).

There is no need to export any other STB_GLOBAL symbol defined at the same location as an @-containing one.

The export of an STB_GLOBAL symbol from a relocatable file may be restricted by using the STV_HIDDEN attribute. Hidden symbols are not exported. If they need to be in the dynamic symbol table because, for example, there are dynamic relocations that refer to them, their binding must be changed to STB_LOCAL.

(Aside: In general, the use of STV_HIDDEN requires use of additional build options and source level mechanism such as __ATTRIBUTE__("STV_HIDDEN") or __declspec(dllexport) not specified by this ABI. End aside).

Export may be further restricted, and import further extended, through commands to the static linker (Q-o-I).

If a symbol X exported by this executable file has a version - that is, its name is X@[@]version) - the linker must:

  • Ensure that version is described by a version definition structure in the version definition section.
  • Allocate an index in the virtual table of versions to each new version definition.
  • Set the symbol version section entry corresponding to X to this index of version.

Indexes denoting X@version must have bit 15 set. The index denoting X@@version must have bit 15 clear

Creating versions needed for symbols undefined in an executable file

Versions needed are created when an executable file (ELF type ET_EXEC or ET_DYN) is created in a static link step to which a shared object executable file (ELF type ET_DYN) with versioned symbols is an input.

versions needed structure must be created when this link step uses a previously linked executable file, L say. The versions needed structure names L (using L's SONAME) and links to auxiliary structures. Each auxiliary structure describes the binding of a set of symbols otherwise undefined in this link step to a corresponding set of symbols defined by L which share a common version defined by L.

If X is undefined in this link step and an input executable file L exports a versioned definition of symbol X, the linker must:

  • Ensure that this link step's versions needed section contains a versions needed structure associated with the SONAME of L.

    (A needed executable file must also be named by a DT_NEEDED entry in the dynamic section. A DT_NEEDED entry names the SONAME of the executable file it refers to).

  • Ensure that the name of the version associated with X is recorded in a version needed auxiliary structure linked to the versions needed structure.

  • Allocate an index in the virtual table of versions to each new versions needed auxiliary structure.

  • Set the symbol version section entry corresponding to X to this index of version.

If there are multiple versions of X defined, all but one of them will refer to their versions via indexes with bit 15 set. In effect, all but one of the definitions of X will be hidden from static binding.

(Aside: In general it is only possible to bind statically to the latest version of a symbol X exported by an executable file. Any other tool chain behavior is Q-o-I. If the executable file exporting X is subsequently updated creating a new version of X and preserving the old version, this executable will nonetheless be linked dynamically to the old version X. An attempt to link this executable dynamically to a version of the DSO that does not export the required version of X will fail. End aside).

Hence, via the symbol version section, each undefined symbol in this link step simultaneously acquires a required version and an executable file from which it is being imported.

(Aside: This representation gives an indirect encoding of the information given by a DLL's import data section, namely where each undefined symbol is imported from. End aside).

When linking for an SVr4-like platform it is acceptable for a DSO not to export versioned symbols. In this case the index of the corresponding version needed is 1, signifying that dynamic binding must be used.

When linking for a DLL-based platform, a static linker must force static binding as described below.

Option to support forced static binding

An ABI complying static linker must provide an option to force static binding.

  • In a DLL-creating link step in which some exported symbols have no version, a linker must create a default version. The name of that version shall be the SONAME of the exporting DLL.

    In the common case that no exported symbol has a version, the linker shall create a version definition with index 1 and flags VER_FLG_BASE giving a version to the shared object itself, and a clone of it with index 2 and flags 0 that shares the same auxiliary structure. Each exported symbol definition shall be given version index 2 in the versions section.

  • Optionally, a linker can create a default version needed for each undefined symbol that binds to an imported definition with no version. The name of the needed version shall be the SONAME of the shared object imported from (that is, the default version name for the symbol's definition).

    This behavior supports creating mutually dependent shared objects, should that be required.

A linker should fault non-weak symbols that remain unbound at the end of a DLL-creating link step. (If binding is static, there can be no STB_GLOBAL symbol with no version).

Relationships among versions of an exported symbol

For the purpose of binding statically to an executable file, there is one distinguished (default) version of each exported symbol with a given name. Among all the exported symbols called X exactly one refers to its version via an index with bit 15 clear. All others refer to their versions via indexes with bit 15 set.

