What is static linking in C?

An example of static linking. We have a library and a main program:

// lib.c
int add(int a, int b) { return a + b; }
#include <stdio.h>
int add(int, int);
int main() {
  printf("2+3=%d\n", add(2,3));
  return 0;
}

The main program declares the existence of the functions in the library. The library defines those functions. We can compile these separately into their own .o files, then link them together into an executable:

$ clang -c main.c -o main.o
$ clang -c lib.c -o lib.o
$ clang main.o lib.o
$ ./a.out
2+3=5

The linking phase (which here we do with clang) looks at the symbols in the object files. We can show those symbols using nm:

$ nm main.o
                 U _add
0000000000000000 T _main
                 U _printf
$ nm lib.o
0000000000000000 T _add

The output from nm is unclear. Here’s how to read it:

$ nm main.o
_add is undefined
_main is defined in the text section at 0000000000000000
_printf is undefined
$ nm lib.o
_add is defined in the text section at 0000000000000000

The linker works purely with names such as _add and _printf. The linker is not aware of types. If two object files have different expectations from the symbol, the program will not behave. For example, changing main.c to the following causes no compilation errors, but causes a segmentation fault when running:

#include <stdio.h>
char* add(char*, char*);
int main() {
  printf("%s\n", add("foo","bar"));
  return 0;
}

I wrote this because I felt like it. This post is not associated with my employer.