Executable and Linkable Format

Infobox file format
name = ELF
extension = none, .o, .so, .elf
mime =
owner = Unix System Laboratories
genre = Binary, executable, object, shared libraries, core dump
container for =
contained by =
extended from =
extended to =
In computing, the Executable and Linking Format (ELF, formerly called Extensible Linking Format) is a common standard file format for executables, object code, shared libraries, and core dumps. First published in the System V Application Binary Interface specification, [" [http://www.caldera.com/developers/devspecs/gabi41.pdf System V Application Binary Interface] " Edition 4.1 (1997-03-18)] and later in the Tool Interface Standard, [Tool Interface Standard (TIS) " [http://x86.ddj.com/ftp/manuals/tools/elf.pdf Executable and Linking Format (ELF) Specification] Version 1.2" (May 1995)] it was quickly accepted among different vendors of Unix systems. In 1999 it was chosen as the standard binary file format for Unix and Unix-like systems on x86 by the 86open project.

Unlike many other proprietary executable file formats, ELF is very flexible and extensible, and it is not bound to any particular processor or architecture. This has allowed it to be adopted by many different operating systems on many different platforms.

The ELF format has replaced older executable formats such as a.out and COFF in many Unix-like operating systems such as Linux, Solaris, IRIX, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, DragonFly BSD, Syllable, and HP-UX (except for 32-bit PA-RISC programs which continue to use SOM). ELF has also seen some adoption in non-Unix operating systems, such as the Itanium version of OpenVMS, and BeOS Revision 4 and later for x86 based computers (where it replaced the Portable Executable format; the PowerPC version stayed with Preferred Executable Format). The PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii and GP2X consoles also use ELF. AmigaOS 4.0 and MorphOS also running on PowerPC machines, use ELF. On the Amiga platform the ELF executable has replaced the previous EHF (Extended Hunk Format) which was used on Amigas equipped with PPC processor expansion cards. The Symbian OS v9 uses E32Image [" [http://wiki.forum.nokia.com/index.php/E32Image Symbian OS executable file format] "] format that is based on ELF file format.

Most Sony Ericsson (for example, the W800i, W610, K790, etc.), some Siemens (SGOLD and SGOLD2 platforms: from Siemens C65 to S75 and BenQ-Siemens E71/EL71) and Motorola (for example, the E398, SLVR L7, v360, v3i and all phone LTE2 which has the patch apply) phones can run ELF files through the use of a patch that adds assembly code to the main firmware (Known as the "ELFPack", in the underground modding culture).

The ELF file format is also used as a generic object and executable format for binary images used with embedded processorsFact|date=June 2008.

ELF file layout

Each ELF file is made up of one ELF header, followed by file data. The file data can include:

* Program header table, describing zero or more segments
* Section header table, describing zero or more sections
* Data referred to by entries in the program header table, or the section header table

The segments contain information that is necessary for runtime execution of the file, while sections contain important data for linking and relocation. Each byte in the entire file is taken by no more than one section at a time, but there can be orphan bytes, which are not covered by a section. In the normal case of a Unix executable one or more sections are enclosed in one segment.


*readelf is a Unix binary utility that displays information about one or more ELF files. A GPL implementation is provided by GNU Binutils.
*elfdump is a Solaris command for viewing ELF information in an elf file.
*objdump provides a wide range of information about ELF files and other object formats.