For the purpose of dynamically linking executable files, relationships among versions of a symbol X, say, are immaterial. A dynamic linker must link to the definition of X whose version matches the needed version.

A Linux DSO represents the historical relationship among versions using second and subsequent members of the vd_aux list to record older versions, but this appears to be unused by both static binding and dynamic linking.

This ABI imposes no requirement to represent a version history, shown grayed in the figure below, in a base platform shared object.

bpabi32-two-versions.png

Figure 6, How two versions of the same symbol are represented in a Linux DSO

Procedure linkage and other intra-call veneers

This section states the requirement on static linkers to generate the intra-call veneers needed to implement calls between separately loaded static link units (typically executable files, and DSOs or DLLs).

Calls between sufficiently separated regions within a bare platform executable generate similar requirements.

The ELF processor supplement [AAELF] gives examples of procedure linkage code sequences, and discusses [PLT]GOT-generating relocation.

Overview and terminology

In general, an Arm-Thumb call (BL/BLX) instruction cannot reach an arbitrary destination. The reach of BL is from 222 to 226 bytes, while the address space spans 232 bytes.

An imported destination is certainly at an unknown range, so a long-branch veneer (with 32-bit span) must be inserted between a call site and an imported destination.

veneer may be needed if the instruction set state might change between the site of a call and its destination. Sometimes this can be accommodated by changing BL to BLX, but if the branch span is large or there is no BLX instruction (Arm Architecture V4T), a veneer (also called a PLT entry) will be required.

In linkage models in which the target address may be different in each process threading the executable (SVr4 DSO), or the linkage between ROM-resident executable files must be later patchable (e.g. Palm OS), a veneer must call indirectly through a run-time writable location private to the process.

Usually there is one veneer for each distinct destination code symbol, shared between all callers within the same executable region. In particular, there is one procedure linkage veneer (PLT entry) for each imported code symbol shared by all callers from the same executable file.

(Aside: Support for executable files containing larger than 4MB Thumb-1 code regions is Q-o-I. End aside).

In SVr4-style tool chains there is a clear convention that a static linker must generate veneers - called procedure linkage table (PLT) entries - on calls to imported code symbols. The writable location corresponding to an SVr4 PLT entry is called a PLTGOT entry.

A similar convention of tools for the Arm-Thumb bare platform is that a static linker must generate whatever veneer is needed between the site of a call and its destination. The type of veneer required depends on the Arm architecture version, the branch span, and whether there is a change of instruction-set state.

The SVr4 convention combined with the Arm-Thumb bare platform convention strongly suggests that static linkers must generate intra-call veneers whenever they are needed (Code generation for intra-call veneers (PLT entries)).

In the SVr4 DSO linkage model the PLTGOT must be an array of equal sized elements, and there is a hidden relationship between the order of the entries in it and the order of relocation entries referring to it.

In the Windows DLL linkage model, PLTGOT entries must be collated by DLL imported from and they are not necessarily contiguous, being potentially interspersed with other (data) addresses imported from the same DLL.

This ABI deals with the difference between DSO behavior and DLL behavior via relocation directives. In both cases, a location in the PLT is relocated by one of a family of GOT-generating relocation directives. A static linker can choose (Q-o-I):

  • To process such directives in a target-specific manner, thereby generating a target-specific executable file.
  • To leave such directives as dynamic relocations to be processed by a target-specific post-linker.

Code generation for intra-call veneers (PLT entries)

General remarks

This ABI does not specify code sequences to be used for intra-call veneers. Any code sequence that meets the constraints of the ABI and achieves the required effect may be used. The ELF processor supplement [AAELF] gives some specimen sequences, all of which are usable.

The following are explicitly quality of implementation (Q-o-I) concerns.

  • The generation of optimal veneers. (This is a complex, target-specific, business).
  • The generation of veneers to extend the (usually Thumb-state) BL span within a single execution region. (There is no obvious place - such as at the end of the region - for a linker to place such veneers).

The following observations might be useful to authors of intra-call veneers.

  • Under the Procedure Call Standard for the Arm Architecture [AAPCS], register ip (r12) is the only scratch register available to a veneer or PLT entry.

  • Under Arm architecture version 5 and later, an unconditional BL and a BLX can be inter-converted (removing the need for a state-changing veneer).

  • Under Arm architecture version 5 and later, any kind of load to the pc sets the instruction set state to the least significant bit of the loaded address (1 → Thumb state, 0 → Arm state).

