libc, libm, libdl, dynamic linker

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Working on bionic

What are the big pieces of bionic?

libc/ ---, libc.a

The C library. Stuff like fopen(3) and kill(2).

libm/ ---, libm.a

The math library. Traditionally Unix systems kept stuff like sin(3) and cos(3) in a separate library to save space in the days before shared libraries.

libdl/ ---

The dynamic linker interface library. This is actually just a bunch of stubs that the dynamic linker replaces with pointers to its own implementation at runtime. This is where stuff like dlopen(3) lives.

libstdc++/ ---

The C++ ABI support functions. The C++ compiler doesn't know how to implement thread-safe static initialization and the like, so it just calls functions that are supplied by the system. Stuff like __cxa_guard_acquire and __cxa_pure_virtual live here.

linker/ --- /system/bin/linker and /system/bin/linker64

The dynamic linker. When you run a dynamically-linked executable, its ELF file has a DT_INTERP entry that says “use the following program to start me”. On Android, that‘s either linker or linker64 (depending on whether it’s a 32-bit or 64-bit executable). It's responsible for loading the ELF executable into memory and resolving references to symbols (so that when your code tries to jump to fopen(3), say, it lands in the right place).

tests/ --- unit tests

The tests/ directory contains unit tests. Roughly arranged as one file per publicly-exported header file.

benchmarks/ --- benchmarks

The benchmarks/ directory contains benchmarks.

What's in libc/?

Adding system calls

Adding a system call usually involves:

  1. Add entries to SYSCALLS.TXT. See SYSCALLS.TXT itself for documentation on the format.
  2. Run the script.
  3. Add constants (and perhaps types) to the appropriate header file. Note that you should check to see whether the constants are already in kernel uapi header files, in which case you just need to make sure that the appropriate POSIX header file in libc/include/ includes the relevant file or files.
  4. Add function declarations to the appropriate header file.
  5. Add the function name to the correct section in libc/ and run ./libc/tools/
  6. Add at least basic tests. Even a test that deliberately supplies an invalid argument helps check that we're generating the right symbol and have the right declaration in the header file, and that you correctly updated the maps in step 5. (You can use strace(1) to confirm that the correct system call is being made.)

Updating kernel header files

As mentioned above, this is currently a two-step process:

  1. Use to go from a Linux source tree to appropriate contents for external/kernel-headers/.
  2. Run to scrub those headers and import them into bionic.

Note that if you‘re actually just trying to expose device-specific headers to build your device drivers, you shouldn’t modify bionic. Instead use TARGET_DEVICE_KERNEL_HEADERS and friends described in

Updating tzdata

This is fully automated (and these days handled by the libcore team, because they own icu, and that needs to be updated in sync with bionic):

  1. Run in external/icu/tools/.

Verifying changes

If you make a change that is likely to have a wide effect on the tree (such as a libc header change), you should run make checkbuild. A regular make will not build the entire tree; just the minimum number of projects that are required for the device. Tests, additional developer tools, and various other modules will not be built. Note that make checkbuild will not be complete either, as make tests covers a few additional modules, but generally speaking make checkbuild is enough.

Running the tests

The tests are all built from the tests/ directory.

Device tests

$ mma # In $ANDROID_ROOT/bionic.
$ adb root && adb remount && adb sync
$ adb shell /data/nativetest/bionic-unit-tests/bionic-unit-tests32
$ adb shell \
# Only for 64-bit targets
$ adb shell /data/nativetest64/bionic-unit-tests/bionic-unit-tests64
$ adb shell \

Note that we use our own custom gtest runner that offers a superset of the options documented at, in particular for test isolation and parallelism (both on by default).

Device tests via CTS

Most of the unit tests are executed by CTS. By default, CTS runs as a non-root user, so the unit tests must also pass when not run as root. Some tests cannot do any useful work unless run as root. In this case, the test should check getuid() == 0 and do nothing otherwise (typically we log in this case to prevent accidents!). Obviously, if the test can be rewritten to not require root, that's an even better solution.

Currently, the list of bionic CTS tests is generated at build time by running a host version of the test executable and dumping the list of all tests. In order for this to continue to work, all architectures must have the same number of tests, and the host version of the executable must also have the same number of tests.

