1.- The process of generating a program. Introduction.
The process of generating a program nowadays in development environments
is the fruit of an evolution in the habits and experiences suffered by
programmers and designers.
This process consists of the following steps:
Creation of the source code in a high level language with a text editor.
Very large programs can be hard to handle if we try to make them fit in
a single file. For this reason, the source code is divided into functional
modules, which are formed by one or more files of source code. The source
code in these modules do not have to be written in the same language necessarily
since some languages appear to be more appropriate to solve a given task
After creating the files of source code for the program, they must be
translated into segments of code executable by the machine. This code is
usually referred to as object code. This code performs the
same operations as the source code except that it is in a special language
that is directly executable by the machine. The process of translating
the source code into object code is known as compilation.
A compilation is carried out by units and a compilation session usually
will include (depending on the compiler) part of the program and in general,
only one or a few files. The compiled object code contains a program, a
subroutine, variables, etc. -- in general, the parts of a program
that have already been translated and that can be delivered to the next
After all the files with machine code for the program are generated,
one proceeds to put them together or link them through a process performed
by a special utility known as the linker. In this process, all the
references that the code of a module makes to code belonging to another
module are "resolved" (such as calls to subroutines or references to variables
belonging to or defined in other modules). The resulting product is a program
that normally can be loaded and run directly.
The execution of a program is performed by a special piece of software
that is essential part of the operating system, which in the case of Linux
is the system call exec(). This function finds the file, assigns
memory to the process, loads specific parts of the file content (those
containing the code and the initial values of the variables) and transfers
the control to the CPU at a point in the program 'text' that is usually
indicated in the executable file itself.
2.- Brief history of the process of program generation.
The process of program generation has suffered a constant evolution in
order to always achieve the most efficient execution or the best use of
Initially, programs were written directly in machine code. Later, it
was realized that writing a program in a higher level language and its
subsequent translation to machine code could be automated due to the systematic
nature of the translation. This increased the productivity of software.
Upon achievement of the compilation of programs (I have simplified the
evolution of compilation, actually this was a very difficult step to take
because it is a very complex process), the process of program generation
consisted of generating a file with the program source, compiling it and
executing it as a final step.
It was soon noticed, however, that the process of compilation was very
expensive and took too many resources, including CPU time, and that many
functions included by those programs were used over and over in various
programs. Moreover, when somebody modified part of a program, this meant
compiling the whole source again, including translating once again a whole
bunch of identical code in order to compile the new code inserted.
That was the reason for introducing the compilation by modules. This
consists of separating to one side the main program, and to the other side,
those functions that are frequently used over and over, and which were
already compiled and archived in a special place (we will call it the precursor
of a library).
One could then develop programs supported by those functions without
expending additional effort introducing their code again and again. Even
then, the process was complex because when linking the program it was necessary
to join all the pieces and these had to be identified by the programmer
(this added the additional cost of perhaps using a known function that
uses/needs other unknown functions)
3.- What is a Library?
The above problems lead to the creation of Libraries. This is nothing but
a special type of file (more precisely an archive, type tar(1)
or cpio(1)) with the peculiar characteristic that the linker understands
its format and when we specified a library archive, THE LINKER SELECTS
ONLY THOSE MODULES THAT THE PROGRAM NEEDS, and excludes everything else.
A new advantage came into game. Now we could develop programs that
used large libraries of functions and the programmer did not have to know
all the dependencies of the functions in the library.
The library such as we have discussed so far, has not evolved much more
that this. It has only acquired a new special file, that often appears
at the beginning of the archive and that contains a description of the
modules and the identifiers that the linker has to resolve without having
to read the whole library (and thus removing the need to read the library
several times). This process (adding the table of symbols to the library
archive) is performed under Linux by the command ranlib(1). The libraries
described thus far are known as STATIC LIBRARIES.
An advancement occurred after the introduction of the first multitasking
systems: the sharing of code. If, in the same system, two copies
of the same code were launched, it appeared interesting that two processes
could share code because normally a program does not modify its own code.
This idea eliminates the need for having multiple copies in memory which
saves large amounts of memory on huge multi-user systems.
