Which Solaris Files Are Stripped?

In my previous blog entry about the new .SUNW_ldynsym sections, I made the following statement:
It used to be common practice for system binaries to be stripped in order to save space. However, observability is a central tenet of the Solaris philosophy. Solaris objects and executables are therefore shipped in unstripped form, and have been for many years, in order to support such symbol lookups.

It turns out that this is is only partially true...

Brian Utterback posted a comment and pointed out that 490 of the 719 ELF binaries in /usr/bin on his Solaris 10 system are stripped. This shows that Solaris binaries have not been unstripped "for many years". I looked at /usr/bin on my desktop system, which is running a fairily recent Nevada build, and found that only 51 of the 815 files there are stripped. It appears that binaries are (mostly) stripped now. What changed between Solaris 10 and today? And, why "mostly"?

As I usually do in such situations, I sent mail to my fellow Linker Alien Rod Evans. I asked him for his recollection of what policies were used for stripping Solaris files in the past. Here is a summary of what he told me:

  • For a very long time, the rule was that executables are stripped, and sharable libraries are not. The underlying idea was that people would not care to debug our executables, but certainly would debug their own programs that are linked to our libraries. We're not sure when this started, but are pretty sure that it covers most, if not all, of the Solaris 2.x era (we've no idea about the SunOS 4.x days).

  • In the early years, enforcement of this rule was rather incomplete, and exceptions occured. Starting with Solaris 9, automated checks in the nightly builds tightened things up significantly.

  • The policy was changed in September 2005 (2 months before I joined Sun) to not strip any files. The change took effect with Nevada build 24, with
    5072038 binaries shouldn't be stripped
    I imagine that the introduction of DTrace made complete symbol information in binaries more important than before.

  • Solaris is built by combining various "consolidations". The above comments only apply to the core ON consolidation, which consists of the OS and Networking parts of Solaris. The other consolidations are built according to their own rules, which can and do differ. So, you should not be surprised to find some stripped files, even on a current development build of Solaris, like the 51 files I found in /usr/bin on my system.

The new .SUNW_ldynsym sections reduce the need for everything to be unstripped, so we may end up relaxing our ON rule if there is a reason to do so. And if the other consolidations continue to strip their files, .SUNW_ldynsym will provide better observability for them.

Brian is absolutely right — we have not been shipping "Solaris objects and executables" in unstripped form for many years, only sharable libraries! I knew that libraries were unstripped, and that current builds don't strip either binaries, and those two facts misled me.

On the plus side, I have a better understanding of the issue now... :-)


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I work in the core Solaris OS group on the Solaris linkers. These blogs discuss various aspects of linking and the ELF object file format.

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