* Generic:
** " [http://www.linux-foundation.org/spec/book/ELF-generic/ELF-generic/book1.html Generic ELF Specification] " (an update document, not the complete ELF spec)
** " [http://www.caldera.com/developers/devspecs/gabi41.pdf System V Application Binary Interface] " Edition 4.1 (1997-03-18)
** " [http://www.caldera.com/developers/gabi/2003-12-17/contents.html System V ABI Update] " (December 2003)
** " [http://downloads.openwatcom.org/ftp/devel/docs/elf-64-gen.pdf ELF-64 Object File Format] " Version 1.5 Draft 2 (May 1998)
* AMD64:
** " [http://www.linux-foundation.org/spec/book/ELF-AMD64/ELF-AMD64/book1.html ELF Specification for the AMD64 Architecture] "
** " [http://www.x86-64.org/documentation/abi.pdf System V ABI, AMD64 Supplement] "
* ARM [ [http://www.arm.com/products/DevTools/ABI.html Application Binary Interface (ABI) for the ARM Architecture] ] :
** " [http://infocenter.arm.com/help/topic/com.arm.doc.ihi0044b/IHI0044B_aaelf.pdf ELF for the ARM Architecture] "
* IA32:
** " [http://www.linux-foundation.org/spec/book/ELF-IA32/ELF-IA32/book1.html ELF Specification for the IA32 Architecture] "
** " [http://www.caldera.com/developers/devspecs/abi386-4.pdf System V ABI, IA32 Supplement] "
* IA64:
** " [http://www.linux-foundation.org/spec/book/ELF-IA64/ELF-IA64/book1.html ELF Specification for the IA64 Architecture] "
** " [http://refspecs.freestandards.org/IA64conventions.pdf Itanium Software Conventions and Runtime Guide] " (September 2000)
* M32R:
** " [http://www.linux-foundation.org/spec/book/ELF-M32R/ELF-M32R/book1.html ELF Specification for the M32R Architecture] "
** " [http://www.linux-m32r.org/cmn/m32r/M32R-elf-abi.pdf M32R ELF ABI Supplement] " Version 1.2 (2004-08-26)
** " [http://www.caldera.com/developers/devspecs/mipsabi.pdf System V ABI, MIPS RISC Processor Supplement] "
** " [http://sources.redhat.com/ml/binutils/2003-06/msg00436.html MIPS EABI documentation] " (2003-06-11)
* Motorola 6800:
** " [http://www.uclibc.org/cgi-bin/viewcvs.cgi/trunk/docs/psABI-m8-16.pdf?rev=10808 Motorola 8 and 16 bit Embedded ABI] "
** " [http://devresource.hp.com/drc/STK/docs/refs/elf-pa.pdf Processor-Specific ELF Supplement for PA-RISC] "
** " [http://devresource.hp.com/drc/STK/docs/archive/pa64rt.pdf 64-bit PA-RISC Run-time Architecture] " Version 3.3 (1997-10-06)
* PowerPC:
** " [http://www.linux-foundation.org/spec/book/ELF-PPC32/ELF-PPC32/book1.html ELF Specification for the PPC32 Architecture] "
** " [http://refspecs.freestandards.org/elf/elfspec_ppc.pdf System V ABI, PPC Supplement]
** " [http://ftp.twaren.net/Unix/Sourceware/binutils/ppc-docs/ppc-eabi-1995-01.pdf PowerPC Embedded Application Binary Interface] 32-Bit Implementation" (1995-10-01)
** " [http://www.linux-foundation.org/spec/book/ELF-PPC64/ELF-PPC64/book1.html ELF Specification for the PPC64 Architecture] "
** " [http://www.linuxbase.org/spec/ELF/ppc64/PPC-elf64abi-1.9.html 64-bit PowerPC ELF Application Binary Interface Supplement] " Version 1.9 (2004)
** " [http://www.sparc.org/standards/psABI3rd.pdf System V ABI, SPARC Supplement] "
* S/390:
** " [http://www.linux-foundation.org/spec/book/ELF-S390/ELF-S390/book1.html ELF Specification for the S390 Architecture] "
** " [http://www.linux-foundation.org/spec/ELF/zSeries/lzsabi0_s390/book1.html S/390 ELF ABI Supplement]
* zSeries:
** " [http://www.linux-foundation.org/spec/book/ELF-S390X/ELF-S390X/book1.html ELF Specification for the S390X Architecture] "
** " [http://www.linux-foundation.org/spec/ELF/zSeries/lzsabi0_zSeries.pdf zSeries ELF ABI Supplement] "
* Symbian OS 9:
** " [http://wiki.forum.nokia.com/index.php/E32Image_file_format_on_Symbian_OS_9 E32Image file format on Symbian OS 9] "


86open was a project to form consensus on a common binary file format for Unix and Unix-like operating systems on the common PC compatible x86 architecture, so as to encourage software developers to port to the architecture. [cite web
url = http://www.telly.org/86open-faq
title = 86Open Frequently-Asked Questions
accessdate = 2007-06-06
last = Leibovitch
first = Evan
authorlink =
coauthors =
date = 1997-12-23

The format eventually chosen was ELF, specifically the Linux implementation of ELF, after it had turned out to be a "de facto" standard supported by all involved vendors and operating systems.


The group started email discussions in 1997 and first met in person at the Santa Cruz Operation offices on 1997-08-22.