Taking this last innovation one step further, someone (I do not know
who he/she was but the idea was great ;-) thought that quite often many
programs used the same library, but being different programs, the portion
of the library used by a program did not have to be the same as the portion
used in other program. Moreover the main code was not the same (they
were different programs), so their text were not shared. Well, our person
had thought that if different programs using the same library could share
the code of such a library we could save some memory. Now different
programs share the library code, without having identical program text.
However, now the process is more complex. The executable program is
not fully linked, but the referencing to identifiers of the library are
postponed for the process of program loading. The linker (in the case of
Linux is ld(1)) recognizes that it is dealing with a shared library and
does not include its code in the program. The system itself, the kernel,
when executing exec() recognizes that it is launching a program
using shared libraries and it runs a special code for loading the shared
libraries (assigning shared memory for its text, assigning private memory
for the values of the library, etc.). This process is performed now when
loading an executable and the whole procedure is much more complex.
Off course, when the linker is faced with a normal library it continues
to behave as before.
The shared library is not an archive of files containing object code,
but more like a file containing object code by itself. During linking of
a program with a shared library, the linker does not inquire inside the
library for which modules must be added to the program and which not
It only makes sure that the unresolved references get resolved and detects
which must be added to the list by the inclusion of the library. One could
make an archive ar(1) library of all the shared libraries, but this is
not often done because a shared library is often the result of linking
various modules so that the library is necessary later, during run-time.
Perhaps, the name shared library is not the most appropriate and it would
be more clear to call it shared object (nevertheless, we will not use this
other term in order to be understood).
4.- Types of Libraries.
As we already mentioned, under Linux there are two types of libraries:
static and shared. The static libraries are collections of modules included
in an archive with the utility ar(1) and indexed with the utility ranlib(1).
These modules are often stored in a file whose name terminates in .a by
convention (I will not use the term extension because under Linux the concept
of extension of a file does not apply). The linker recognizes the termination
.a in a file and starts the search for the modules as if it was a static
library, selecting and adding to the program those modules that resolve
the unresolved references.
The shared libraries, by contrast, are not archives but reallocable objects,
marked by a special code (that identifies them as shared libraries). The
linker ld(1), as mentioned, does not add the modules to the program code,
but selects the identifiers provided by the library as resolved, adds those
needed by the library itself and continues without adding any code,
pretending the code in question has been added already to the main code.
The linker ld(1) recognized a shared library by having the termination
.so (not .so.xxx.yyy, and we will come back to this point).
5.- Linking Operation under Linux.
Every program consists of object modules linked to form an executable.
This operation is performed by ld(1), which is the Linux linker.
ld(1) supports several options that modifies its behavior,
but we will restrict ourselves here to those options related with the use
of libraries in general. ld(1) is not invoked directly by the
user but by the compiler itself gcc(1) in its final stage. A superficial
knowledge about its modus operandis helps will help us understand
the use of libraries under Linux.
ld(1) requires for its proper functioning the list of objects
that are going to be linked to the program. These objects can be given
and called in any order(*) as long as we follow the previous convention,
as mentioned, that a shared library is indicated by a termination .so (not
.so.xx.yy) and a static library by .a (and of course, simple object files
are those whose names terminate in .o).
(*) This is not completely true. ld(1) includes only those modules
that resolve the references at the moment of including the library, then
there could still be a reference originated by a module included later
that, since it does not appear yet in the moment of including this library,
can cause the order of inclusion of the libraries to be significant.
On the other hand, ld(1) allows the inclusion of standard libraries
thanks to the options -l and -L.
But... What do we understand by a standard library, what is the difference?
None. Only that ld(1) searches for the standard libraries in predetermined
locations while those appearing as object in the list of parameters are
searched using their filename.
The libraries are searched by default in the directories /lib
and /usr/lib (although I have heard that according to the
version/ implementation of ld(1) there could be additional places).
