Different behavior of linking between Clang and GCC.

Different behavior of linkage for C and C++

For the following program:

#include <math.h>
#include <stdio.h>

int main() {

    printf("e^{1} = %f\n", exp(1));
    return 0;

If we compile the program with clang test.c -o test, compilation failed with the following error:

/tmp/test-32c2ea.o: In function `main':
test.c:(.text+0x18): undefined reference to `exp'
clang-11: error: linker command failed with exit code 1 (use -v to see invocation)

This is totally expected since we use exp() function here, which is implemented in the shared object libm.so. It seems that for clang, the linker will not link against libm.so by default. In order to compile the program, we need to explicitly link libm.so:

clang test.c -lm -o test

One explanation for the separation of libm.so and libc.so is that in the early days of computing, floating point calculation is expensive. People use various workarounds for floating point calculations. It makes no sense to intergrate math functions into libc.so. It makes libc.so larger with little benefit. As computer hardware upgrades with time, the separation of libm and libc does not make much sense any more.

However, if we translate the above program to C++:

#include <iostream>
#include <cmath>

int main() {

    std::cout << "e^{1} = " << std:: exp(1) << std::endl;
    return 0;

we can actually compile the program without linking against libm:

clang++ test.cc -o test

The outpt of command ldd test is:

> ldd test
        linux-vdso.so.1 =>  (0x00007ffd009a4000)
        libstdc++.so.6 => /usr/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libstdc++.so.6 (0x00002b4d4d13c000)
        libm.so.6 => /lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libm.so.6 (0x00002b4d4d51f000)
        libgcc_s.so.1 => /lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libgcc_s.so.1 (0x00002b4d4d828000)
        libc.so.6 => /lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/libc.so.6 (0x00002b4d4da40000)
        /lib64/ld-linux-x86-64.so.2 (0x00002b4d4cf14000)

So libm.so is actually implicitly linked. According to post here, for C++ programs, since libstdc++.so requires libm.so, so libm.so will be implicitly linked even if you haven’t instructed its linkage1.

Some libraries are linked by default.

It is interesting that shared object like libc.so2 is linked even if we haven’t specified that. This behaviour can be disabled by providing the -nostdlib option:

clang -nostdlib test.c -o test

You will now see an error message about undefined printf():

test.c:(.text+0x29): undefined reference to `printf'


Different between GCC and Clang on linkage

You might think that GCC will also fail if we compile the test.c without linking libm, but it is not true. The following command runs without error for gcc 4.8.0 and 7.5.0 on my servers:

gcc test.c -o test

This is because GCC uses its builtin implementation of some standard C library functions to produce faster and smaller executables. According to post here, we can use -fno-builtin to disable this behavior. We can also use -fno-builtin-somefunc to disable a single function named somefunc. Take the above test.c for an example, the following command will result in compilation error:

gcc -fno-builtin-sqrt test.c -o test
# adding -lm will fix the compilation errors.
# gcc -fno-builtin-sqrt test.c -lm -o test


  1. The original post is about GCC, I guess the same is true for clang++? ↩︎

  2. libc provides the implementation for functions like printf() and fopen(). ↩︎