The steering committee was Marc Ewing, Dion Johnson, Evan Leibovitch, Bruce Perens, Andrew Roach, Bryan Sparks and Linus Torvalds. Other people on the project were Tim Bird, Keith Bostic, Chuck Cranor, Michael Davidson, Chris G. Demetriou, Ulrich Drepper, Don Dugger, Steve Ginzburg, Jon "maddog" Hall, Ron Holt, Jordan Hubbard, Dave Jensen, Kean Johnston, Andrew Josey, Robert Lipe, Bela Lubkin, Tim Marsland, Greg Page, Ronald Joe Record, Tim Ruckle, Joel Silverstein, Chia-pi Tien and Erik Troan. Operating systems and companies represented were BeOS, BSDI, FreeBSD, Linux, NetBSD, SCO and SunSoft, Inc..

The project progressed and in mid-1998, SCO began assisting in the development of lxrun, an open-source compatibility layer capable of running Linux binaries on OpenServer, UnixWare, and Solaris. SCO announced official support of lxrun at LinuxWorld in March 1999. Sun Microsystems began officially supporting lxrun for Solaris in early 1999, [cite web
url = http://www.mavetju.org/mail/view_message.php?list=freebsd-emulation&id=361608
title = Bulletin on status of 86open at SCO
accessdate = 2008-05-06
last = Record
first = Ronald
date = 1998-05-21
] and has since moved to integrated support of the Linux binary format via Solaris Containers for Linux Applications.

With the BSDs having long supported Linux binaries and the main x86 Unix vendors having added support for the format, the project decided that Linux ELF was the format chosen by the industry and "declare [d] itself dissolved" on July 25, 1999. [cite web
url = http://www.telly.org/86open/
title = The86open Project - FINAL UPDATE
accessdate = 2007-05-06
last = Leibovitch
first = Evan
date = 1999-07-25

ee also

* DWARF - Debug With Attributed Record Format
* Application binary interface


Further reading

*cite book
title = Linkers and Loaders
author = John R. Levine
month = October
year = 1999
publisher = Morgan-Kauffman
isbn = 1-55860-496-0
url= http://www.iecc.com/linker/

*cite paper
title = How To Write Shared Libraries
author = Ulrich Drepper
version = 4.0
date = 2006-08-20
url = http://people.redhat.com/drepper/dsohowto.pdf
accessdate = 2007-06-20

* " [http://www-128.ibm.com/developerworks/power/library/pa-spec12/ An unsung hero: The hardworking ELF] " by Peter Seebach (2005-12-20)
* " [http://developers.sun.com/solaris/articles/elf.html LibElf and GElf — A Library to Manipulate ELF Files] " by Neelakanth Nadgir (August 2001)
* " [http://www.linuxjournal.com/node/1060/print The ELF Object File Format by Dissection] " by Eric Youngdale (1995-05-01)
* " [http://www.muppetlabs.com/~breadbox/software/tiny/teensy.html A Whirlwind Tutorial on Creating Really Teensy ELF Executables for Linux] " by Brian Raiter
* [http://www.phrack.org/issues.html?issue=61&id=8#article ELF relocation into non-relocatable objects] by Julien Vanegue (2003-08-13)
* [http://www.phrack.org/issues.html?issue=63&id=9#article Embedded ELF debugging without ptrace] by the ELFsh team (2005-08-01)

External links

* [http://ou800doc.caldera.com/en/man/html.3elf/CONTENTS.html Elf library routines]
* [http://www.mr511.de/software/english.html LGPL ELF object file access library]
* [http://elfio.sourceforge.net/ ELFIO: a C++ library for reading and generating files in the ELF binary format.]
* [http://www.freebsd.org/doc/en_US.ISO8859-1/books/handbook/binary-formats.html FreeBSD Handbook — Binary formats]
* [http://www.cs.ucdavis.edu/~haungs/paper/node10.html Description of the ELF binary format]
* [http://www.freebsd.org/cgi/man.cgi?query=elf&sektion=5 FreeBSD elf(5) manual page]
* [http://www.netbsd.org/Documentation/elf.html NetBSD ELF FAQ]
* [http://docs.sun.com/app/docs/doc/802-6319/6ia12qkfn?l=en&a=view Sun's Linker and Libraries Guide]
* [http://www.eresi-project.org The ERESI project : reverse engineering on ELF-based operating systems]

x86open Links

* [http://www.linuxtoday.com/developer/1999072600605PS Linux Today article on 86open] July 26, 1999
* [http://lists.debian.org/debian-announce/1997/msg00028.html Announcement of 86open on Debian Announce mailing list] October 10, 1997, Bruce Perens
* [http://www.groklaw.net/pdf/IBM-835-Exhibit_184.pdf Declaration of Ulrich Drepper (PDF)] in The SCO Group vs IBM, September 19, 2006
* [http://www.groklaw.net/articlebasic.php?story=20060813114048520 86open and ELF discussion] on Groklaw, August 13, 2006

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