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Chapter: Multicore Application Programming For Windows, Linux, and Oracle Solaris : Coding for Performance

Using Libraries to Structure Applications

Libraries are the usual mechanism for structuring applications as they become larger. There are some good technical reasons to use libraries:

Using Libraries to Structure Applications

Libraries are the usual mechanism for structuring applications as they become larger. There are some good technical reasons to use libraries:


n   Common functionality can be extracted into a library that can be shared between different projects or applications. This can lead to better code reuse, more efficient

use of developer time, and more effective use of memory and disk space.


n   Placing functionality into libraries can lead to more convenient upgrades where only the library is upgraded instead of replacing all the executables that use the library.


n   Libraries can provide better separation between interface and implementation. The implementation details of the library can be hidden from the users, allowing the implementation of the library to evolve while maintaining a consistent interface.


n   Stratifying functionality into libraries according to frequency of use can improve application start-up time and memory footprint by loading only the libraries that are needed. Functionality can be loaded on demand rather than setting up all pos-sible features when the application starts.


n   Libraries can be used as a mechanism to dynamically provide enhanced functional-ity. The functionality can be made available without having to change or even restart the application.


n   Libraries can enable functionality to be selected based on the runtime environ-ment or characteristics of the system. For instance, an application may load differ-ent optimized libraries depending on the underlying hardware or select libraries at runtime depending on the type of work it is being asked to perform.


On the other hand, there are some nontechnical reasons why functionality gets placed into libraries. These reasons may represent the wrong choice for the user.


n   Libraries often represent a convenient product for an organizational unit. One group of developers might be responsible for a particular library of code, but that does not automatically imply that a single library represents the best way for that code to be delivered to the end users.


n   Libraries are also used to group related functionality. For example, an application might contain a library of string-handling functions. Such a library might be appropriate if it contains a large body of code. On the other hand, if it contains only a few small routines, it might be more appropriate to combine it with another library.


There is a strong attraction to breaking applications down into a set of libraries. Libraries make sense for all the reasons outlined previously, but it is quite possible to have either inappropriate splits of functionality or libraries that implement too little functionality.


There are costs associated with libraries. A call into a function provided by a library will typically be more costly than a call into a function that is in the main executable. Code provided in a library may also have more overhead than code provided in the exe-cutable. There are a few contributors to cost:


n   Library calls may be implemented using a table of function addresses. This table may be a list of addresses for the routines included in a library. A library routine

calls into this table, which then jumps to the actual code for the routine.


n   Each library and its data are typically placed onto new TLB entries. Calls into a library will usually also result in an ITLB miss and possibly a DTLB miss if the code accesses library-specific data.


n   If the library is being lazy loaded (that is, loaded into memory on demand), there will be costs associated with disk access and setting up the addresses of the library functions in memory.


n   Unix platforms typically provide libraries as position-independent code. This enables the same library to be shared in memory between multiple running appli-cations. The cost of this is an increase in code length. Windows makes the opposite trade-off; it uses position-dependent code in libraries, reducing the opportunity of sharing libraries between running applications but producing slightly faster code.


Listing 2.9 shows code for two trivial libraries that can be used to examine how memory is laid out at runtime.


Listing 2.9     Defining Two Libraries

$ more liba.c


#include <stdio.h>


void ina()




printf( "In library A\n" );




$ more libb.c


#include <stdio.h>


void inb()




printf( "In library B\n" );




Listing 2.10 shows the process of compiling these two libraries on Solaris.


Listing 2.10   Compiling Two Libraries

$ cc -G -Kpic -o liba.so liba.c

$ cc -G -Kpic -o libb.so libb.c


The compiler flag -G tells the compiler to make a library, while the flag -Kpic tells the compiler to use position-independent code. The advantage of position-independent code is that the library can reside at any location in memory. The same library can even be shared between multiple applications and have each application map it at a different address.


The main program shown in Listing 2.11 will call the code in liba.so and then pause so we can examine the memory layout of the application.


