Combining Versions

Sun introduced a symbol versioning scheme to use for the linker. Their implementation is relatively simple: symbol versions are defined in a version script provided when a shared library was created. The dynamic linker can verify that all required versions are present. This is useful for ensuring that an application can run with a specific version of the library.

In the Sun versioning scheme, when a symbol is changed to have an incompatible interface, the library file name must change. This then produces a new DT_SONAME entry, which leads to new DT_NEEDED entries, and thus manages incompatibility at that level.

Ulrich Drepper and Eric Youngdale introduced a much more sophisticated symbol versioning scheme, which is used by the glibc, the GNU linker, and gold. The key differences are that versions may be specified in object files and that shared libraries may contain multiple independent versions of the same symbol. Versions are specified in object files by naming the symbol NAME@VERSION or NAME@@VERSION. In the former case the symbol is a hidden version, available only by specific request. In the latter case the symbol is a default version, and references to NAME will be linked to NAME@@VERSION. Versions may also be specified in version scripts.

This facility means that in principle it is never necessary to change the library file name. The versioning scheme lets the dynamic linker direct each symbol reference to the appropriate version. This in turn means that in a complicated program with many shared libraries compiled against different versions of the base library, only one instance of the base library needs to be loaded.

However, this additional complexity leads to additional ambiguity. There are now two possible sources of a symbol version: the name in the object file and an entry in the version script. There is the possibility that two instances of the same name will disagree on whether the name should be globally visible or not–in fact, this is normal, as undefined references will always use NAME@VERSION, not NAME@@VERSION. Symbol overriding can be confusing: if the main executable defines NAME without a version, which versions should it override in the shared library? Which version should be used in the program? Symbol visibility adds an additional wrinkle to this.

The most important issue for the linker arises when it sees both NAME and NAME@VERSION, and then sees NAME@@VERSION. At that time the linker has seen two separate symbols and has to decide whether to merge them. The rules that gold currently follows are these:

  • If NAME is hidden, and NAME@@VERSION is in a shared object, they are two independent symbols, and we do not change NAME or its version.
  • If NAME already has a version, because we earlier saw NAME@@VERSION2, then we produce two separate symbols, and leave NAME@@VERSION2 as the default symbol.
  • Otherwise, we change the version of NAME to VERSION, and do normal symbol resolution.

I recently fixed a bug in this code in gold, which was breaking symbol overriding in a specific case. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more bugs. As far as I know nobody has worked through all the symbol combining issues and defined what should happen.


  1. ncm said,

    July 26, 2008 @ 1:11 am

    I’m betting that whatever gold does will come to be regarded as correct.

  2. Ian Lance Taylor said,

    July 28, 2008 @ 10:09 pm

    That is certainly possible. However, I do think there probably is a right answer here. It may be that gold is too flexible–that it should give errors in some cases which it currently accepts.

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