When an object file is opened, BFD subroutines automatically determine the format of the input object file. They then build a descriptor in memory with pointers to routines that will be used to access elements of the object file's data structures.
As different information from the object files is required, BFD reads from different sections of the file and processes them. For example, a very common operation for the linker is processing symbol tables. Each BFD back end provides a routine for converting between the object file's representation of symbols and an internal canonical format. When the linker asks for the symbol table of an object file, it calls through a memory pointer to the routine from the relevant BFD back end which reads and converts the table into a canonical form. The linker then operates upon the canonical form. When the link is finished and the linker writes the output file's symbol table, another BFD back end routine is called to take the newly created symbol table and convert it into the chosen output format.