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Using the .NET IL Linker

The .NET team has built a linker to reduce the size of .NET Core applications. It is built on top of the excellent and battle-tested mono linker. The Xamarin tools also use this linker.

In trivial cases, the linker can reduce the size of applications by 50%. The size wins may be more favorable or more moderate for larger applications. The linker removes code in your application and dependent libraries that are not reached by any code paths. It is effectively an application-specific dead code analysis.

Sample

You can test the linker with a sample application:

For more advanced IL Linker instructions, see Using IL Linker Advanced Features.

Instructions

The instructions assume you are using .NET Core 2.0 or .NET Core daily builds. You can validate your .NET Core SDK version by typing dotnet --version.

  1. Select a project to test with. If you don't have one, you can do one of the following:
    • Create one with dotnet new console -o testapp; cd testapp, or
    • Clone / download the [.NET Core self-contained application Docker Production Sample -- using .NET IL Linker].
  2. Add a NuGet.Config file in the root of your project, using the following:
  • dotnet new nuget
  • Add this line to nuget.config, under <clear />: <add key="dotnet-core" value="https://dotnet.myget.org/F/dotnet-core/api/v3/index.json" />
  • The final file should look like nuget.config.
  1. Add a reference to the latest version of the linker package in your .csproj, using the following:
    • dotnet add package ILLink.Tasks -v 0.1.4-preview-906439
  2. Publish the application, using the following:
    • dotnet publish -c release -r <RID> -o out
    • where <RID> is one of win-x64, win-x86, linux-x64, osx-x64 depending the OS that you want to publish for.
    • Example: dotnet publish -c release -r win-x64 -o out
  3. Run the application, with the following and depending the name of the application:
    • Windows: out\testapp
    • Linux/macOS: ./out/testapp

Linker Switches

The linker can be controlled with the following commandline switches.

  • /p:LinkDuringPublish=false -- Disable the linker.
  • /p:ShowLinkerSizeComparison=true -- Displays a table of size reductions for the application.

You must disable the linker if you want to publish a framework dependent application while you have ILLink.Tasks as a dependency. This behavior will be changed in a later release.

Determining Code Size Reduction

There are two straightforward approaches to determining the code size reduction provided by the linker.

  • Publish an application with the linker enabled and pass the /p:ShowLinkerSizeComparison=true flag. The output will describe the benefit. For example:
    • dotnet publish -c release -r osx-x64 -o out /p:ShowLinkerSizeComparison=true
  • Publish an application two different ways:
    • dotnet publish -c release -r linux-x64 -o linkedapp
    • dotnet publish -c release -r linux-x64 -o notlinkedapp /p:LinkDuringPublish=false

Note: The osx-x64 and linux-x64 runtime IDs are used in the examples above. Feel free to use any runtime ID that you would like, such as win-x64.

Caveats

The linker has the following caveats.

  • Currently only supports publishing self-contained applications. It will fail unless you specify a runtime ID.
  • It is currently an experimental feature. We intend to productize it in a subsequent .NET Core release.
  • Linking only happens during publish, and therefore the linked app needs to be tested after publish, not just after build.
  • The linker can and will break some apps that use reflection. See Using IL Linker Advanced Features for more information about managing reflection usage.

Feedback

Please provide feedback on your use of the linker. We are actively looking for feedback to improve the linker. In particular, we are looking for feedback on the following topics:

  • Linker throughput.
  • Cases where the linker can be more aggressive.
  • Cases where the link is too aggressive and causes applications to fail at runtime.
  • The linker provided an excellent result for a large application.

Please create issue with your feedback at either mono/linker or dotnet/core. Also feel free to contact the team at clrlinker@microsoft.com.