As early as 1947, programmers started to use primitive loaders that could take program routines stored on separate tapes and combine and relocate them into one program. By the early 1960s, these loaders had evolved into full-fledged linkage editors. Since program memory remained expensive and limited and computers were (by modern standards) slow, these linkers contained complex features for creating complex memory overlay structures to cram large programs into small memory, and for re-editing previously linked programs to save the time needed to rebuild a program from scratch.
During the 1970s and 1980s there was little progress in linking technology. Linkers tended to become even simpler, as virtual memory moved much of the job of storage management away from applications and overlays, into the operating system, and as computers became faster and disks larger, it became easier to recreate a linked program from scratch to replace a few modules rather than to re-link just the changes. In the 1990s linkers have again become more complex, adding support for modern features including dynamically linked shared libraries and the unusual demands of C++. Radical new processor architectures with wide instruction words and compiler-scheduled memory accesses, such as the Intel IA64, will also put new demands on linkers to ensure that the complex requirements of the code are met in linked prograsm.
(The people who write linkers also all need this book, of course. But all the linker writers in the world could probably fit in one room and half of them already have copies because they reviewed the manuscript.)
Chapter 2, Architectural Issues, reviews of computer architecture from the point of view of linker design. It examines the SPARC, a representative reduced instruction set architecture, the IBM 360/370, an old but still very viable register-memory architecture. and the Intel x86, which is in a category of its own. Important architectural aspects include memory architecture, program addressing architecture, and the layout of address fields in individual instructions.
Chapter 3, Object Files, examines the internal structure of object and executable files. It starts with the very simplest files, MS-DOS .COM files, and goes on to examine progressively more complex files including, DOS EXE, Windows COFF and PE (EXE and DLL), Unix a.out and ELF, and Intel/Microsoft OMF.
Chapter 4, Storage allocation, covers the first stage of linking, allocating storage to the segments of the linked program, with examples from real linkers.
Chapter 5, Symbol management, covers symbol binding and resolution, the process in which a symbolic reference in one file to a name in a second file is resolved to a machine address.
Chapter 6, Libraries, covers object code libraries, creation and use, with issues of library structure and performance.
Chapter 7, Relocation, covers address relocation, the process of adjusting the object code in a program to reflect the actual addresses at which it runs. It also covers position independent code (PIC), code created in a way that avoids the need for relocation, and the costs and benefits of doing so.
Chapter 8, Loading and overlays, covers the loading process, getting a program from a file into the computer's memory to run. It also covers tree-structured overlays, a venerable but still effective technique to conserve address space.
Chapter 9, Shared libraries, looks at what's required to share a single copy of a library's code among many different programs. This chapter concentrates on static linked shared libraries.
Chapter 10, Dynamic Linking and Loading, continues the discussion of Chapter 9 to dynamically linked shared libraries. It treats two examples in detail, Windows32 dynamic link libraries (DLLs), and Unix/Linux ELF shared libraries.
Chapter 11, Advanced techniques, looks at a variety of things that sophisticated modern linkers do. It covers new features that C++ requires, including ``name mangling'', global constructors and destructors, template expansion, and duplicate code elimination. Other techniques include incremental linking, link-time garbage collection, link time code generation and optimization, load time code generation, and profiling and instrumentation. It concludes with an overview of the Java linking model, which is considerably more semantically complex than any of the other linkers covered.
Chapter 12, References, is an annotated bibliography.
The initial project in Chapter 3 builds a linker skeleton that can read and write files in a simple but complete object format, and subsequent chapters add functions to the linker until the final result is a full-fledged linker that supports shared libraries and produces dynamically linkable objects.
Perl is quite able to handle arbitrary binary files and data structures, and the project linker could if desired be adapted to handle native object formats.
These people are responsible for most of the true statements in the book. The false ones remain the author's responsiblity. (If you find any of the latter, please contact me at the address below so they can be fixed in subsequent printings.)
I particularly thank my editors at Morgan-Kaufmann Tim Cox and Sarah Luger, for putting up with my interminable delays during the writing process, and pulling all the pieces of this book together.
You can send e-mail to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. The author reads all the mail, but because of the volume received may not be able to answer all questions promptly.