-L allows us to add directories to those used for the normal search
of libraries. It is used by writing one -L directory
for each directory we want to add. The standard libraries are
specified with the option -l Name (where Name specifies
the library to be loaded) and ld(1) will search, in order, in
the corresponding directories, a filename libName.so. If not found it will
try for libName.a., its static version
If ld(1) finds a libName.so file, it links it as if it was
a shared library, while if it finds a file libName.a, it will link the
modules obtained from this if they resolved any of the unresolved references.
6.- Dynamic Linking and Loading Shared Libraries
The dynamic linking is performed at the moment of loading the executable
by a special module (in fact, this special module is a shared library itself),
Actually the are two modules for linking with dynamic libraries: /lib/ld.so
(for libraries using the old a.out format) and /lib/ld-linux.so
(for libraries using the new ELF format).
These modules are special, in that they must be loaded each time
a program is linked dynamically. Their names are standard ( the reason
they are not to be moved from the directory /lib, nor are their
names to be modified). If we changed the name of /etc/ld-linux.so,
we would automatically halt the use of any program using shared libraries
because this module takes charge of resolving all the references not yet
resolved at run-time.
The last module is helped by the existence of a file, /etc/ld.so.cache,
who indicates, for every library, the most appropriate executable file
that contains the library. We will return to this issue later.
7.- soname. Versions of Shared Libraries. Compatibility.
We now enter the most treacherous issue related to shared libraries: their
A message often received is 'library libX11.so.3 not
found,' leaving us with the frustration of having the library libX11.so.6
and incapable of doing anything. How is it possible that ld.so(8)
recognizes as interchangeable the libraries libpepe.so.45.0.1
and libpepe.so.45.22.3 and does not recognize libpepe.so.46.22.3?
Under Linux (and all the operating systems implementing the ELF format)
the libraries are identified by a sequence of characters that distinguish
them: the soname.
The soname is included inside the library itself and the sequence is
determined when linking the objects forming the library. When the shared
library is created, one has to pass to ld(1) an option (-soname ),
to give a value to this character string.
This sequence of characters is used by the dynamic loader to identify
the shared library that must be loaded and to identify the executable.
The process is like this:
Ld-linux.so detects that the program requires a library and
determines its soname. Then comes /etc/ld.so.cache with such a
name and obtains the name of the file containing it. Next it compares the
soname requested with the name existing in the library and if they are
identical that's it! If they are not, it will continue searching
until it finds it or if it cannot, it reports an error.
The soname can detect if a library is the appropriate one to be loaded
because ld-linux.so makes sure that the soname requested coincides
with the file requested. In case of disagreement we obtain the famous 'libXXX.so.Y'
not found. What it is looking for is the soname and the error given
refers to the soname.
This can cause a lot of confusion when we change the name of a library
and the problem persists. But it is not a good idea to access the soname
and change it because there is a convention in the Linux community for
The soname of a library, by convention, must identify the appropriate
library and the INTERFACE of such library. If we perform modifications
of a library that only affect their internal functioning, but the whole
interface is intact (number of functions, variables, parameters of the
functions) then the two libraries will be interchangeable and in general,
we will say that the modifications introduced are minor (both libraries
are compatible and we can replace one for the other. When this happens
the minor number is often modified (which does not appear in the soname)
and the library can be replaced without mayor problems.
However, when we add functions, remove functions, and in general, MODIFY
THE INTERFACE of the library, then is not possible to maintain that the
library as interchangeable with the previous one (for example substituting
libX11.so.3 with libX11.so.6 is part of the upgrade from
X11R5 to X11R6 which defines new functions and therefore modifies the interface).
The change from X11R6-v3.1.2 to X11R6-v3.1.3 probably will not include
changes in the interface and the library will have the same soname--although
in order to preserve the old one we must give it a different name
(for this reason the version number appears complete in the name of the
library while only the major number shows in the soname).
As we mentioned earlier /etc/ld.so.cache allows tt>ld-linux.so
to convert the soname of the file contained in the library. This is a binary
file for more efficiency and is created with the utility ldconfig(8).
ldconfig(8) generates for each dynamic library found in the
directories specified by /etc/ld.so.conf a symbolic link called
by the soname of the library. It does this such that when ld.so is
going to obtain the name of the file, what it really does is to select
in the directory list a file with the soname sought, and in this fashion
there is no need to execute ldconfig(8) each time we add a library.
