Why does the order in which libraries are linked sometimes cause errors in GCC

gcclinker

Why does the order in which libraries are linked sometimes cause errors in GCC?

Best Solution

(See the history on this answer to get the more elaborate text, but I now think it's easier for the reader to see real command lines).


Common files shared by all below commands

$ cat a.cpp
extern int a;
int main() {
  return a;
}

$ cat b.cpp
extern int b;
int a = b;

$ cat d.cpp
int b;

Linking to static libraries

$ g++ -c b.cpp -o b.o
$ ar cr libb.a b.o
$ g++ -c d.cpp -o d.o
$ ar cr libd.a d.o

$ g++ -L. -ld -lb a.cpp # wrong order
$ g++ -L. -lb -ld a.cpp # wrong order
$ g++ a.cpp -L. -ld -lb # wrong order
$ g++ a.cpp -L. -lb -ld # right order

The linker searches from left to right, and notes unresolved symbols as it goes. If a library resolves the symbol, it takes the object files of that library to resolve the symbol (b.o out of libb.a in this case).

Dependencies of static libraries against each other work the same - the library that needs symbols must be first, then the library that resolves the symbol.

If a static library depends on another library, but the other library again depends on the former library, there is a cycle. You can resolve this by enclosing the cyclically dependent libraries by -( and -), such as -( -la -lb -) (you may need to escape the parens, such as -\( and -\)). The linker then searches those enclosed lib multiple times to ensure cycling dependencies are resolved. Alternatively, you can specify the libraries multiple times, so each is before one another: -la -lb -la.

Linking to dynamic libraries

$ export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=. # not needed if libs go to /usr/lib etc
$ g++ -fpic -shared d.cpp -o libd.so
$ g++ -fpic -shared b.cpp -L. -ld -o libb.so # specifies its dependency!

$ g++ -L. -lb a.cpp # wrong order (works on some distributions)
$ g++ -Wl,--as-needed -L. -lb a.cpp # wrong order
$ g++ -Wl,--as-needed a.cpp -L. -lb # right order

It's the same here - the libraries must follow the object files of the program. The difference here compared with static libraries is that you need not care about the dependencies of the libraries against each other, because dynamic libraries sort out their dependencies themselves.

Some recent distributions apparently default to using the --as-needed linker flag, which enforces that the program's object files come before the dynamic libraries. If that flag is passed, the linker will not link to libraries that are not actually needed by the executable (and it detects this from left to right). My recent archlinux distribution doesn't use this flag by default, so it didn't give an error for not following the correct order.

It is not correct to omit the dependency of b.so against d.so when creating the former. You will be required to specify the library when linking a then, but a doesn't really need the integer b itself, so it should not be made to care about b's own dependencies.

Here is an example of the implications if you miss specifying the dependencies for libb.so

$ export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=. # not needed if libs go to /usr/lib etc
$ g++ -fpic -shared d.cpp -o libd.so
$ g++ -fpic -shared b.cpp -o libb.so # wrong (but links)

$ g++ -L. -lb a.cpp # wrong, as above
$ g++ -Wl,--as-needed -L. -lb a.cpp # wrong, as above
$ g++ a.cpp -L. -lb # wrong, missing libd.so
$ g++ a.cpp -L. -ld -lb # wrong order (works on some distributions)
$ g++ -Wl,--as-needed a.cpp -L. -ld -lb # wrong order (like static libs)
$ g++ -Wl,--as-needed a.cpp -L. -lb -ld # "right"

If you now look into what dependencies the binary has, you note the binary itself depends also on libd, not just libb as it should. The binary will need to be relinked if libb later depends on another library, if you do it this way. And if someone else loads libb using dlopen at runtime (think of loading plugins dynamically), the call will fail as well. So the "right" really should be a wrong as well.