  • Under Arm architecture version 4T, only BX changes the instruction set state. In effect, a V4T state-changing veneer must end with LDR ip, [...]; BX ip.

  • In Thumb state, ALIGN 4; BX pc; NOP, causes entry into Arm state.

  • linker may be required to generate position-independent veneers and/or veneers whose read-only sections are free of dynamic relocations (SVr4 DSO, at least).

  • When the platform supports lazy function binding (as Arm Linux does) this ABI requires ip to address the corresponding PLTGOT entry at the point where the PLT calls through it.

    (The PLT is required to behave as if it ended with LDR pc, [ip]).

PLT relocation

A post linker may need to distinguish PLTGOT-generating relocations from GOT-generating ones.

If a static linker were generating a relocatable ELF file it would naturally generate the PLT into its own section (.plt, say), subject to relocations from a corresponding relocation section (.rel.plt say). No other GOT-generating relocations can occur in .rel.plt, so that section would contain all the PLTGOT-generating relocations.

This ABI requires that the GOT-generating relocations of the PLT are emitted into a contiguous subsection of the dynamic relocation section described by dynamic tags DT_JMPREL, DT_PLTRELSZ, and DT_PLTREL (see Dynamic relocation section(s)).

Data linkage and [PLT]GOT generation by complying linkers

For a discussion of terminology and an overview of issues please refer to Making sense of ABI-supported addressing modes, and especially to ABI supported indirect addressing.

In general, an extra level of indirection via a writable location is required to address imported data. The writable location corresponding to an imported symbol X is called the GOT entry for X. If X is a function imported via a PLT entry, the corresponding writable location is called the PLTGOT entry for X.

GOT generation is platform-specific, because there is no GOT layout that can work across platform families. For example, SVr4 and Windows DLL linkage models disagree about the required collation order of GOT entries.

Under this ABI, GOT entries are generated by a platform-specific post linker that processes GOT-generating dynamic relocation directives [AAELF].

(Aside: Because GOT-generation is the only SVr4-specific post-linking operation, we expect that most static linkers will offer an option to generate an SVr4 executable file directly. End aside).

If an ABI-complying executable file is to be post-linked:

  • Each GOT-generating static relocation directive must be copied to the dynamic relocation section.
  • PLT entries must be generated and their associated relocation directives emitted into a contiguous subsection of the dynamic relocation section (see Procedure linkage and other intra-call veneers). These relocation directives will cause a platform-specific post linker to generate the PLTGOT when this is required by the platform.

post linker only generates [PLT]GOT entries from [PLT]GOT-generating relocation directives.

Encoding symbol pre-emption in BPABI executable files

Under the SVr4 ABI, the dynamic linker implements symbol pre-emption using a form of dynamic binding. The dynamic symbol tables it loads contain all the information it needs.

Under the base platform ABI (BPABI), symbol binding is strictly static (Dynamic binding), and using the tool flow depicted in Figure 2, Base platform ABI tool flow and its relationship to concrete platforms, symbol pre-emption happens off line. Consequently, pre-emption must be recorded in a BPABI executable file in a format that a post linker can process and convert to platform-specific relocation data.

Overview of pre-emption maps

If there is to be any pre-emption when a process is created, what to do must be recorded in the platform executable file generated by the post linker from the corresponding BPABI executable file.

The details of how symbol pre-emption might be implemented on a particular platform are beyond the scope of this standard. No platform is required to implement pre-emption, but conforming linkers must generate the base platform ABI-defined structures that allow a platform to implement pre-emption.

This base platform ABI specifies a dynamic segment structure - the pre-emption map - that conforming static linkers can use to record static binding pre-emption in a BPABI executable file. Each entry in such a map records that the definition of some symbol X, say, made by some BPABI DLL used as an input to the link step was pre-empted by a definition of X made by the output executable file or by another input DLL.

The ELF processor supplement [AAELF] specifies the content and encoding of pre-emption maps.

Obligations on static linkers generating pre-emption maps

During a BPABI executable file-generating link step a static linker must generate pre-emption map entries recording that one definition of X pre-empts all others whenever it notices that a symbol X is:

  • Defined with vague linkage (defined in a GRP_COMDAT section) in a relocatable file input to the link step and defined by at least one BPABI DLL input to the link step.
  • Or, defined by more than one BPABI DLL input to the link step.