Listing 2.11   Calling Library Code


$ more libmain.c


#include <unistd.h>


void ina(); void inb();


void main()










$ cc libmain.c -L. -R. -la –lb

The compile command in Listing 2.11 builds the main executable. The flag -L tells the linker where to find the library at link time. The flag -R tells the runtime linker where to locate the file at runtime. In the example, these two flags are set to the current directory. The application will link and execute only if the current directory does con-tain the library. However, other approaches are more resilient. Running this application enables us to look at the memory map using the utility pmap. Listing 2.12 shows the memory map.


Listing 2.12   Memory Map of Application and Libraries on Solaris


In the memory map shown in Listing 2.12, each library has at least two mapped seg-ments. The first is mapped with read and execute permissions that contain the code in the library. The second contains data and is mapped with read, write, and execute per-missions. Both libraries are mapped in, even though the code does not contain any calls to libb.so and makes no use of the library. The RSS column indicates that the library has been loaded into memory. The x86 processor uses a 4KB default page size, so pages of memory are allocated in 4KB chunks. Although both liba.so and libb.so contain only a few bytes of code, both libraries are allocated 4KB of memory for instructions. The same is true for data. The concern is that each 4KB will require a single TLB entry for a virtual address to physical address mapping when a routine in that page is called. If liba.so and libb.so had been combined, the functions in the two libraries could have been placed into a single 4KB segment for each of the instructions and data.


It is possible to look at the sequence of events when the application is loaded by set-ting the environment variable LD_DEBUG=flags. Listing 2.13 shows an edited form of the output.


Listing 2.13   Output from Setting the Environment Variable LD_DEBUG=files

$ LD_DEBUG=files ./a.out


01615: file=/export/home/darryl/a.out [ ELF ]; generating link map 01615: file=a.out; analyzing


01615: file=liba.so;  needed by a.out

01615: file=./liba.so [ ELF ]; generating link map


01615: file=libb.so;  needed by a.out

01615: file=./libb.so [ ELF ]; generating link map


01615: file=libc.so.1;        needed by a.out

01615: file=/lib/libc.so.1 [ ELF ]; generating link map


01615: file=./liba.so;        analyzing


01615: file=./libb.so;        analyzing


01615: file=/lib/libc.so.1;         analyzing


01615: 1: transferring control: a.out

This shows the sequence of starting the application, having the runtime linker exam-ine the application, and identifying the need for the libraries liba.so, libb.so, and libc.so.1. Once those libraries are loaded, it examines them for other libraries that might be needed.


The linker performs a sizable amount of work. However, the time spent processing the libraries is likely to be dominated by the time spent fetching them from disk. The more data and instructions a library contains, the more time it will take to read the library from disk. It is possible to use lazy loading to avoid loading libraries from disk until they are actually used. Listing 2.14 shows the application built with lazy loading enabled and the resulting runtime linking.


Listing 2.14   Linking a Library to Use Lazy Loading

$ cc libmain.c -L. -R. -z lazyload -la -lb


$ LD_DEBUG=files ./a.out


01712: file=/export/home/darryl/a.out [ ELF ]; generating link map 01712: file=a.out; analyzing


01712: file=libc.so.1;        needed by a.out


01712: file=/lib/libc.so.1; analyzing 01712: 1: transferring control: a.out


01712: 1: file=liba.so;       lazy loading from file=a.out: symbol=ina


01712: 1: file=./liba.so [ ELF ]; generating link map 01712: 1: file=./liba.so; analyzing


In library A

In this instance, the application runs without loading either liba.so or libb.so up until the point where the symbol ina() is required from the library liba.so. At that point, the runtime linker loads and processes the library. The lazy loading of libraries has meant that the application did not need to load libb.so at all, thus reducing application start-up time.


One more thing to consider for the costs for libraries is the cost of calling code resid-ing in libraries. The easiest way to demonstrate this is to modify the example code so it calls the routine ina() twice and then to use the debugger to examine what happens at runtime. The first call will load the library into memory, but that will happen only once and can be ignored. The second time the routine is called will be representative of all calls to all library routines. Listing 2.15 shows the output from the Solaris Studio debug-ger, dbx, showing execution up until the first call to the routine ina().


