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What is a linker, and what are dynamic and static linking?

Link editors are commonly known as linkers. The compiler automatically invokes the linker as the last step in compiling a program. The linker inserts code (or maps in shared libraries) to resolve program library references, and/or combines object modules into an executable image suitable for loading into memory. On Unix-like systems, the linker is typically invoked with the ld command.

Static linking is the result of the linker copying all library routines used in the program into the executable image. This may require more disk space and memory than dynamic linking, but is both faster and more portable, since it does not require the presence of the library on the system where it is run.

Dynamic linking is accomplished by placing the name of a sharable library in the executable image. Actual linking with the library routines does not occur until the image is run, when both the executable and the library are placed in memory. An advantage of dynamic linking is that multiple programs can share a single copy of the library.

This document was developed with support from National Science Foundation (NSF) grant OCI-1053575. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.

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Last modified on September 05, 2013.

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