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1.3.1 Information Loss

Information can be lost during output. The output formats supported by BFD do not provide identical facilities, and information which can be described in one form has nowhere to go in another format. One example of this is alignment information in b.out. There is nowhere in an a.out format file to store alignment information on the contained data, so when a file is linked from b.out and an a.out image is produced, alignment information will not propagate to the output file. (The linker will still use the alignment information internally, so the link is performed correctly).

Another example is COFF section names. COFF files may contain an unlimited number of sections, each one with a textual section name. If the target of the link is a format which does not have many sections (e.g., a.out) or has sections without names (e.g., the Oasys format), the link cannot be done simply. You can circumvent this problem by describing the desired input-to-output section mapping with the linker command language.

Information can be lost during canonicalization. The BFD internal canonical form of the external formats is not exhaustive; there are structures in input formats for which there is no direct representation internally. This means that the BFD back ends cannot maintain all possible data richness through the transformation between external to internal and back to external formats.

This limitation is only a problem when an application reads one format and writes another. Each BFD back end is responsible for maintaining as much data as possible, and the internal BFD canonical form has structures which are opaque to the BFD core, and exported only to the back ends. When a file is read in one format, the canonical form is generated for BFD and the application. At the same time, the back end saves away any information which may otherwise be lost. If the data is then written back in the same format, the back end routine will be able to use the canonical form provided by the BFD core as well as the information it prepared earlier. Since there is a great deal of commonality between back ends, there is no information lost when linking or copying big endian COFF to little endian COFF, or a.out to b.out. When a mixture of formats is linked, the information is only lost from the files whose format differs from the destination.

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