Linking overview

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This page describes the process that the SeaBIOS build uses to link the compiled code into the final binary objects.

Unfortunately, the SeaBIOS linking phase is complex. This complexity is due to several unusual requirements:

  • Some BIOS entry points must reside at specific hardcoded memory locations. The build must support positioning code and variables at specific locations.
  • In order to support multiple memory models the same C code can be complied in three modes (16bit mode, 32bit segmented mode, and 32bit "flat" mode). Binary code from these three modes must be able to co-exist and on occasion reference each other.
  • There is a finite amount of memory available to the BIOS. The build will attempt to weed out unused code and variables from the final binary. It also supports self-relocation of one-time initialization code.

Code layout

To support the unusual build requirements, several gcc compiler options are used. The "-ffunction-sections" and "-fdata-sections" flags instruct the compiler to place each variable and function into its own ELF section.

The C code is compiled three times into three separate objects for each of the major supported memory models: code16.o, code32seg.o, and code32flat.o. Information on the sections and symbols of these three objects are extracted (using objdump) and passed in to the scripts/layoutrom.py python script. This script analyzes this information and produces gnu ld "linker scripts" which provide precise location information to the linker. These linker scripts are then used during the link phase which produces a rom.o object containing all the code.

Fixed location entry points

The build supports placing code entry points and variables at fixed memory locations. This support is required in order to support the legacy BIOS standards. For example, a program might execute an "int 0x15" to request system information from the BIOS, but another old program might use "ljmpw $0xf000, $0xf859" instead. Both must provide the same results and so the build must position the 0x15 interrupt entry point in physical memory at 0xff859.

This support is accomplished by placing the given code/variables into ELF sections that have a name containing the substring ".fixedaddr.0x1234" (where 0x1234 is the desired address). For variables in C code this is accomplished by marking the variables with the VARFSEGFIXED(0x1234) macro. For assembler entry points the ORG macro is used (see romlayout.S).

During the build, the layoutrom.py script will detect sections that contain the ".fixedaddr." substring and will arrange for the final linker scripts to specify the desired address for the given section.

Due to the sparse nature of these fixed address sections, the layoutrom.py script will also arrange to pack in other unrelated 16bit code into the free space between fixed address sections (see layoutrom.py:fitSections()). This maximizes the space available and reduces the overall size of the final binary.

C code in three modes

SeaBIOS must support multiple memory models. This is accomplished by compiling the C code three separate times into three separate objects.

The C code within a mode must not accidentally call a C function in another mode, but multiple modes must all access the same single copy of global variables. Further, it is occasionally necessary for the C code in one mode to obtain the address of C code in another mode.

In order to use the same global variables between all modes, the layoutrom.py script will detect references to global variables and emit specific symbol definitions for those global variables in the linker scripts so that all references use the same physical memory address (see layoutrom.py:outXRefs()).

To ensure C code does not accidentally call C code compiled in a different mode, the build will ensure the symbols for C code in each mode are isolated from each other during the linking stage. To support those situations where an address of a C function in another mode is required the build supports symbols with a special "_cfuncX_" prefix. The layoutrom.py script detects these references and will emit a corresponding symbol definitions in the linker script that points to the C code of the specified mode. This is typically seen with code like:

extern void _cfunc32flat_process_op(void);
return call32(_cfunc32flat_process_op, 0, 0);

In the above example, when the build finds the symbol "_cfunc32flat_process_op" it will emit that symbol with the physical address of the 32bit "flat" version of the process_op() C function.

Build garbage collection

To reduce the overall size of the final SeaBIOS binary the build supports automatically weeding out of unused code and variables. This is done with two separate processes: when supported the gcc "-fwhole-program" compilation flag is used, and the layoutrom.py script checks for unreferenced ELF sections. The layoutrom.py script builds the final linker scripts with only referenced ELF sections, and thus unreferenced sections are weeded out from the final objects.

When writing C code, it is necessary to mark C functions with the VISIBLE16, VISIBLE32SEG, or VISIBLE32FLAT macros if the functions are ever referenced from assembler code. These macros ensure the corresponding C function is emitted by the C compiler when compiling for the given memory mode. These macros, however, do not affect the layoutrom.py reference check, so even a function decorated with one of the above macros can be weeded out from the final object if it is never referenced.

Code relocation

To further reduce the runtime memory size of the BIOS, the build supports runtime self-relocation. Normally SeaBIOS is loaded into memory in the memory region at 0xC0000-0x100000. This is convenient for initial binary deployment, but the space competes with memory requirements for Option ROMs, BIOS tables, and runtime storage. By default, SeaBIOS will self-relocate its one-time initialization code to free up space in this region.

To support this feature, the build attempts to automatically detect which C code is exclusively initialization phase code (see layoutrom.py:checkRuntime()). It does this by finding all functions decorated with the VISIBLE32INIT macro and all functions only reachable via functions with that macro. These "init only" functions are then grouped together and their location and size is stored in the binary for the runtime code to relocate (see post.c:reloc_preinit()).

The build also locates all cross section code references along with all absolute memory addresses in the "init only" code. These addresses need to be modified with the new run-time address in order for the code to successfully run at a new address. The build finds the location of the addresses (see layoutrom.py:getRelocs()) and stores the information in the final binary.

Final binary checks

At the conclusion of the main linking stage, the code is contained in the file rom.o. This object file contains all of the assembler code, variables, and the C code from all three memory model modes.

At this point the scripts/checkrom.py script is run to perform final checks on the code. The script performs some sanity checks, it may update some tables in the binary, and it reports some size information.

After the checkrom.py script is run the final user visible binary is produced. The name of the final binary is either bios.bin, Csm16.bin, or bios.bin.elf depending on the SeaBIOS build requested.