The pre-empting definition of a symbol X is the one closest to the root of the needs graph rooted in the output executable file. All other definitions of X visible in this link step are pre-empted.

We define closest to the root of the needs graph as follows.

  • The root node of the needs graph corresponds to the output executable file. The other nodes correspond to the DLLs input to the link step.
  • At each node, outgoing directed edges are defined by the DT_NEEDED entries in the dynamic section of the corresponding executable file that name a DLL in the graph (a DLL used directly in the current link step). At each node the order of outgoing edges is the same as the order of the corresponding DT_NEEDED entries in their dynamic section.
  • The definition closest to the root is the one first encountered in a breadth-first traversal of the needs graph in which each node is visited at most once.

How a post linker might use a pre-emption map

This section hints at the obligations a post linker and its associated platform might have to accept in order to implement symbol pre-emption. It places no obligations on platforms using this ABI.

When a leaf BPABI DLL (one that depends on no other DLL) is linked, references to entities with vague linkage must, nonetheless, be relocated as if they were imported. At this stage there is nowhere to import them from, so they had better be imported from self. In turn, that requires them to be exported from self.

At this stage, a post linker might create a platform-specific relocation directive that causes a derived platform DLL to use its own definitions.

When any other kind of BPABI executable file is created, there can be pre-emption of a symbol with vague linkage. This is not necessarily the final pre-emption that will occur when a process is created. For example, suppose that:

  • BPABI DLLs B, C, and application A define X with vague linkage.
  • BPABI DLL B is created in a link step that refers (only) to DLL C.
  • Application A is created in a link step that refers to DLL B and DLL C is not available to this link step.

The BPABI DLL B must record in a pre-emption map entry that B::X pre-empts C::X.

The post linker must translate this pre-emption map entry to, for example, a special kind of dynamic relocation that a loader of the platform DLL B will apply to platform DLL C (or, more plausibly, to its dynamic relocations).

Similarly, the BPABI description of application A must record in a pre-emption map entry that A::X pre-empts B::X. The post linker must translate this pre-emption map entry to, for example, special dynamic relocations that:

  • loader of the platform application A will apply to platform DLL B (or, more plausible, to platform DLL B's relocations, exactly as in the case of platform DLL C).

  • A loader of the platform application A will apply to platform DLL B's special relocations.

    (Thus changing platform DLL B's relocation of platform DLL C's reference to X from B::X to A::X).

Obligations on static linkers in support of post linking

Static linkers must accept certain obligations to support post linking. These can be derived by considering the BPABI view of an executable ELF file (depicted in red in Figure 5, SVr4 and base platform views of the same executable file components) and how a post linker would translate it.

  • The loadable program headers (PT_LOAD) in a BPABI executable file must describe the bare program RO, RW, and ZI regions excluding the file header, directories, and other SVr4-specific dynamic linking structures.
  • Nonetheless, a static linker must include all generated linkage veneers (PLT entries) in the RO region.
  • The base addresses of the program segments must be set to platform-specific values by unspecified Q-o-I means (such as linker command-line options beyond the scope of this ABI).
  • GOT-generating relocation directives may need to be passed to the post linker as dynamic relocations.
  • The address of a dynamic linking structure not included in any loadable segment must be set to its offset in the file. (There are no such structures in an SVr4 executable file - all are included in the loadable segments).

Post linking translation concerns

post linker must:

  • Translate the file header and directory structure.
  • Copy (and perhaps relocate) the read-only and read-write regions of the program.
  • Create platform-specific dynamic linking data derived from the SVr4/BPABI symbolic dynamic linking data.

This can be accommodated within an SVr4-like format if:

  • The program header for the read-only segment describes only the RO region and the PLT, and excludes the ELF header, directory, and other read-only dynamic linkage structures.
  • The program header for the writable segment describes only the RW region and excludes any writable dynamic linkage structures.
  • If needed, the GOT is described by GOT-generating relocation directives in the executable file's dynamic relocation section.

If the base addresses of the program regions have not been set to appropriate platform-specific values the post linker must relocate them by processing the dynamic relocations created by the static linker.

In a scheme using Windows DLL-like linkage, the equivalent of the GOT is the collection of import address tables. These have a different shape and size but, crucially, contain the same program-specific data as a GOT. A post linker can certainly create them - or a structure like them - from GOT-creating dynamic relocation directives.

In the DLL-like models of Palm OS and Symbian OS, if an import structure is needed, a post-linker can create it:

  • At the end of the RO program segment (if it can be shared between processes).
  • At the end of the RW program segment (if it must be private to a process).

