Linker notes on AArch32

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

This article describes target-specific details about AArch32 in ELF linkers. I described AArch64 in a previous article.

AArch32 is the 32-bit execution state for the Arm architecture and runs the A32 and T32 instruction sets. A32 refers to the old ISA with a 32-bit fixed width, while T32 refers to the mixed 16-bit and 32-bit Thumb2 instructions.

"AArch32", "A32", and "T32" are new names. Many projects use "ARM", "Arm", or "arm" as their port name.

ABI documents

Global Offset Table

The Global Offset Table consists of two sections:

  • .got.plt holds code addresses for PLT.
  • .got holds other addresses and offsets.

The symbol _GLOBAL_OFFSET_TABLE_ is defined at the beginning of the .got section. GNU ld reserves a single entry for .got and .got[0] holds the link-time address of _DYNAMIC for a legacy reason Versions of glibc prior to 2.35 have the _DYNAMIC requirement. See All about Global Offset Table.

Procedure Linkage Table

The PLT header looks like:

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L1: str lr, [sp, #-4]!
add lr, pc, #0x0NN00000 &(.got.plt - L1 - 4)
add lr, lr, #0x000NN000 &(.got.plt - L1 - 4)
ldr pc, [lr, #0x00000NNN] &(.got.plt -L1 - 4)

If .git.plt-.plt-4 exceeds the +-128MiB range, a long-form PLT header is needed.

In binutils, bfd/elf32-arm.c:elf32_thumb2_plt_entry supports a PLT scheme for Thumb2 (https://sourceware.org/PR16017). For MMU-less microcontroller processors that only support Thumb instructions, the use cases are unclear since System V style dynamic linking is unavailable. FDPIC is needed instead.

Cortex-M Security Extensions

--cmse-implib

This option is for linker support for the Cortex-M Security Extensions (CMSE). It does two jobs:

  • synthesize secure gateway veneers
  • write a CMSE import library when --out-implib= is specified

If a non-local symbol __acle_se_$sym is present, report an error if $sym is not defined. Otherwise $sym is considered a secure gateway veneer. Both __acle_se_$sym and $sym must be a non-absolute function with an odd st_value.

If the addresses of __acle_se_$sym and $sym are not equal, the linker considers that there is an inline secure gateway and doesn't do anything special; otherwise the linker synthesizes a secure gateway veneer in a special section .gnu.sgstubs with the following logic.

The linker allocates an input section in .gnu.sgstubs and defines $sym relative to it. In the output file, $sym is moved to .gnu.sgstubs, a different text section.

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<.gnu.sgstubs>:
...
$sym:
sg
b.w __acle_se_$sym

If --in-implib is specified and the library defines $sym (say the address is $addr), in the output $sym has a fixed address of $addr. Otherwise, the linker assigns an address (larger than all synthesized secure gateway veneers with fixed addresses).

--out-implib=out.lib

Used with --cmse-implib. Write the CMSE import library to out.lib.

out.lib will have 3 sections: .symtab, .strtab, .shstrtab. For every synthesized Secure Gateway veneer, write a SHN_ABS symbol whose address is $addr (if specified by the --in-implib library) or the linker-assigned address. (The CMSE import library does not contain text sections, so a defined symbol has to use SHN_ABS.)

Thread Local Storage

AArch32 uses a variant of TLS Variant I: the static TLS blocks are placed above the thread pointer. The thread pointer points to the end of the thread control block.

The linker doesn't perform TLS optimization.

The traditional general dynamic and local dynamic TLS models are used by default. There is a TLSDESC ABI.

See All about thread-local storage.

Thunks

A destination not reachable by the branch instruction needs a range extension thunk. ARM and Thumb state changes need a thunk as well.

v4, v4T

ARMv4T introduced the 16-bit Thumb instruction set. These processors do not support BLX. ARM/Thumb state change must be done using BX.

In the ARM state, the relocation types R_ARM_PC24/R_ARM_PLT32/R_ARM_JUMP24/R_ARM_CALL may need range extension or state change. lld 16.0.0 has added thunk support for Thumb. We can build Game Boy Advance or Nintendo DS roms using Thumb code with ld.lld.

