Evolution of the ELF object file format

The ELF object file format is adopted by many UNIX-like operating systems. While I’ve previously delved into the control structures of ELF and its predecessors, tracing the historical evolution of ELF and its relationship with the System V ABI can be interesting in itself.

↫ MaskRay

The article wasn’t lying. I had no reason to know this – and I’m pretty sure most of you didn’t either – but it turns out the standards that define ELF got caught up in the legal murkiness and nastiness of UNIX. After the dissolution of the committee governing ELF in 1995, stewardship went from one familiar name to the next, first Novell, then The Santa Cruz Operation, then Caldera which renamed itself to The SCO Group, and eventually ending up at UnXis (now Xinuos) in 2011. In 2015, the last maintainer of ELF left Xinuos, and since then, it’s been effectively unmaintained.

Which is kind of wild, considering ELF is a crucial building block of virtually all UNIX and UNIX-like operating systems today. The article mentions there’s a neutral Google Group that discusses, among other things, ELF, but that, too, has seen dwindling activity. Still, that group has reached consensus on some changes; changes that are now not reflected in any of the official texts. It’s a bit of a mess.

If you ever wanted to know the status of ELF as a standard, this article’s for you.