Linker and Libraries Guide

Relocation Processing

After locating and loading any objects, the runtime linker must process each object and perform any necessary relocations. Any objects that are brought into the process's address space with dlopen(3C) must also be relocated in the same manner.

For simple applications this process is straightforward. However, for users who have more complex applications with many dlopen(3C) calls involving many objects, possibly with common dependencies, this process can be quite important.

Relocations can be categorized according to when they occur. The default behavior of the runtime linker is to process all immediate reference relocations at initialization and all lazy references during process execution, a mechanism commonly referred to as lazy binding.

This same mechanism is applied to any objects added with dlopen(3C) when the mode is defined as RTLD_LAZY. An alternative is to require all relocations of an object to be performed immediately when the object is added. You can use a mode of RTLD_NOW, or record this requirement in the object when it is built using the link-editor's -z now option. This relocation requirement is propagated to any dependencies of the object being opened.

Relocations can also be categorized into non-symbolic and symbolic. The remainder of this section covers issues regarding symbolic relocations, regardless of when these relocations occur, with a focus on some of the subtleties of symbol lookup.

Symbol Lookup

If an object acquired by dlopen(3C) refers to a global symbol, the runtime linker must locate this symbol from the pool of objects that make up the process. In the absence of direct binding, a default symbol search model is applied to objects obtained by dlopen(). However, the mode of a dlopen() together with the attributes of the objects that make up the process, provide for alternative symbol search models.

Objects that required direct binding, although maintaining all the attributes described later, search for symbols directly in the associated dependency. See Direct Bindings.

By default, objects obtained with dlopen(3C) are assigned world symbol search scope, and local symbol visibility. The section, Default Symbol Lookup Model, uses this default model to illustrate typical object group interactions. The sections Defining a Global Object, Isolating a Group, and Object Hierarchies show examples of using dlopen(3C) modes and file attributes to extend the default symbol lookup model.

Default Symbol Lookup Model

For each object added by a basic dlopen(3C), the runtime linker first looks for the symbol in the dynamic executable. The runtime linker then looks in each of the objects provided during the initialization of the process. If the symbol is still not found, the runtime linker continues the search. The runtime linker next looks in the object acquired through the dlopen(3C) and in any of its dependencies.

The default symbol lookup model provides for transitioning into a lazy loading environment. If a symbol can not be found in the presently loaded objects, any pending lazy loaded objects are processed in an attempt to locate the symbol. This loading compensates for objects that have not fully defined their dependencies. However, this compensation can undermine the advantages of a lazy loading.

In the following example, the dynamic executable prog and the shared object have the following dependencies.

$ ldd prog =>        ./
$ ldd =>        ./

If prog acquires the shared object by dlopen(3C), then any symbol required to relocate the shared objects and will first be looked for in prog, followed by, followed by, and finally in In this simple case, think of the shared objects acquired through the dlopen(3C) as if they had been added to the end of the original link-edit of the application. For example, the objects referenced in the previous listing can be expressed diagrammatically as shown in the following figure.

Figure 3–1 A Single dlopen() Request

A single dlopen() request.

Any symbol lookup required by the objects acquired from the dlopen(3C), that is shown as shaded blocks, proceeds from the dynamic executable prog through to the final shared object

This symbol lookup is established by the attributes assigned to the objects as they were loaded. Recall that the dynamic executable and all the dependencies loaded with the executable are assigned global symbol visibility, and that the new objects are assigned world symbol search scope. Therefore, the new objects are able to look for symbols in the original objects. The new objects also form a unique group in which each object has local symbol visibility. Therefore, each object within the group can look for symbols within the other group members.

These new objects do not affect the normal symbol lookup required by either the application or the applications initial dependencies. For example, if requires a function relocation after the previous dlopen(3C) has occurred, the runtime linker's normal search for the relocation symbol is to look in prog and then The runtime linker does not follow through and look in or

This symbol lookup is again a result of the attributes assigned to the objects as they were loaded. The world symbol search scope is assigned to the dynamic executable and all the dependencies loaded with it. This scope does not allow them to look for symbols in the new objects that only offer local symbol visibility.

These symbol search and symbol visibility attributes maintain associations between objects. These associations are based on their introduction into the process address space, and on any dependency relationship between the objects. Assigning the objects associated with a given dlopen(3C) to a unique group ensures that only objects associated with the same dlopen(3C) are allowed to look up symbols within themselves and their related dependencies.

