2.3 Executable and Linking Format
Typically an object file contains
· general information about the object file, such as file size, binary code and data size, and source file name from which it was created,
· machine-architecture-specific binary instructions and data
· symbol table and the symbol relocation table, and
· debug information, which the debugger uses.
The manner in which this information is organized in the object file is the object file format. The idea behind a standard object file format is to allow development tools which might be produced by different vendors-such as a compiler, assembler, linker, and debugger that conform to the well-defined standard-to interoperate with each other.
This interoperability means a developer can choose a compiler from vendor A to produce object code used to form a final executable image by a linker from vendor B. This concept gives the end developer great flexibility in choice for development tools because the developer can select a tool based on its functional strength rather than its vendor.
Two common object file formats are the common object file format (COFF) and the executable and linking format (ELF). These file formats are incompatible with each other; therefore, be sure to select the tools, including the debugger, that recognize the format chosen for development.
We focus our discussion on ELF because it supersedes COFF. Understanding the object file format allows the embedded developer to map an executable image into the target embedded system for static storage, as well as for runtime loading and execution. To do so, we need to discuss the specifics of ELF, as well as how it relates to the linker.
Using the ELF object file format, the compiler organizes the compiled program into various system-defined, as well as user-defined, content groupings called sections. The program's binary instructions, binary data, symbol table, relocation table, and debug information are organized and contained in various sections. Each section has a type. Content is placed into a section if the section type matches the type of the content being stored.
A section also contains important information such as the load address and the run address. The concept of load address versus run address is important because the run address and the load address can be different in embedded systems. This knowledge can also be helpful in understanding embedded system loader and link loader concepts introduced in Chapter 3.
Chapter 1 discusses the idea that embedded systems typically have some form of ROM for non-volatile storage and that the software for an embedded system can be stored in ROM. Modifiable data must reside in RAM. Programs that require fast execution speed also execute out of RAM. Commonly therefore, a small program in ROM, called a loader, copies the initialized variables into RAM, transfers the program code into RAM, and begins program execution out of RAM. This physical ROM storage address is referred to as the section's load address. The section's run address refers to the location where the section is at the time of execution. For example, if a section is copied into RAM for execution, the section's run address refers to an address in RAM, which is the destination address of the loader copy operation. The linker uses the program's run address for symbol resolutions.
The ELF file format has two different interpretations, as shown in Figure 2.4. The linker interprets the file as a linkable module described by the section header table, while the loader interprets the file as an executable module described by the program header table.
Figure 2.4: Executable and linking format.
Listing 2.1 shows both the section header and the program header, as represented in C programming structures. We describe the relevant fields during the course of this discussion.
Listing 2.1: Section header and program header.