There is still work to do on gold. But once that is done, what is the next big step? In the long term we need an incremental linker, but I’m also interested in an idea which I call concurrent linking. A concurrent linker runs at the same time as the compiler. As each object file is compiled, the linker is notified, and the linker adds the object file to the executable that it is building. When the last compilation is completed, the linker writes out the fully linked executable.
The idea is to keep the linker from being a serializing step in a compilation. It is normally easy to run many compilations in parallel, as each compilation is independent. Traditionally, however, the linker can not start until all the compilations are complete, and it must read all the input files at that time.
A concurrent linker can instead run at the same time as the compilations. There is no long wait after the compilations are complete. Also, the newly generated object file should be in the disk cache, and so the linker will have to do less actual disk I/O. I expect that this would only be a noticeable improvement for large programs, but then those are the cases where the linker really is a bottleneck.
The key to making this work will be careful control of the symbol table, and efficient tracking of relocations. In general relocations for an object file may only be resolved when they refer to symbols defined in objects which appear on the link command line. In other cases we must remember the relocation. If the symbol is already known to be defined in an object which appears later on the link line, it would probably be appropriate to resolve the relocation to that symbol, but to record it in case the symbol definition is changed later.
In general an executable linked in this way may have additional text and data segments, and they won’t be as tightly packed. Thus the resulting executable will most likely have slightly worse paging behaviour and will run slightly slower. So this technique is only appropriate during the development cycle, not during a release build.