Whole Program LLVM Bitcode

Sometimes it is useful to be able to analyze an entire program at once, rather than analyzing individual compilation units. LLVM has some infrastructure in this: the llvm-link program (and associated library methods) combines multiple bitcode files into one as a linker might. Unfortunately, getting all of the bitcode to pass to llvm-link in the first place can be challenging in the face of strange and arcane build systems (e.g., autotools, libtool, and other impolite tools).

Official Aside

There is actually an official LLVM way to build whole-program LLVM bitcode using the GCC link time optimization (LTO) framework and a plugin for the gold linker. Some of the relevant details are documented, but that is not the whole story. Long story short, after you:

you can finally use the link time optimization plugin LLVMgold.so to generate whole-program bitcode files. One way to do this is to just use gcc with dragonegg as your compiler for a project with the extra flags -flto -fplugin=dragonegg.so -S. This tells the dragonegg plugin to generate LLVM IR for each file; the -S is necessary to prevent gcc from attempting to run the system assembler over LLVM assembly, which it will not understand. During the link stage, you can add the flag -Wl,-plugin-opt=also-emit-llvm and the linker will spit out a bitcode file along with a binary.

Note that the -S flag is not entirely necessary. You can convince the compiler to use llvm-as to assemble the output of the dragonegg plugin into an actual bitcode file if you pass the -Bdir flag, where dir is the path to a directory containing a single symlink that presents llvm-as as just as. I also had to provide a link for my plugin-enabled ld, as the system version was far too old.

This process does work for simple builds, but fails down if your build process generates intermediate static libraries. Since LLVM assembly and bitcode files are not true object files, the resulting static library archives are not valid linker inputs and the compilation will error out when it tries to use them.

A Hackish Solution

Instead of doing things the right way, I decided to do them my way. I wrote a simple wrapper script that pretends to be gcc and compiles every file in a project twice. The first compilation produces an authentic object file. The second produces an LLVM bitcode file and writes the full path to the bitcode file into an ELF section in the object file. The objects can be moved around and linked arbitrarily and these ELF sections are merged appropriately. After the compilation finishes, there is a script to read this ELF section and link together all of the named bitcode files.

I posted the scripts on github. They have worked for me so far but there are probably bugs. If you happen to find some, just let me know and I’ll see about fixing them.


Currently, the scripts only support dragonegg. I need to make it work with clang, too.