(Aside: These details are platform-specific and depend on whether the DSO will be ROM-resident, ROM-resident and patchable, or only loaded into RAM. End aside).

Summary of Platform-Specific Considerations

Refer to the earlier Figure 5, SVr4 and base platform views of the same executable file components for a depiction of executable file content and to Terminology for overview and terminology.

Differences between SVr4 and BPABI executable files

The table, below, lists the differences between the executable file components required in a Linux (SVr4-style) executable file and the components required in a base platform executable file.

Where the differences are significant, we tabulate the difference between producing a Linux DSO directly, and producing a BPABI executable file that will be post linked to create a platform-specific executable file.

Table 5, Significant differences between SVr4 and base platform executable files
Executable file component SVr4/Linux (DSO) requirement Base platform (DLL) requirement

ELF header

[ELF, 4]

Must be present and first in the file.

Must be mapped by the RO segment program header.

Must be present and first in file.

Must not be mapped by the RO segment program header.

Program header table

[ELF, 4]

Must be present in the part of the file mapped by the RO segment program header.

Mapped by a PT_PHDR-type program header which must precede any PT_LOAD-type one.

Must be present in the file.

Must not be included in the RO segment.

Mapping by a PT_PHDR-type program header is optional.

Name of program interpreter

[ELF, 5]

Must be present in the part of the file mapped by the RO segment program header.

Mapped by a PT_INTERP-type p-header which must precede any PT_LOAD-type one.

If present, must not be mapped by the RO segment program header.

ABI note section [ELF, 5]

[ABInote, 7]

No generic SVr4 requirement.

The Linux Base Standard requires 0 and the needed kernel version as 4 32-bit integers in the data portion of the note (e.g. 0, 2, 6, 0).

Mapped by a PT_NOTE-type p-header.

If present, must not be mapped by the RO segment program header.
RO program region

Must be present in the part of the file mapped by the RO segment program header.

Mapped by a PT_LOAD-type p-header which maps all read-only, sharable components.

[Figure 5, SVr4 and base platform views of the same executable file components, upper, blue, view]

Mapped by a PT_LOAD-type p-header which maps this component and the PLT only.

[Figure 5, SVr4 and base platform views of the same executable file components, lower, red, view]

RW program region

Initialized data must be present in the part of the file mapped by the RW segment p-header. ZI data (.bss) follows directly in memory.

Mapped by a PT_LOAD-type p-header which maps all writable components.

Mapped by a PT_LOAD-type p-header which maps this component only.

[Figure 5, SVr4 and base platform views of the same executable file components, lower , red, view]

Dynamic section [ELF, 5]

[The dynamic segment and its related sections]

Must be present in the part of the file mapped by a PT_LOAD program header (usually the RO segment).

Mapped by a PT_DYNAMIC-type p-heade.

Must be present.

Mapped by a PT_DYNAMIC-type program header.

Shared object name

[Shared object (DLL) name]

Ignored in executable files, optional in shared objects. Must be present in a DLL, set by Q-o-I means. Defaults to basename(file-name).

Dynamic symbol table

[Dynamic symbol table]

Must be present in the part of the file mapped by the RO segment program header.

Must be present in the file.

Must not be mapped by the RO segment.

Version data

[Symbol versioning]

Must be present in the part of the file mapped by the RO segment program header.

Must be present in the file.

Must not be mapped by the RO segment.

Hash table [ELF, 5],

[Hash table]

Must be present in the part of the file mapped by the RO segment program header.

Must be present in the file.

Must not be mapped by the RO segment.

Dynamic relocation section

[Dynamic relocation section(s)]

Must be present in the part of the file mapped by the RO segment program header.

Must be present in the file.

Must not be mapped by the RO segment.

PLT

[Code generation for intra-call veneers (PLT entries)]

Must be present in the part of the file mapped by the RO segment program header. Must be present in the part of the file mapped by the RO segment program header.

GOT, PLTGOT

[Data linkage and [PLT]GOT generation by complying linkers]

Must be present in the part of the file mapped by the RW segment program header.

Must not be present.

Implicit in [PLT]GOT-generating relocations.

PLTGOT / GOT relocations Must be present in the dynamic relocation section.

Must not be present.

Implicit in [PLT]GOT-generating relocations.