We run ldconfig only when we add a directory to the list.
9.- I Want to Make a Dynamic Library.
Before making a dynamic library we must consider if it is really going
to be useful. The dynamic libraries cause an overload in the system due
to several reasons:
The loading of a program is performed in several stages; one
for loading the main program, and another for each dynamic library that
the program uses (we will see that this is for appropriate the dynamic
library, as this last item ceases to be inconvenient and starts to be an
For a dynamic library to be appropriate it must be used most of the time
by some program (this avoids the problem of reloading the text of the library
after the death of the process that started it. While other processes are
still using modules of the library it remains in memory).
The dynamic libraries must contain rellocable code, since the address
allocated within the space of virtual addresses for the process will not
be known until loading time. The compiler is then forced to reserved a
register to maintain the loading position of the library and as a result
we have one register less for the optimization of code. This case is a
minor ill since the overload introduced by this case does not represent
more than 5% of an overload in most cases.
The shared library is fully loaded in memory (not only the modules needed)
therefore, to be useful, it must be useful in its totality. The worse example
of a dynamic library is where only a function is used and 90% of the library
is hardly ever used.
A good example of dynamic library is the C standard library (it is used
by all the programs written in C). On average all the functions are used
here and there.
In a static library it is unnecessary to include functions whose usage
is infrequent; as long as those functions are contained in their
own module, they will not be linked in to those programs that do not required
9.1.- Compiling the Sources
The compilation of the sources is carried out in the same fashion as in
the case of a normal source, except for that we will use the option '-f
PIC' (Position Independent Code) to generate code that can be loaded in
different positions within the space of virtual addresses of a process.
This step is fundamental because in a statically linked program, the
position of the library objects are resolved at link-time, therefore at
a fixed time. In the old a.out executables, it was impossible to performed
this step, resulting in each shared library getting placed at a fixed position
in the space of virtual addresses. As a consequence, there were conflicts
anytime a program wanted to use two libraries and loaded them in overlapping
regions of virtual memory. This meant you were forced to maintain
a list, where whenever someone wanted to make a library dynamic, one would
declare the range of addresses used so that nobody else would use it.
Well, as we mentioned, registering a dynamic library in an official
list is not necessary because when the library is loaded, it goes to positions
determined at that given instant, despite that fact that the code must
9.2.- Linking Objects in the Library
After compiling all the objects, it is necessary to link them with a special
option which generates an object which is dynamically loadable.
gcc -shared -o libName.so.xxx.yyy.zzz
As the reader can appreciate, it looks like a normal link operation, except
for the introduction of a series of options that will lead to the generation
of a shared library. Let us explain them one by one:
This phrase tells the linker that at the end it must generate a shared
library, and therefore there will be a type of executable in the output
file corresponding to the library.
Is the name of the final file. It is not necessary to follow the name
convention, but if we want this library to be standard for future developments,
it is convenient to follow it.
The option -Wl tells gcc(1) that the next options
(separated by comma) are for the linker. This is the mechanism used by
gcc(1) to pass options to ld(1). Above we are passing
the following options to the linker:
This option fixes the soname of the library so that it can only be invoked
by those programs that require a library with the soname specified.
9.3.- Installing the Library
Well we already have the corresponding executable. Now we must install
it in the appropriate place in order to be able to use it.
To compile a program that requires our new library, one would use the
gcc -o program libName.so.xxx.yyy.zzz
or if the library has been installed in the appropriate place (/usr/lib),
it would be sufficient with:
gcc -o program -lName
(were the library in /usr/local/lib instead then it would have been sufficient
to add the option '-L/usr/local/lib'). To install the library, do the following:
Copy the library to the directory /lib or /usr/lib.
If you decide to copy it to a different location (for example /usr/local/lib),
you cannot be certainty that the linker ld(1) will find it automatically
when linking programs.