Listing 2.15  Execution Until the First Call to the Routine ina

$ dbx a.out


Reading a.out

Reading ld.so.1 Reading libc.so.1 (dbx) stop in main


dbx: warning: 'main' has no debugger info


--will trigger on first instruction


(2)    stop in main


(dbx) run


Running: a.out (process id 1744)


stopped in main at 0x08050ab0 0x08050ab0: main : pushl %ebp (dbx) nexti


stopped in main at 0x08050ab1 0x08050ab1: main+0x0001: movl %esp,%ebp (dbx) nexti


stopped in main at 0x08050ab3


0x08050ab3: main+0x0003: call ina [PLT] [ 0x8050964, .-0x14f ]


At this stage, the application has reached the first call to the routine ina(). As can be seen from the disassembly, this call is actually a call to the procedure linkage table (PLT). This table contains a jump to the actual start address of the routine. However, the first time that the routine is called, the runtime linker will have to load the lazily loaded library from disk. Listing 2.15 earlier skips this first call. Listing 2.16 shows the code as it steps through the second call to the routine ina().


Listing 2.16   Jumping Through the PLT to the Routine ina

(dbx) nexti


Reading liba.so


In library A


stopped in main at 0x08050ab8


0x08050ab8: main+0x0008: call ina [PLT] [ 0x8050964, .-0x154 ]


(dbx) stepi


stopped in (unknown) at 0x08050964


0x08050964: ina [PLT]: jmp *_GLOBAL_OFFSET_TABLE_+0x1c [ 0x8060b24 ] (dbx) stepi


stopped in ina at 0xd2990510


0xd2990510: ina : pushl %ebp

By the second time the call to ina() is encountered, the library has already been loaded, and the call is again into the PLT. Using the debugger to step into the call, we can see that this time the target is a jump instruction to the start of the routine.


All calls to library functions, possibly even those within the library, will end up routed through the PLT. This imposes a small overhead on every call. There are ways to limit the scope of library functions so they are not visible outside the library and so calls within the library to those functions will not need to be routed through the PLT.


The same procedure can be followed on Linux. Listing 2.17 shows the steps necessary to compile the application on Linux.


Listing 2.17   Compiling Libraries and Application on Linux

$ gcc -shared -fpic -o liba.so liba.c $ gcc -shared -fpic -o libb.so libb.c

$ gcc libmain.c `pwd`/liba.so `pwd`/libb.so

Listing 2.18 shows the steps to use the Linux debugger, gdb, to step through the process of calling the library function ina().


Listing 2.18   Stepping Through Library Call on Linux

$ gdb a.out


(gdb) display /i $eip


(gdb) break main


Breakpoint 1 at 0x8048502 (gdb) run


Starting program: /home/darryl/a.out Breakpoint 1, 0x08048502 in main () 0x8048502 <main+14>: sub $0x4,%esp (gdb) nexti

0x8048505 <main+17>: call 0x804841c <ina@plt>


(gdb) nexti


In library A


0x804850a <main+22>: call 0x804841c <ina@plt>


(gdb) stepi


0x804841c <ina@plt>: jmp *0x804a008


(gdb) stepi


0xb7ede42c <ina>: push %ebp

The sequence for Linux shown in Listing 2.18 is basically the same as the sequence for Solaris shown in Listing 2.15 and Listing 2.16. The executable calls into the PLT, and then the application jumps from there into the routine.


The memory map for Linux shown in Listing 2.19 looks very similar to the memory map for Solaris shown in Listing 2.12. In the Linux memory map, both liba.so and libb.so are mapped onto three 4KB pages.


Listing 2.19  Application Memory Map on Linux

Therefore, there is a balance between the convenience of the developers of libraries and the convenience of the libraries’ users. Rough guidelines for when to use libraries are as follows:


n   Libraries make sense when they contain code that is rarely executed. If a substan-tial amount of code does not need to be loaded from disk for the general use of the application, then the load time of the application can be reduced if this func-tionality is placed in a library that is loaded only when needed.