Running the gtests directly is orders of magnitude faster than using CTS, but in cases where you really have to run CTS:

$ make cts # In $ANDROID_ROOT.
$ adb unroot # Because real CTS doesn't run as root.
# This will sync any *test* changes, but not *code* changes:
$ cts-tradefed \
    run singleCommand cts --skip-preconditions -m CtsBionicTestCases

Host tests

The host tests require that you have lunched either an x86 or x86_64 target. Note that due to ABI limitations (specifically, the size of pthread_mutex_t), 32-bit bionic requires PIDs less than 65536. To enforce this, set /proc/sys/kernel/pid_max to 65536.

$ ./tests/ 32
$ ./tests/ 64   # For x86_64-bit *targets* only.

You can supply gtest flags as extra arguments to this script.

Against glibc

As a way to check that our tests do in fact test the correct behavior (and not just the behavior we think is correct), it is possible to run the tests against the host's glibc.

$ ./tests/ glibc

Gathering test coverage

For either host or target coverage, you must first:

  • $ export NATIVE_COVERAGE=true
    • Note that the build system is ignorant to this flag being toggled, i.e. if you change this flag, you will have to manually rebuild bionic.
  • Set bionic_coverage=true in libc/ and libm/

Coverage from device tests

$ mma
$ adb sync
$ adb shell \
    GCOV_PREFIX=/data/local/tmp/gcov \
    GCOV_PREFIX_STRIP=`echo $ANDROID_BUILD_TOP | grep -o / | wc -l` \
$ acov

acov will pull all coverage information from the device, push it to the right directories, run lcov, and open the coverage report in your browser.

Coverage from host tests

First, build and run the host tests as usual (see above).

$ croot
$ lcov -c -d $ANDROID_PRODUCT_OUT -o
$ genhtml -o covreport # or lcov --list

The coverage report is now available at covreport/index.html.

Running the benchmarks

Device benchmarks

$ mma
$ adb remount
$ adb sync
$ adb shell /data/nativetest/bionic-benchmarks/bionic-benchmarks
$ adb shell /data/nativetest64/bionic-benchmarks/bionic-benchmarks

You can use --benchmark_filter=getpid to just run benchmarks with “getpid” in their name.

Host benchmarks

See the “Host tests” section of “Running the tests” above.

Attaching GDB to the tests

Bionic's test runner will run each test in its own process by default to prevent tests failures from impacting other tests. This also has the added benefit of running them in parallel, so they are much faster.

However, this also makes it difficult to run the tests under GDB. To prevent each test from being forked, run the tests with the flag --no-isolate.

32-bit ABI bugs

off_t is 32-bit.

On 32-bit Android, off_t is a signed 32-bit integer. This limits functions that use off_t to working on files no larger than 2GiB.

Android does not require the _LARGEFILE_SOURCE macro to be used to make fseeko and ftello available. Instead they're always available from API level 24 where they were introduced, and never available before then.

Android also does not require the _LARGEFILE64_SOURCE macro to be used to make off64_t and corresponding functions such as ftruncate64 available. Instead, whatever subset of those functions was available at your target API level will be visible.

There are a couple of exceptions to note. Firstly, off64_t and the single function lseek64 were available right from the beginning in API 3. Secondly, Android has always silently inserted O_LARGEFILE into any open call, so if all you need are functions like read that don't take/return off_t, large files have always worked.

Android support for _FILE_OFFSET_BITS=64 (which turns off_t into off64_t and replaces each off_t function with its off64_t counterpart, such as lseek in the source becoming lseek64 at runtime) was added late. Even when it became available for the platform, it wasn‘t available from the NDK until r15. Before NDK r15, _FILE_OFFSET_BITS=64 silently did nothing: all code compiled with that was actually using a 32-bit off_t. With a new enough NDK, the situation becomes complicated. If you’re targeting an API before 21, almost all functions that take an off_t become unavailable. You‘ve asked for their 64-bit equivalents, and none of them (except lseek/lseek64) exist. As you increase your target API level, you’ll have more and more of the functions available. API 12 adds some of the <unistd.h> functions, API 21 adds mmap, and by API 24 you have everything including <stdio.h>. See the linker map for full details.

In the 64-bit ABI, off_t is always 64-bit.

sigset_t is too small for real-time signals.

On 32-bit Android, sigset_t is too small for ARM and x86 (but correct for MIPS). This means that there is no support for real-time signals in 32-bit code.

In the 64-bit ABI, sigset_t is the correct size for every architecture.

time_t is 32-bit.

On 32-bit Android, time_t is 32-bit. The header <time64.h> and type time64_t exist as a workaround, but the kernel interfaces exposed on 32-bit Android all use the 32-bit time_t.

In the 64-bit ABI, time_t is 64-bit.