This concept of defining associations between objects becomes more clear in applications that carry out more than one dlopen(3C). For example, suppose the shared object has the following dependency.

$ ldd =>         ./

and the prog application used dlopen(3C) to load this shared object in addition to the shared object The following figure illustrates the symbol lookup releationship between the objects.

Figure 3–2 Multiple dlopen() Requests

Multiple dlopen() requests.

Suppose that both and contain a definition for the symbol foo, and both and contain a relocation that requires this symbol. Because of the association of objects to a unique group, is bound to the definition in, and is bound to the definition in This mechanism is intended to provide the most intuitive binding of objects that are obtained from multiple calls to dlopen(3C).

When objects are used in the scenarios that have so far been described, the order in which each dlopen(3C) occurs has no effect on the resulting symbol binding. However, when objects have common dependencies, the resultant bindings can be affected by the order in which the dlopen(3C) calls are made.

In the following example, the shared objects and have the same common dependency.

$ ldd =>        ./
$ ldd =>        ./

In this example, the prog application will dlopen(3C) each of these shared objects. Because the shared object is a common dependency of both and, is assigned to both of the groups that are associated with the two dlopen(3C) calls. This relationship is shown in the following figure.

Figure 3–3 Multiple dlopen() Requests With A Common Dependency

Multiple dlopen() requests with a common dependency. is available for both and to look up symbols. More importantly, as far as dlopen(3C) ordering is concerned, is also be able to look up symbols in both and

Therefore, if both and contain a definition for the symbol foo, which is required for a relocation, the actual binding that occurs is unpredictable because it is affected by the order of the dlopen(3C) calls. If the functionality of symbol foo differs between the two shared objects in which it is defined, the overall outcome of executing code within might vary depending on the application's dlopen(3C) ordering.

Defining a Global Object

The default assignment of local symbol visibility to the objects obtained by a dlopen(3C) can be promoted to global by augmenting the mode argument with the RTLD_GLOBAL flag. Under this mode, any objects obtained through a dlopen(3C) can be used by any other objects with world symbol search scope to locate symbols.

In addition, any object obtained by dlopen(3C) with the RTLD_GLOBAL flag is available for symbol lookup using dlopen() with a path name whose value is 0.

Note –

If a member of a group has local symbol visibility, and is referenced by another group requiring global symbol visibility, the object's visibility becomes a concatenation of both local and global. This promotion of attributes remains even if the global group reference is later removed.

Isolating a Group

The default assignment of world symbol search scope to the objects obtained by a dlopen(3C) can be reduced to group by augmenting the mode argument with the RTLD_GROUP flag. Under this mode, any objects obtained through a dlopen(3C) will only be allowed to look for symbols within their own group.

Using the link-editor's -B group option, you can assign the group symbol search scope to objects when they are built.

Note –

If a member of a group, has group search capability, and is referenced by another group requiring world search capability, the object's search capability becomes a concatenation of both group and world. This promotion of attributes remains even if the world group reference is later removed.

Object Hierarchies

If an initial object is obtained from a dlopen(3C), and uses dlopen() to open a secondary object, both objects are assigned to a unique group. This situation can prevent either object from locating symbols from the other.

In some implementations the initial object has to export symbols for the relocation of the secondary object. This requirement can be satisfied by one of two mechanisms.

If the initial object is an explicit dependency of the secondary object, the initial object is assigned to the secondary objects' group. The initial object is therefore able to provide symbols for the secondary objects' relocation.

If many objects can use dlopen(3C) to open the secondary object, and each of these initial objects must export the same symbols to satisfy the secondary objects' relocation, then the secondary object cannot be assigned an explicit dependency. In this case, the dlopen(3C) mode of the secondary object can be augmented with the RTLD_PARENT flag. This flag causes the propagation of the secondary objects' group to the initial object in the same manner as an explicit dependency would do.

There is one small difference between these two techniques. If you specify an explicit dependency, the dependency itself becomes part of the secondary objects' dlopen(3C) dependency tree, and thus becomes available for symbol lookup with dlsym(3C). If you obtain the secondary object with RTLD_PARENT, the initial object does not become available for symbol lookup with dlsym(3C).

When a secondary object is obtained by dlopen(3C) from an initial object with global symbol visibility, the RTLD_PARENT mode is both redundant and harmless. This case commonly occurs when dlopen(3C) is called from an application or from one of the dependencies of the application.