What exactly does -Bsymblic do? -- update

Some time ago I wrote a description of the -Bsymbolic linker flag which could do with some further explanation. The original article is a good starting place.

One interesting point that I didn't go into was the potential for code optimisation -Bsymbolic brings about. I'm not sure if I missed that at the time, or the toolchain changed, both are probably equally likely!

Let me recap the example...

ianw@jj:/tmp/bsymbolic$ cat Makefile
all: test test-bsymbolic

    rm -f *.so test testsym

liboverride.so : liboverride.c
           $(CC) -Wall -O2 -shared -fPIC -o liboverride.so $<

libtest.so : libtest.c
       $(CC) -Wall -O2 -shared -fPIC -o libtest.so $<

libtest-bsymbolic.so : libtest.c
             $(CC) -Wall -O2 -shared -fPIC -Wl,-Bsymbolic -o $@ $<

test : test.c libtest.so liboverride.so
     $(CC) -Wall -O2 -L. -Wl,-rpath=. -ltest -o $@ $<

test-bsymbolic : test.c libtest-bsymbolic.so liboverride.so
    $(CC) -Wall -O2 -L. -Wl,-rpath=. -ltest-bsymbolic -o $@ $<
$ cat liboverride.c
#include <stdio.h>

int foo(void)
    printf("override foo called\n");
    return 0;
$ cat libtest.c
#include <stdio.h>

int foo(void) {
    printf("libtest foo called\n");
    return 1;

int test_foo(void) {
    return foo();
$ cat test.c
#include <stdio.h>

int test_foo(void);

int main(void)
    printf("%d\n", test_foo());
    return 0;

In words; libtest.so provides test_foo(), which calls foo() to do the actual work. libtest-bsymbolic.so is simply built with the flag in question, -Bsymbolic. liboverride.so provides the alternative version of foo() designed to override the original via a LD_PRELOAD of the library.

test is built against libtest.so, test-bsymbolic against libtest-bsymbolic.so.

Running the examples, we can see that the LD_PRELOAD does not override the symbol in the library built with -Bsymbolic.

$ ./test
libtest foo called

$ ./test-bsymbolic
libtest foo called

$ LD_PRELOAD=liboverride.so ./test
override foo called

$ LD_PRELOAD=liboverride.so ./test-bsymbolic
libtest foo called

There are a couple of things going on here. Firstly, you can see that the SYMBOLIC flag is set in the dynamic section, leading to the dynamic linker behaviour I explained in the original article:

ianw@jj:/tmp/bsymbolic$ readelf --dynamic ./libtest-bsymbolic.so

Dynamic section at offset 0x550 contains 22 entries:
  Tag        Type                         Name/Value
 0x00000001 (NEEDED)                     Shared library: [libc.so.6]
 0x00000010 (SYMBOLIC)                   0x0

However, there is also an effect on generated code. Have a look at the PLTs:

$ objdump --disassemble-all ./libtest.so
Disassembly of section .plt:

[... blah ...]

0000039c &lt;foo@plt&gt;:
 39c:   ff a3 10 00 00 00       jmp    *0x10(%ebx)
 3a2:   68 08 00 00 00          push   $0x8
 3a7:   e9 d0 ff ff ff          jmp    37c &lt;_init+0x30&gt;
$ objdump --disassemble-all ./libtest-bsymbolic.so
Disassembly of section .plt:

00000374 <__gmon_start__@plt-0x10>:
 374:   ff b3 04 00 00 00       pushl  0x4(%ebx)
 37a:   ff a3 08 00 00 00       jmp    *0x8(%ebx)
 380:   00 00                   add    %al,(%eax)

00000384 <__gmon_start__@plt>:
 384:   ff a3 0c 00 00 00       jmp    *0xc(%ebx)
 38a:   68 00 00 00 00          push   $0x0
 38f:   e9 e0 ff ff ff          jmp    374 <_init+0x30>

00000394 <puts@plt>:
 394:   ff a3 10 00 00 00       jmp    *0x10(%ebx)
 39a:   68 08 00 00 00          push   $0x8
 39f:   e9 d0 ff ff ff          jmp    374 <_init+0x30>

000003a4 <__cxa_finalize@plt>:
 3a4:   ff a3 14 00 00 00       jmp    *0x14(%ebx)
 3aa:   68 10 00 00 00          push   $0x10
 3af:   e9 c0 ff ff ff          jmp    374 <_init+0x30>

Notice the difference? There is no PLT entry for foo() when -Bsymbolic is used.

Effectively, the toolchain has noticed that foo() can never be overridden and optimised out the PLT call for it. This is analogous to using "hidden" attributes for symbols, which I have detailed in another article on symbol visiblity attributes (which also goes into PLT's, if the above meant nothing to you).

So -Bsymbolic does have some more side-effects than just setting a flag to tell the dynamic linker about binding rules -- it can actually result in optimised code. However, I'm still struggling to find good use-cases for -Bsymbolic that can't be better done with Version scripts and visibility attributes. I would certainly recommend using these methods if at all possible.

Thanks to Ryan Lortie for comments on the original article.