LLVM gold plugin

  1. Introduction
  2. How to build it
  3. Usage
  4. Licensing
Written by Nick Lewycky


Building with link time optimization requires cooperation from the system linker. LTO support on Linux systems requires that you use the gold linker which supports LTO via plugins. This is the same mechanism used by the GCC LTO project.

The LLVM gold plugin implements the gold plugin interface on top of libLTO. The same plugin can also be used by other tools such as ar and nm.

How to build it

You need to have gold with plugin support and build the LLVMgold plugin. Check whether you have gold running /usr/bin/ld -v. It will report “GNU gold” or else “GNU ld” if not. If you have gold, check for plugin support by running /usr/bin/ld -plugin. If it complains “missing argument” then you have plugin support. If not, such as an “unknown option” error then you will either need to build gold or install a version with plugin support.


The linker takes a -plugin option that points to the path of the plugin .so file. To find out what link command gcc would run in a given situation, run gcc -v [...] and look for the line where it runs collect2. Replace that with ld-new -plugin /path/to/LLVMgold.so to test it out. Once you're ready to switch to using gold, backup your existing /usr/bin/ld then replace it with ld-new.

You can produce bitcode files from clang using -emit-llvm or -flto, or the -O4 flag which is synonymous with -O3 -flto.

Any of these flags will also cause clang to look for the gold plugin in the lib directory under its prefix and pass the -plugin option to ld. It will not look for an alternate linker, which is why you need gold to be the installed system linker in your path.

If you want ar and nm to work seamlessly as well, install LLVMgold.so to /usr/lib/bfd-plugins. If you built your own gold, be sure to install the ar and nm-new you built to /usr/bin.

Example of link time optimization

The following example shows a worked example of the gold plugin mixing LLVM bitcode and native code.

--- a.c ---
#include <stdio.h>

extern void foo1(void);
extern void foo4(void);

void foo2(void) {

void foo3(void) {

int main(void) {

--- b.c ---
#include <stdio.h>

extern void foo2(void);

void foo1(void) {

void foo4(void) {

--- command lines ---
$ clang -flto a.c -c -o a.o      # <-- a.o is LLVM bitcode file
$ ar q a.a a.o                   # <-- a.a is an archive with LLVM bitcode
$ clang b.c -c -o b.o            # <-- b.o is native object file
$ clang -flto a.a b.o -o main    # <-- link with LLVMgold plugin

Gold informs the plugin that foo3 is never referenced outside the IR, leading LLVM to delete that function. However, unlike in the libLTO example gold does not currently eliminate foo4.

Quickstart for using LTO with autotooled projects

Once your system ld, ar, and nm all support LLVM bitcode, everything is in place for an easy to use LTO build of autotooled projects:

The environment variable settings may work for non-autotooled projects too, but you may need to set the LD environment variable as well.


Gold is licensed under the GPLv3. LLVMgold uses the interface file plugin-api.h from gold which means that the resulting LLVMgold.so binary is also GPLv3. This can still be used to link non-GPLv3 programs just as much as gold could without the plugin.

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The LLVM Compiler Infrastructure
Last modified: $Date: 2010-04-16 23:58:21 -0800 (Fri, 16 Apr 2010) $