Differences between linking for SVr4 and the BPABI

Table 6, Differences between SVr4 and base platform static linking options and behavior, lists the differences between the static linker controlling options, behaviors, and interpretations required to generate an Arm Linux executable file, and those required to generate a base platform executable file that can be post linked into a platform-specific executable file.

Platform specific values of options are listed as platform-specific (that is, no specific value is given here). The list includes options that might be set by default or by linker script.

Table 6, Differences between SVr4 and base platform static linking options and behavior
Aspect SVr4/Arm Linux requirement Base platform (not SVr4) requirement
Base address One platform-specific, read-only segment base address. Separate, platform-specific, RO and RW segment base addresses
Segment alignment Page aligned (usually 4, 8, or 64KB).

Platform-specific alignment \ge 8 bytes.

Program regions are sometimes offset with respect to segment origins.

Value of a dynamic symbol Target virtual address of the symbol prior to any dynamic rebasing of the executable file. Target address of the symbol prior to any dynamic rebasing of the loadable segments.

Other intra-file address values

[Interpretation of addresses in SVr4 executable files]

Target virtual address prior to any dynamic rebasing of the file (as if the file were mapped at its linker-assumed base address). File offset within the executable file.

PLT generation

[Code generation for intra-call veneers (PLT entries)]

Generated by the static linker.

No useful code generation options.

(A PLTGOT must always be generated).

Generated by the static linker.

Option to generate direct or PLTGOT-using PLT entries for each of 3 PCS variants.

GOT generation

[Data linkage and [PLT]GOT generation by complying linkers]

Generated by the static linker.

No useful code generation options.

(A GOT must always be generated).

Not generated by the static linker.

Implicit in [PLT]GOT-generating dynamic relocations

WEAK undefined symbols

Treated as any other undefined symbol.

The corresponding dynamic symbol inherits STB_WEAK binding.

WEAK undefined symbols must be eliminated during static linking. The relocated value is the ABI-defined NULL value of the relocation.

Relocation reduction

[AAELF]

Static relocations must be reduced to dynamic relocations by the static linker. PLTGOT- and GOT-generating relocations must be preserved in the dynamic relocation section.

References

RO → RO

References from RO → RO are fully resolved, PC-relative [DSO] or absolute, during linking. Each not PC-relative reference RO → RO must be relocated by a dynamic relocation [1].

References

RO → RW/ZI

References from RO → RW/ZI are resolved, PC-relative [DSO] or absolute, during linking. (Dynamically relocated GOT entries remain). Each not SB-relative reference RO → RW/ZI must be relocated by a dynamic relocation [2].

References

RW → RO

Each reference RW → RO must be relocated w.r.t the base of the RO segment. Each reference RW → RO must be relocated w.r.t the base of the RO segment [1].

References

RW → RW/ZI

Each reference RW → RW/ZI must be relocated w.r.t the base of the RO segment (there is only one base address). Each reference RW → RW/ZI must be relocated w.r.t the RW segment base [3].
References to ZI References to BSS are fully resolved, PC-relative DSO] or absolute, by the static linker. Each reference to ZI must by relocated by a ZI-relative dynamic relocation [4].

Note

  1. The RO segment need not, in general, be loaded at its nominal base address.
  1. The RW segment can be loaded independently, not necessarily at its nominal base address.
  1. The RO and RW segments of a DLL are independently loadable. An SVr4 DSO has a single base address.
  1. This is so that a post linker can place generated RW data between the RW region and the ZI region.

Some Post Linking Sketches

Post linking for Linux

Post linking for Linux should never be needed. In practice it is no more difficult for a static linker to generate a Linux executable file directly in place of a BPABI executable file.

If post linking were required, the grayed entries in Table 5, Significant differences between SVr4 and base platform executable files show what would have to be generated.

  • Name of program interpreter (read-only).

    Typically this causes an insertion into the RO segment. The RO region of a DSO is position independent, but the RW region will be displaced and may need to be relocated as a result. The RO region of an application may also need to be relocated.

  • ABI note section (read-only).

    This is not strictly required, but inserting it generates the same issues as above.

  • GOT and PLTGOT (read-write).

    These are required, and inserting them displaces the ZI (bss) region. References to ZI must be relocated.

  • GOT relocation section and PLTGOT relocation section (read-only).

    These are required, and inserting them displaces the RW region which may then need to be relocated.

