If you split up code into different libraries you can get a diamond dependency problem. That is you have two parts of your code that depend on different incompatible versions of the same library.

Diamond problem

Normally you shouldn’t get in this situation. Only someone who hates their users makes a non backwards compatible change to a library ABI. You don’t hate your users, do you?


I thought I’d dive into this problem as a weekend project. Don’t rely on this article as a source of truth, but please correct me where I’m wrong. I’m not an expert in creating shared libraries, and it’s much harder that it would first appear. The existence of libtool proves that.

Example project described can be found here.

Multiple versions of the same library

The lovely land of modern Unix will allow you to have multiple versions of the same library installed at the same time. That’s not the problem. The problem is that when you load the libraries all the symbols are resolved inside the same namespace. There can’t be two versions in use of the same function with the same name, even if they are in different libraries (well, it won’t work the way you want it to). You can’t choose which one to see from different code. (see breadth first search description this article about ld.so GNU linker/loader for details).

The scenario

In this scenario there are three separate libraries:

  • libd1 - Calls functions in libd2 and libbase version 1. File name is simply libd1.so.
  • libd2 - Calls functions in libd1 and libbase version 2. File name is simply libd2.so. (cross dependency between libd1 and libd2)
  • libbase - This is the library that made non backwards compatible changes between version 1 and 2. Files are libbase.so.1.0 and libbase.so.2.0, with traditional symlinks from libbase.so.[12]. The important bit here is that the two versions are to be considered incompatible and must both be usable in the same process at the same time.

And the executable p which links to libd1 and libd2.

What we want to achieve is to have libd1 and libd2 be able to call functions in libbase, but to have them call different versions. Both libbase.so.1 and libbase.so.2 should be loaded and active (have their functions callable).

What normally happens

When you link an executable with -lfoo the linker finds libfoo.so and verifies that it (along with default libraries) contain all the symbols that are currently unresolved. Linking shared objects (DSO, .so files) is similar, except there’s no requirement that all symbols are resolved. If an unresolved symbol exists in more than one library then only one is actually used. You can’t therefore link two overlapping ABIs, even indirectly via an intermediate dependency. Well, you can, but are you comfortable with one of them being “hidden”? (which one is not important for this article)

Both versions of the library can therefore be loaded, but if they overlap then one will hide the other (in the overlap).

How to solve it

The hiding of one of the symbols in a name clash is done by the dynamic linker (ld.so) at load time (run time). Since symbols are referenced by name the only way to differentiate the two names is to force them to have different names.

This can be done in different ways; manually, or automatically. Both append some text to every symbol you want to differentiate.

Automatic (with --default-symver)

$ gcc -fPIC -Wall -pedantic   -c -o base1.o base1.c
$ gcc -shared \
		-Wl,--default-symver \
		-Wl,-soname,libbase.so.1 \
		-o libbase.so.1.0 base1.o
$ nm libbase.so.1.0
[...] 00000000000006f0 T base_print     <--- same name as without the special args
[...] 0000000000000000 A libbase.so.1   <--- this is new with --default-symver

A small change. Certainly doesn’t appear to refer to a new name. You can also inspect with objdump -T, but the magic happens when you link something to it.

Let’s compile and link one of the libraries that uses libbase.so:

$ ldconfig -N -f ld.so.conf
$ ln -fs libbase.so.1 libbase.so  # library to link with
$ gcc -fPIC -Wall -pedantic   -c -o d1.o d1.c
$ gcc -Wl,-rpath=. -L. \
		-Wl,--default-symver \
		-Wl,-soname,libd1.so \
		-shared -o libd1.so d1.o -lbase
$ nm d1.o
[...]            U base_print
[...]            U d2_print
$ nm libd1.so
[...]            U base_print@@libbase.so.1
[...]            U d2_print
$ ldd libd1.so
[...]      libbase.so.1 => ./libbase.so.1

Interesting. The unresolved symbol base_print was changed in the linking step, but d2_print was not. This is because the version info was put into libbase.so (symlinked to libbase.so.1.0). libd2.so didn’t yet exist, so it can’t have version info attached. If you want version info for libd1 and libd2 referencing each other then you’ll first have to create versions of the libraries that don’t depend on each other but do have version info. It’s probably possible to bootstrap this manually, but I haven’t looked into it.

Also note that libd1.so knows that it’s depending on libbase.so.1 (not plain libbase.so). This is the name given with the -soname option when linking libbase.so. So there’s even more magic going on than I led on. And it’s a good reason for having that option.

libd2.so is compiled similarly, except against version 2 of libbase.so. The program p is then linked to both libd1.so and libd2.so, which in turn pulls in both versions of libbase.so:

$ cc -Wl,-rpath=. -o p p.o -L. -Wl,-rpath=. -ld1 -ld2
$ ldd p
	linux-vdso.so.1 =>  (0x00007ffff41f8000)
	libd1.so => ./libd1.so (0x00007fe08b788000)
	libd2.so => ./libd2.so (0x00007fe08b586000)
	libc.so.6 => /lib/libc.so.6 (0x00007fe08b1e5000)
	libbase.so.1 => ./libbase.so.1 (0x00007fe08afe3000)
	libbase.so.2 => ./libbase.so.2 (0x00007fe08ade1000)
	/lib64/ld-linux-x86-64.so.2 (0x00007fe08b98c000)
$ nm p | grep libd
                 U d1@@libd1.so
                 U d2@@libd2.so
$ ./p
base version 2> init
base version 1> init
d1> init
d2> init
  base version 2> d1        <--- libd1 -> libd2 -> libbase version 2
  base version 1> d2        <--- libd2 -> libd1 -> libbase version 1
d2> fini
d1> fini
base version 1> fini
base version 2> fini

Note that both base versions are loaded, and that d1() calls d2_print() and vice versa. Diamond problem solved. Yay!

Manual with --version-script

Instead of --default-syms one can use --version-script=base1.map and create the map file.

      global: base_print;
      local: *;

Manual from within the code

asm(".symver base_print_foo,base_print@@BASE1");

to create base_print@@BASE1 from base_print_foo. This may still need a map file, but it will override it.


  • @@ in a name means “this version and the default”. A single @ means just “this version”.


… yet Unix still has much less DLL hell than Windows.

I aimed to provide an accessible view into shared libraries by solving a specific problem. For more in-depth information from people who know more about it than me see the links below. I’ve barely scratched the surface.

The compile time linker (ld) and the dynamic linker (ld.so) do a lot of magic. More than you’d expect if you haven’t thought about it before.