[llvm-dev] [RFC] Proposal: llvm-tapi, adding YAML/stub generation for ELF linking support

Armando Montanez via llvm-dev llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org
Wed Sep 26 08:29:56 PDT 2018

Hello all,

LLVM-TAPI seeks to decouple the necessary link-time information for a
dynamic shared object from the implementation of the runtime object.
This process will be referred to as dynamic shared object (DSO)
stubbing throughout this proposal. A number of projects have
implemented their own versions of shared object stubbing for a variety
of reasons related to improving the overall linking experience. This
functionality is absent from LLVM despite how close the practice is to
LLVM’s domain. The goal of this project would be to produce a library
for LLVM that not only provides a means for DSO stubbing, but also
gives meaningful insight into the contents of these stubs and how they
change. I’ve collected a few example instances of object stubbing as
part of larger tools and the key benefits that resulted from them:

- Apple’s TAPI [1]: Stubbing used to reduce SDK size and improve build times.
- Oracle’s Solaris OS linker [2]: Stubbing used to improve build
times, and improve robustness of build system (against dependency
cycles and race conditions).
- Google’s Bazel [3]: Stubbing used to improve build times.
- Google’s Fuchsia [4] [5]: Stubbing used to improve build times.
- Android NDK: Stubbing used to reduce size of native sdk, control
exported symbols, and improve build times.

Somewhat tangentially, a tool called libabigail [6] provides utilities
for tracking changes relevant to ELF files in a meaningful way. One of
libabigai’s tools provides very detailed textual XML representations
of objects, which is especially useful in the absence of a preexisting
textual representation of shared objects’ exposed interfaces. Glibc
[7] and libc++ [8] have made an effort to address this in their own
ways by using scripts to produce textual representations of object
interfaces. This functionality makes it significantly easier to
analyze and control symbol visibility, though the existing solutions
are quite bespoke. Controlling these symbols can have an implicit
benefit of reducing binary size by pruning visible symbols, but the
more critical feature is being able to easily view and edit the
exposed symbols in the first place. Using human-readable stubs
addresses the issues of DSO analysis and control without requiring
highly specialized tools. This does not strive to replace tools
altogether; it just makes small tasks significantly more approachable.

llvm-tapi would strive to be an intersection between a means to
produce and link against stubs, and providing tools that offer more
control and insight into the public interfaces of DSOs. More
fundamentally, llvm-tapi would introduce a library to generate and
ingest human-readable stubs from DSOs to address these issues directly
in LLVM. Overall, this idea is most similar to the vein of Apple’s
TAPI, as the original TAPI also uses human-readable stubs.

In general, llvm-tapi should:

1. Produce human-readable text files from dynamic shared objects that
are concise, readable, and contain everything required for linking
that can’t be implicitly derived.
2. Produce linkable files from said human readable text files.
3. Provide tools to track and control the exposed interfaces of object files.
4. Integrate well with LLVM’s existing tools.
5. Strive to enable integration of the original TAPI code for Mach-O support.

There are a number of key benefits to using stubs and text-based
application binary interfaces such as:
- Reducing the size of dynamic shared objects used exclusively for linking.
- The ability to avoid re-linking an object when its dependencies’
exposed interfaces do not change but their implementation does (which
happens frequently).
- Simplicity of viewing a diff for a changed DSO interface.
A large number of other use cases exist; this would open up the floor
for a variety of other tools and future work as the concept is rather

The proposed YAML format would be analogous to Apple’s .tbd format but
differ in a few ways to support ELF object types. An example would be
as follows:

--- !tapi-tbe-v1
soname: someobj.so
architecture: aarch64
 - name: fish
   type: object
   size: 48
 - name: foobar
   type: function
   warning-text: “deprecated in SOMEOBJ_1.3”
 - name: printf
   type: function
 - name: rndfunc
   type: function
   undefined: true

(Note that this doesn’t account for version sets, but such
functionality can be included in a later version.)

Most of the fields are self-explanatory, with size not being relevant
to function symbols, and warning text being purely optional. One
reason this departs from .tbd format is to make diffs much easier:
sorting symbols alphabetically on individual lines makes it much more
obvious which symbols are added, removed, or modified. Despite the
differences, the desire is for llvm-tapi to be structured such that
integrating Apple’s Mach-O TAPI will be plausible and welcomed. Prior
discussion [9] indicated interest in integrating Apple TAPI into LLVM,
so I’d definitely like to leave that door open and encourage that in
the future.

I feel the best place to start this is as a library to best facilitate
integration into other areas of LLVM, later wrapping it in a
standalone tool and eventually considering direct integration into
LLD. The tool will initially support basic generation of .tbe and stub
files from .tbe or ELF. This should give enough functionality for
manually checking shared object interface diffs, as well as having
access to linkable stubs. The goal is for the tool to eventually
provide additional functionality such as compatibility checking, but
that’s a ways into the future.shared

There’s multiple options for integrating llvm-tapi to work with LLD;
LLD could directly use llvm-tapi to produce and ingest .tbe files
directly, or llvm-tapi could be used to produce stubs that LLD can be
taught to use. From a technical standpoint, these are not mutually
exclusive. This step is a ways down the road, but is definitely a
high-priority goal.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts and feedback on this.


[1] https://github.com/ributzka/tapi
[2] https://docs.oracle.com/cd/E23824_01/html/819-0690/chapter2-22.html
[3] https://docs.bazel.build/versions/master/user-manual.html#flag--interface_shared_objects
[4] https://fuchsia.googlesource.com/zircon/+/master/scripts/shlib-symbols
[5] https://fuchsia.googlesource.com/zircon/+/master/scripts/dso-abi.h
[6] https://sourceware.org/libabigail/
[7] https://sourceware.org/git/?p=glibc.git;a=blob;f=scripts/abilist.awk;h=bad7c3807e478e50e63c3834aa8969214bdd6f63;hb=HEAD
[8] https://github.com/llvm-mirror/libcxx/blob/master/utils/sym_extract.py
[9] http://lists.llvm.org/pipermail/cfe-dev/2018-April/thread.html#57576

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