In addition, there is some required remapping of content by the two program headers of type PT_LOAD and some changes of interpretation of address values, as noted in Table 6, Differences between SVr4 and base platform static linking options and behavior.

All of this remapping and rebasing is straightforward. Constructing the GOT, PLTGOT, and their corresponding dynamic relocations is trickier and we sketch that here.

for each PLTGOT-generating relocation Type[Place](Symbol) in increasing place order
    if (not exists GOT(Symbol)) {
        create GOT(Symbol) labeled by GOTSYM(Symbol)
        emit the dynamic relocation R_ARM_JUMP_SLOT[GOTSYM(Symbol)](Symbol)
    }
    perform the relocation Type[Place](GOTSYM(Symbol))
for each GOT-generating relocation Type[Place](Symbol)
    if (not exists GOT(Symbol)) {
        create GOT(Symbol) labeled by GOTSYM(Symbol)
        emit the dynamic relocation R_ARM_GLOB_DAT[GOTSYM(Symbol)](Symbol)
    }
    perform the relocation Type[Place](GOTSYM(Symbol))

The symbol GOTSYM(Symbol) exists only transiently during post linking. It does not appear in the executable file.

The PLTGOT-generating relocation directives are those from the subsection of the dynamic relocation section described by these dynamic array entries:

DT_JMPREL address DT_PLTRELSZ table-size DT_PLTREL type (= DT_REL or DT_RELA)

The GOT-generating relocation directives are those from the dynamic relocation section described by the following dynamic array entries, excluding the PLTGOT-generating entries described above.

DT_REL[A] address DT_REL[A]SZ table-size DT_REL[A]ENT element-size

Post linking for DLL-like linkage

In this section, we describe post linking for Windows DLL-style linkage in general terms.

The details for Palm OS and Symbian OS are specific to those platforms. Major structural differences from the Windows linkage model - such as whether import is indirect through an import address table or direct via dynamic relocations - are controlled through options to the compiler and static linker that determine whether or not the post linker will see GOT-generating dynamic relocations.

The post linker has re-writing, re-basing, and relocating chores similar to those described in Post linking for Linux.

The executable file needs a new file header and a new directory structure, and this alone could force relocation. To implement Windows DLL-style linkage, it must also append import and export data tables to the RO segment (so they can be shared among all processes threading the DLL).

It is straightforward to construct an export data table.

  • The name of this DLL is in the dynamic section (identified by DT_SONAME).

  • Each exported symbol is identified in the dynamic symbol table. Defined symbols with binding STB_GLOBAL or STB_WEAK should be exported according to their visibility, as follows:

    STV_DEFAULT 0

    Exported.

    STV_INTERNAL 1

    Not exported; this symbol was fully bound at static link time.

    STV_HIDDEN 2

    Not exported; this symbol was fully bound at static link time [1].

    STV_PROTECTED 3

    Exported; this symbol is visible but cannot be pre-empted [2].

    Note

    1. An STV_HIDDEN object can be exported indirectly if its address is exported. In the case of a code object there must be a single address for all users. Under some ABIs a call from outside the shared object must be made through the code object's PLT entry and so the address of the object must be the address of its PLT entry. Under this ABI, STV_HIDDEN and STV_INTERNAL are equivalent.
    1. platform ABI need not support "Exported but cannot be pre-empted". Indeed, a platform ABI need not support symbol pre-emption.

Values of symbols (target address) may need to be adjusted.

Import data tables are a little trickier to construct.

  • First, generate the array of import data table headers. Each one corresponds to a DLL imported from.
  • Second, generate an import lookup table, hint/name table, and import address table corresponding to each import header. Import address table entries are GOT entries, in the terminology of previous sections.
    • Each import address table entry is generated by a GOT-generating relocation that cites undefined STB_GLOBAL symbol. Each of these symbols is associated with a version needed structure that names the DLL being imported from.
    • The processing of dynamic relocations now reduces to something like the following.
for each DLL imported from
    for each GOT-generating relocation Type[Place](Symbol)
        if (Symbol is undefined and Version(Symbol).DLL is DLL) {
            if (not exists GOT(Symbol)) {
                create Import_Address_Table[DLL][Symbol] labeled by GOTSYM(Symbol)
                add Symbol's name to the corresponding hint/name table entry
            }
            perform the relocation Type[Place](GOTSYM(Symbol))
        }

Finally, the remaining (not GOT-generating) dynamic relocations must be encoded in a platform-specific way.

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