Linker and Libraries Guide

Lazy Loading of Dynamic Dependencies

When a dynamic object is loaded into memory, the object is examined for any additional dependencies. By default, any dependencies that exist are immediately loaded. This cycle continues until the full dependency tree is exhausted. Finally, all inter-object data references that are specified by relocations, are resolved. These operations are performed regardless of whether the code in these dependencies is referenced by the application during its execution.

Under a lazy loading model, any dependencies that are labeled for lazy loading are loaded only when explicitly referenced. By taking advantage of the lazy binding of a function call, the loading of a dependency is delayed until the function is first referenced. As a result, objects that are never referenced are never loaded.

A relocation reference can be immediate or lazy. Because immediate references must be resolved when an object is initialized, any dependency that satisfies this reference must be immediately loaded. Therefore, identifying such a dependency as lazy loadable has little effect. See When Relocations Are Performed. Immediate references between dynamic objects are generally discouraged.

Lazy loading is used by the link-editors reference to a debugging library, liblddbg. As debugging is only called upon infrequently, loading this library every time that the link-editor is invoked is unnecessary and expensive. By indicating that this library can be lazily loaded, the expense of processing the library is moved to those invocations that ask for debugging output.

The alternate method of achieving a lazy loading model is to use dlopen() and dlsym() to load and bind to a dependency when needed. This model is ideal if the number of dlsym() references is small. This model also works well if the dependency name or location is not known at link-edit time. For more complex interactions with known dependencies, coding to normal symbol references and designating the dependency to be lazily loaded is simpler.

An object is designated as lazily or normally loaded through the link-editor options -z lazyload and -z nolazyload respectfully. These options are position-dependent on the link-edit command line. Any dependency that follows the option takes on the loading attribute specified by the option. By default, the -z nolazyload option is in effect.

The following simple program has a dependency on The dynamic section, .dynamic, shows is marked for lazy loading. The symbol information section, .SUNW_syminfo, shows the symbol reference that triggers loading.

$ cc -o prog prog.c -L. -zlazyload -ldebug -znolazyload -lelf -R'$ORIGIN'
$ elfdump -d prog
Dynamic Section:  .dynamic
     index  tag           value
       [0]  POSFLAG_1     0x1           [ LAZY ]
       [1]  NEEDED        0x123
       [2]  NEEDED        0x131
       [3]  NEEDED        0x13d
       [4]  RUNPATH       0x147         $ORIGIN
$ elfdump -y prog
Syminfo section: .SUNW_syminfo
     index  flgs        bound to        symbol
      [52]  DL      [1]   debug

The POSFLAG_1 with the value of LAZY designates that the following NEEDED entry,, should be lazily loaded. As has no preceding LAZY flag, this library is loaded at the initial startup of the program.

Note – has special system requirements, that require the file not be lazy loaded. If -z lazyload is in effect when is processed, the flag is effectively ignored.

The use of lazy loading can require a precise declaration of dependencies and runpaths through out the objects used by an application. For example, suppose two objects, and, both make reference to symbols in declares as a dependency, but does not. Typically, when and are used together, can reference because made this dependency available. But, if declares to be lazy loaded, it is possible that might not be loaded when makes reference to this dependency. A similar failure can occur if declares as a dependency but fails to provide a runpath necessary to locate the dependency.

Regardless of lazy loading, dynamic objects should declare all their dependencies and how to locate the dependencies. With lazy loading, this dependency information becomes even more important.

Note –

Lazy loading can be disabled at runtime by setting the environment variable LD_NOLAZYLOAD to a non-null value.

Providing an Alternative to dlopen()

Lazy loading can provide an alternative to dlopen(3C) and dlsym(3C) use. See Runtime Linking Programming Interface. For example, the following code from verifies an object is loaded, and then calls interfaces provided by that object.

void foo()
    void *handle;

    if ((handle = dlopen("", RTLD_LAZY)) != NULL) {
        int (*fptr)();

        if ((fptr = (int (*)())dlsym(handle, "bar1")) != NULL)
        if ((fptr = (int (*)())dlsym(handle, "bar2")) != NULL)

Although very flexible, this model of using dlopen() and dlsym() is an unnatural coding style, and has some drawbacks.

This code can be simplified if the object that supplies the required interfaces satisfies the following conditions.

By exploiting that a function reference can trigger lazy loading, the same deferred loading of can be achieved. In this case, the reference to the function bar1() results in lazy loading the associated dependency. This coding is far more natural, and the use of standard function calls provides for compiler, or lint(1) validation.

void foo()
$ cc -G -o foo.c -L. -zdefs -zlazyload -lbar -R'$ORIGIN'

However, this model fails if the object that provides the required interfaces is not always available. In this case, the ability to test for the existence of the dependency, without having to know the dependency name, is desirable. A means of testing for the availability of a dependency that satisfies a function reference is required.

A robust model for testing for the existence of a function can be achieved with explicitly defined deferred dependencies, and use of dlsym(3C) with the RTLD_PROBE handle.

An explicitly defined deferred dependency is an extension to a lazy loadable dependency. A symbol reference that is associated to a deferred dependency is referred to as a deferred symbol. A relocation against this symbol is only processed when the symbol is first referenced. These relocations are not processed as part of LD_BIND_NOW processing, or through dlsym(3C) with the RTLD_NOW flag.

Deferred dependencies are established as link-edit time using the link-editors -z deferred option.

$ cc -G -o foo.c -L. -zdefs -zdeferred -lbar -R'$ORIGIN'

Having established as a deferred dependency, a reference to bar1() can verify that the dependency is available. This test can be used to control the reference to functions provided by the dependency in the same manner as dlsym(3C) had been used. This code can then make natural calls to bar1() and bar2(). These calls are much more legible and easier to write, and allow the compiler to catch errors in their calling sequences.

void foo()
    if (dlsym(RTLD_PROBE, "bar1")) {

Deferred dependencies offer an additional level of flexibility. Provided the dependency has not already been loaded, the dependency can be changed at runtime. This mechanism offers a level of flexibility similar to dlopen(3C), where different objects can be loaded and bound to by the caller.

If the original dependency name is known, then the original dependency can be exchanged for a new dependency using dlinfo(3C) with the RTLD_DI_DEFERRED argument. Alternatively, a deferred symbol that is associated with the dependency can be used to identify the deferred dependency using dlinfo(3C) with the RTLD_DI_DEFERRED_SYM argument.