Execute ldconfig(1) to make the symbolic link from libName.so.xxx.yyy.zzz
to libName.so.xxx. This step will tell us if we have completed
all the previous steps correctly and the library is recognize as a dynamic
library. The way programs get linked is not effected by this step, only
the loading of the libraries at run-time are effected.
Make a symbolic link from libName.so.xxx.yyy.zzz (or from libName.so.xxx,
the soname) to libName.so, in order to allow the linker
to find the library with the -l option. For this mechanism to work it is
necessary that the name of the library fits the pattern libName.so
10.- Making a static library
If on the other hand, one would like to make a static library (or two versions
are needed to be able to offer statically linked copies) then one has to
proceed as follows:
Note: The linker, in its search for libraries, looks first a file
called libName.so, followed by libName.a. If we call
the two libraries (the static and dynamic versions) by the same name, it
will not be possible to determine, in general, which of the two will get
linked in each case (the dynamic always gets linked first when it is found
For this reason it is always recommended that if the two versions
of the same library are needed, the static one be named as libName_s.a,
while the dynamic is named libName.so. When linking, therefore,
one would do:
gcc -o program -lName_s
to link with the static version, while in the case of the dynamic one:
gcc -o program -lName
10.1.- Compiling the Sources
To compile the sources, we will not take any special measures. In the same
way as the positions of the objects are decided during the linking step,
it is not necessary to compile with the -f PIC option (although it is possible
to continue using it).
10.2.- Linking the Objects in the Library
In the case of static libraries, there is no linking step. All the objects
are archived in the library file by the command ar(1). Next, in
order to resolve the symbols quickly, one is advised to execute the command
ranlib(1) on the library. Although it is not necessary,
not executing this command may unlink modules in the executable because
when the module get processed by the linker during library construction
not all the indirect dependencies between modules are resolved immediately:
say the module is required by another module later on in the archive, which
leads to having to pass several times through the same library until all
the references get resolved).
10.3.- Installing the Library
The static libraries will be named the format libName.a if one is only
interested on maintaining a static library. In the case of
two types of libraries, I would recommend naming them libName_s.a,
so that it will be easier to control whether to load a static or dynamic
The process of linking allows the introduction of the option -static.
This option controls the loading of the module /lib/ld-linux.so,
and does not affect the search order of the libraries, so that if one writes
-static and ld(1) finds a dynamic library, it will continue
to work with it (instead of continuing looking for its static counterpart).
This leads to errors at run-time due to the invocation of routines in a
library that do not belong to the executable -- the module for automatic
dynamic loading is not linked and therefore this process can not be carried
11.- Static versus Dynamic Linking
Let us supposed we wish to distribute a program that makes use of a library
which we are authorized to distribute only if included statically in a
program and not in any other form (A example of this case are the applications
developed with Motif).
To produce this kind of software there are two options. The first is
making an executable statically linked (using only .a libraries and avoiding
the use of the dynamic loader). These kinds of programs are loaded only
once and do not require having any library installed in the system (not
even /lib/ld-linux.so). However they have the disadvantage of
a carrying all the software necessary within the binary file and therefore
they are usually huge files. The second option is to make a dynamically
linked program, meaning that the environment where our application will
run should provide all the corresponding dynamic libraries. The executable
may be very small although some times it is not possible to have all the
libraries available (for example, there are people who do not have Motif).
There is a third option, a mixed distribution, in which some libraries
are linked dynamically and others statically. In this case, logically one
would choose the conflictive library in its static form and all the others
in their dynamic form. This option is a very convenient form for software
For example, one could compile three different versions of a program
gcc -static -o program.static
program.o -lm_s -lXm_s -lXt_s -lX11_s\
gcc -o program.dynamic program.o
-lm -lXm -lXt -lX11 -lXmu -lXpm
gcc -o program.mixed program.o
-lm -lXm_s -lXt -lX11 -lXmu -lXpm
In the third case, only the Motif library Motif (-lXm_s) gets
linked statically, and all the others are linked dynamically. The environment
where the program runs must provide the appropriate versions of the libraries
libm.so.xx libXt.so.xx libX11.so.xx libXmu.so.xx y libXpm.so.xx