It is useful to place code that is common to multiple applications into shared libraries, particularly if the applications are out of the control of the developers of the libraries. This is the situation with most operating systems, where the applica-tions that use the libraries will be developed separately from the core operating system. Most applications use libc, the C standard library, so it makes sense to deliver this library as a shared library that all applications can use. If the internals of the operating system change or if a bug is fixed, then the libraries can be modified without needing to change the applications that use those libraries. This is a form of encapsulation.


n   Device drivers are usually packaged as libraries. There is a temptation to produce multiple libraries, some of which are core and some of which are device specific. If there is likely to only ever be a single device of a specific type attached to a sys-tem, then it is better to provide a single library. If there are likely to be multiple types of devices attached that all share the common core, then it might be appro-priate to split the code into device-specific and common code.


n   Libraries can also provide dynamically loaded functionality. A library could be released to provide an existing application with new functionality. Placing as much functionality into as few libraries as possible is the most efficient approach, but in many instances the need to dynamically manage functionality will outweigh any overhead induced by packaging the functionality as libraries.


In general, it is best to make libraries lazy loaded when needed rather than have all the libraries load at start-up time. This will improve the application start-up time. Listing 2.20 shows code for a simple library that will be lazy loaded.


Listing 2.20   Simple Library with Initialization Code

#include <stdio.h>


void initialise()




printf( "Initialisation code run\n" );




#pragma init (initialise)


void doStuff()




printf( "Doing stuff\n" );



The application shown in Listing 2.21 uses the library from Listing 2.20.


Listing 2.21   Application That Calls Library Code

#include <stdio.h> void doStuff(); void main()



printf( "Application now running\n" ); doStuff();


printf( "Application now exiting\n" );



Listing 2.22 shows the results of compiling, linking, and running this application on Solaris without lazy loading.


Listing 2.22   Using Library Code Without Lazy Loading

$ cc -O -G -o liba.so liba.c


$ cc -O -o main main.c -L. -R. -la


$ ./main


Initialisation code run


Application now running


Doing stuff


Application now exiting

Listing 2.23 shows the same test but with the library being lazy loaded.


Listing 2.23   Using Library Code with Lazy Loading

$ cc -O -G -o liba.so liba.c


$ cc -O -o main main.c -L. -R. -zlazyload -la


$ ./main


Application now running


Initialisation code run


Doing stuff


Application now exiting


This change in the linking has enabled the library to be loaded after the application has started. Therefore, the start-up time of the application is not increased by having to load the library first. It is not a significant issue for the example code, which uses one small library, but can be a significant issue when multiple large libraries need to be loaded before the application can start.


There is one situation where libraries that are tagged as being lazy loaded are loaded anyway. If an application needs to find a symbol and the application was not explicitly linked with the library containing that object at compile time, then the application will load all the dependent libraries in order to resolve any unresolved symbols, undoing the usefulness of lazy loading. Suppose we add a second library that prints the message “Library B initializing” when it is loaded but contains no other code. Listing 2.24 shows the command line to compile this library to have a lazy-loaded dependence on liba.


Listing 2.24   Compiling libb to Have a Lazy-Loaded Dependence on liba

$ cc -O -G -o libb.so libb.c -zlazyload -R. -L. –la


The next step, shown in Listing 2.25, is to deliberately link the application so that it lazy loads libb but does not have a dependence on liba. This would usually cause the linker to fail with an unresolved symbol error, but we can switch that safety check off using the -znodefs flag.


Listing 2.25   Compiling the Application to Only Recode the Dependence on libb

$ cc -O -G -o main main.c -zlazyload -znodefs -R. -L. –lb


The resulting application contains an unresolved symbol for ina() but has a lazy-loaded dependence on libb. When the application is run, it will be unable to resolve the symbol ina(), so the runtime linker will start loading all the lazy-loaded libraries. Once it has loaded libb, it will then lazy load the dependencies of libb, where it will finally load liba and locate the routine ina(). Listing 2.26 shows the resulting output.


Listing 2.26  Output Showing libb Being Lazy Loaded as Part of Search for doStuff()

$ ./main


Application now running


Library B initialising


Initialisation code run


Doing stuff


Application now exiting


The other reason that lazy loading would be unsuccessful is if the code is not opti-mally distributed between the libraries. If each library requires code from another in order to work, then there is no way that a subset can be loaded without pulling them all into the application. Therefore, the distribution of code between the libraries is a critical factor in managing the start-up time of an application.

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