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3.1 Basic Linker Script Concepts

We need to define some basic concepts and vocabulary in order to describe the linker script language.

The linker combines input files into a single output file. The output file and each input file are in a special data format known as an object file format. Each file is called an object file. The output file is often called an executable, but for our purposes we will also call it an object file. Each object file has, among other things, a list of sections. We sometimes refer to a section in an input file as an input section; similarly, a section in the output file is an output section.

Each section in an object file has a name and a size. Most sections also have an associated block of data, known as the section contents. A section may be marked as loadable, which means that the contents should be loaded into memory when the output file is run. A section with no contents may be allocatable, which means that an area in memory should be set aside, but nothing in particular should be loaded there (in some cases this memory must be zeroed out). A section which is neither loadable nor allocatable typically contains some sort of debugging information.

Every loadable or allocatable output section has two addresses. The first is the VMA, or virtual memory address. This is the address the section will have when the output file is run. The second is the LMA, or load memory address. This is the address at which the section will be loaded. In most cases the two addresses will be the same. An example of when they might be different is when a data section is loaded into ROM, and then copied into RAM when the program starts up (this technique is often used to initialize global variables in a ROM based system). In this case the ROM address would be the LMA, and the RAM address would be the VMA.

You can see the sections in an object file by using the objdump program with the ‘-h’ option.

Every object file also has a list of symbols, known as the symbol table. A symbol may be defined or undefined. Each symbol has a name, and each defined symbol has an address, among other information. If you compile a C or C++ program into an object file, you will get a defined symbol for every defined function and global or static variable. Every undefined function or global variable which is referenced in the input file will become an undefined symbol.

You can see the symbols in an object file by using the nm program, or by using the objdump program with the ‘-t’ option.

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