DLOPEN(3) BSD Library Functions Manual DLOPEN(3)NAME
dlopen, dlsym, dlfunc, dlerror, dlclose — programmatic interface to the
Standard C Library (libc, -lc)
dlopen(const char *path, int mode);
dlsym(void * restrict handle, const char * restrict symbol);
dlfunc(void * restrict handle, const char * restrict symbol);
These functions provide a simple programmatic interface to the services
of the dynamic linker. Operations are provided to add new shared objects
to a program's address space, to obtain the address bindings of symbols
defined by such objects, and to remove such objects when their use is no
The dlopen() function provides access to the shared object in path,
returning a descriptor that can be used for later references to the
object in calls to dlsym() and dlclose(). If path was not in the address
space prior to the call to dlopen(), it is placed in the address space.
When an object is first loaded into the address space in this way, its
function _init(), if any, is called by the dynamic linker. If path has
already been placed in the address space in a previous call to dlopen(),
it is not added a second time, although a reference count of dlopen()
operations on path is maintained. A null pointer supplied for path is
interpreted as a reference to the main executable of the process. The
mode argument controls the way in which external function references from
the loaded object are bound to their referents. It must contain one of
the following values, possibly ORed with additional flags which will be
RTLD_LAZY Each external function reference is resolved when the func‐
tion is first called.
RTLD_NOW All external function references are bound immediately by
RTLD_LAZY is normally preferred, for reasons of efficiency. However,
RTLD_NOW is useful to ensure that any undefined symbols are discovered
during the call to dlopen().
One of the following flags may be ORed into the mode argument:
RTLD_GLOBAL Symbols from this shared object and its directed acyclic
graph (DAG) of needed objects will be available for
resolving undefined references from all other shared
RTLD_LOCAL Symbols in this shared object and its DAG of needed
objects will be available for resolving undefined refer‐
ences only from other objects in the same DAG. This is
the default, but it may be specified explicitly with this
RTLD_TRACE When set, causes dynamic linker to exit after loading all
objects needed by this shared object and printing a sum‐
mary which includes the absolute pathnames of all objects,
to standard output. With this flag dlopen() will return
to the caller only in the case of error.
RTLD_NODELETE Prevents unload of the loaded object on dlclose(). The
same behaviour may be requested by -z nodelete option of
the static linker ld(1).
RTLD_NOLOAD Ony return valid handle for the object if it is already
loaded in the process address space, otherwise NULL is
returned. Other mode flags may be specified, which will
be applied for promotion for the found object.
If dlopen() fails, it returns a null pointer, and sets an error condition
which may be interrogated with dlerror().
The dlsym() function returns the address binding of the symbol described
in the null-terminated character string symbol, as it occurs in the
shared object identified by handle. The symbols exported by objects
added to the address space by dlopen() can be accessed only through calls
to dlsym(). Such symbols do not supersede any definition of those sym‐
bols already present in the address space when the object is loaded, nor
are they available to satisfy normal dynamic linking references.
If dlsym() is called with the special handle NULL, it is interpreted as a
reference to the executable or shared object from which the call is being
made. Thus a shared object can reference its own symbols.
If dlsym() is called with the special handle RTLD_DEFAULT, the search for
the symbol follows the algorithm used for resolving undefined symbols
when objects are loaded. The objects searched are as follows, in the
1. The referencing object itself (or the object from which the call to
dlsym() is made), if that object was linked using the -Wsymbolic
option to ld(1).
2. All objects loaded at program start-up.
3. All objects loaded via dlopen() with the RTLD_GLOBAL flag set in the
4. All objects loaded via dlopen() which are in needed-object DAGs that
also contain the referencing object.
If dlsym() is called with the special handle RTLD_NEXT, then the search
for the symbol is limited to the shared objects which were loaded after
the one issuing the call to dlsym(). Thus, if the function is called
from the main program, all the shared libraries are searched. If it is
called from a shared library, all subsequent shared libraries are
searched. RTLD_NEXT is useful for implementing wrappers around library
functions. For example, a wrapper function getpid() could access the
“real” getpid() with dlsym(RTLD_NEXT, "getpid"). (Actually, the dlfunc()
interface, below, should be used, since getpid() is a function and not a
If dlsym() is called with the special handle RTLD_SELF, then the search
for the symbol is limited to the shared object issuing the call to
dlsym() and those shared objects which were loaded after it.
The dlsym() function returns a null pointer if the symbol cannot be
found, and sets an error condition which may be queried with dlerror().
The dlfunc() function implements all of the behavior of dlsym(), but has
a return type which can be cast to a function pointer without triggering
compiler diagnostics. (The dlsym() function returns a data pointer; in
the C standard, conversions between data and function pointer types are
undefined. Some compilers and lint(1) utilities warn about such casts.)
The precise return type of dlfunc() is unspecified; applications must
cast it to an appropriate function pointer type.
The dlerror() function returns a null-terminated character string
describing the last error that occurred during a call to dlopen(),
dladdr(), dlinfo(), dlsym(), dlfunc(), or dlclose(). If no such error
has occurred, dlerror() returns a null pointer. At each call to
dlerror(), the error indication is reset. Thus in the case of two calls
to dlerror(), where the second call follows the first immediately, the
second call will always return a null pointer.
The dlclose() function deletes a reference to the shared object refer‐
enced by handle. If the reference count drops to 0, the object is
removed from the address space, and handle is rendered invalid. Just
before removing a shared object in this way, the dynamic linker calls the
object's _fini() function, if such a function is defined by the object.
If dlclose() is successful, it returns a value of 0. Otherwise it
returns -1, and sets an error condition that can be interrogated with
The object-intrinsic functions _init() and _fini() are called with no
arguments, and are not expected to return values.
ELF executables need to be linked using the -export-dynamic option to
ld(1) for symbols defined in the executable to become visible to dlsym().
In previous implementations, it was necessary to prepend an underscore to
all external symbols in order to gain symbol compatibility with object
code compiled from the C language. This is still the case when using the
(obsolete) -aout option to the C language compiler.
The dlopen(), dlsym(), and dlfunc() functions return a null pointer in
the event of errors. The dlclose() function returns 0 on success, or -1
if an error occurred. Whenever an error has been detected, a message
detailing it can be retrieved via a call to dlerror().
SEE ALSOld(1), rtld(1), dladdr(3), dlinfo(3), link(5)BSD July 7, 2009 BSD