The linker accesses object and archive files using the BFD libraries.
These libraries allow the linker to use the same routines to operate on
object files whatever the object file format. A different object file
format can be supported simply by creating a new BFD back end and adding
it to the library. To conserve runtime memory, however, the linker and
associated tools are usually configured to support only a subset of the
object file formats available. You can use
(see objdump in The GNU Binary Utilities) to
list all the formats available for your configuration.
As with most implementations, BFD is a compromise between several conflicting requirements. The major factor influencing BFD design was efficiency: any time used converting between formats is time which would not have been spent had BFD not been involved. This is partly offset by abstraction payback; since BFD simplifies applications and back ends, more time and care may be spent optimizing algorithms for a greater speed.
One minor artifact of the BFD solution which you should bear in mind is the potential for information loss. There are two places where useful information can be lost using the BFD mechanism: during conversion and during output. See Information Loss.