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// ARM to ARM, absolute
ldr pc, [pc, #-4]
L1: .word S

// ARM to Thumb, absolute
ldr r12, [pc] ; L1
bx r12
L1: .word S

// ARM to ARM, position-independent
ldr ip, [pc]
L1: add pc, pc, ip
.word S - (L1 + 8)

// ARM to Thumb, position-independent
ldr ip, [pc]
L1: add ip, pc, ip
bx ip
.word S - (L1 + 8)

R_ARM_THM_CALL

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// Thumb to ARM, absolute
bx
b #-6
ldr pc, [pc, #-4]
L1: .word S

// Thumb to Thumb, absolute
bx
b #-6
ldr ip, [pc]
bx ip
L1: .word S

// Thumb to ARM, position-independent
bx
b #-6
ldr ip, [pc, #]
L1: add ip, pc, ip
L2: .word S - (L1 + 8)

// Thumb to Thumb, position-independent
bx
b #-6
ldr ip, [pc, #-4]
L1: add ip, pc, ip
bx ip
L2: .word S - (L1 + 8)

v5, v6, v6-K, v6-KZ

These are pre-Cortex processors that support BLX, but not Thumb branch range extension or MOVT/MOVW.

There is no Thumb branch instruction in ARMv5 that supports thunks. LDR can switch processor states.

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// absolute (LDR can switch processor states)
ldr pc, [pc, #-4]
.word S

// position-independent
ldr ip, [pc, #4]
L1: add ip, pc, ip
bx ip
.word S - (L1 + 8)

v6-M

Only Thumb instructions are supported. These processors support BLX and J1 J2 encodings (branch range extension), but not MOVT/MOVW.

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// near
b.w S

// far, absolute
push {r0, r1}
ldr r0, [pc, #4]
str r0, [sp, #4]
pop {r0, pc}
.word S

// far, position-independent
push {r0}
ldr r0, [pc, #8]; L2
mov ip, r0
pop {r0}
L1: add pc, ip
nop
L2: .word S - (L1 + 4)

v6T2, v7 (v7-A, v7-R, v7-M, v7E-M) and newer

ARMv6T2 introduced Thumb-2. These processors support BLX/MOVT/MOVW and Thumb branch range extension. (All architectures used in Cortex processors with the exception of v6-M and v6S-M have the MOVT/MOVW instructions.)

A pair of MOVT/MOVT instructions may materialize:

  • a 32-bit immediate (e.g. absolute address) using R_ARM_MOVT_ABS/R_ARM_MOVW_ABS_NC relocations,
  • a PC-relative address using R_ARM_MOVT_PREL/R_ARM_MOVW_PREL_NC relocations,
  • or a static-base-relative address using R_ARM_MOVT_BREL/R_ARM_MOVW_BREL_NC relocations.

In ELF, R_ARM_MOVT_PREL/R_ARM_MOVW_PREL_NC are not utilized when materializing a local symbol address. https://bugs.llvm.org/show_bug.cgi?id=28229 However, this should be a concern as R_ARM_MOVT_BREL/R_ARM_MOVW_BREL_NC are used by ROPI/RWPI.

In the ARM state, these relocation types R_ARM_PC24, R_ARM_PLT32, R_ARM_JUMP24, R_ARM_CALL may need thunk for range extension or state change.

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// near and the destination is in the ARM state
b S

// absolute
movw ip, :lower16:S
movt ip, :upper16:S
bx ip

// position-independent
movw ip, :lower16:S-(L1+8)
movt ip, :upper16:S-(L1+8)
L1: add ip, ip, pc
bx ip

In the Thumb state, these relocation types R_ARM_THM_JUMP19, R_ARM_THM_JUMP24, R_ARM_THM_CALL may need thunk for range extension or state change.

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// near and the destination is in the Thumb state
b.w S

// absolute
movw ip, :lower16:S
movt ip, :upper16:S
bx ip

// position-independent
movw ip, :lower16:S-(L1+4)
movt ip, :upper16:S-(L1+4)
L1: add ip, ip, pc
bx ip

--fix-cortex-a8

This option enables a linker workaround for Arm Cortex-A8 Errata 657417. Linkers scan a 4-byte Thumb-2 branch instruction (Bcc.w, B.w, BLX.w, BL.w) that spans two 4KiB pages, and the target address of the branch falls within the first region. The branch instruction follows a 4-byte non-branch instruction. This may result in an incorrect instruction fetch or processor deadlock.

Oncea erratum condition is detected, linkers try to rewrite it into an alternative code sequence. See the comments in the implementations for detail.

SHT_ARM_ATTRIBUTES

Usually named .ARM.attributes.

SHT_ARM_EXIDX (.ARM.exidx) and .ARM.extab

See Stack unwinding

--be8

When linking big-endian images there are the deprecated BE-32 mode (word-invariant addressing big-endian mode) and the new BE-8 mode (byte-invariant addressing big-endian mode).

BE-32 is used by older architectures like arm7tdmi and arm926ej-s.

For ARMv6-M, ARMv7, and later architectures the default is BE8. The relocatable object files have big-endian code and data. Compiler drivers pass --be8 to the linker to to convert big-endian code to little-endian.

The linker finds $a/$t/%t mapping symbols to locate ARM and Thumb code and perform byte swapping. ARM code is reversed as 4-byte units, Thumb code is reversed as 2-byte units, while data is unchanged. The linker sets the EF_ARM_BE8 flag in the ELF header.

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cat > a.s <<e
.syntax unified
.cpu arm1176jzf-s

.text
.globl _start
.type _start,%function
_start:
bl thumbfunc
bx lr
.word 0x12345678

.thumb
.section .text.2, "ax", %progbits
.globl thumbfunc
.type thumbfunc,%function
thumbfunc:
bx lr
e
clang --target=armeb-none-linux-gnueabi -c a.s
arm-linux-gnueabihf-ld -EB --be8 a.o -o a

a.o and a have data (.word) of the same endianness, but a has little-endian instructions.

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% llvm-objdump -s -d -j .text -j .text.2 a.o

a.o: file format elf32-bigarm
Contents of section .text:
0000 ebfffffe e12fff1e 12345678 ...../...4Vx
Contents of section .text.2:
0000 4770 Gp

Disassembly of section .text:

00000000 <_start>:
0: ebfffffe bl 0x0 <_start> @ imm = #-0x8
4: e12fff1e bx lr

00000008 <$d.1>:
8: 12 34 56 78 .word 0x12345678

Disassembly of section .text.2:

00000000 <thumbfunc>:
0: 4770 bx lr
% llvm-objdump -s -d -j .text a

a: file format elf32-bigarm
Contents of section .text:
10058 020000eb 1eff2fe1 12345678 70470000 ....../..4VxpG..
10068 00c09fe5 1cff2fe1 00010065 00000000 ....../....e....

Disassembly of section .text:

00010058 <_start>:
10058: eb000002 bl 0x10068 <__thumbfunc_from_arm> @ imm = #0x8
1005c: e12fff1e bx lr

00010060 <$d.1>:
10060: 12 34 56 78 .word 0x12345678

00010064 <thumbfunc>:
10064: 4770 bx lr
10066: 0000 movs r0, r0

00010068 <__thumbfunc_from_arm>:
10068: e59fc000 ldr r12, [pc] @ 0x10070 <__thumbfunc_from_arm+0x8>
1006c: e12fff1c bx r12

00010070 <$d>:
10070: 00 01 00 65 .word 0x00010065
10074: 00 00 00 00 .word 0x00000000
% readelf -h a
...
Flags: 0x5800200, Version5 EABI, soft-float ABI, BE8

Static base

Several relocation types encode an static base relative offset, e.g. R_ARM_GOT_BREL.

FDPIC ABI

https://github.com/mickael-guene/fdpic_doc/blob/master/abi.txt