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WLLVMWhole Program LLVM

License: MIT PyPI version Build Status PyPI Statistics


This project, WLLVM, provides tools for building whole-program (or whole-library) LLVM bitcode files from an unmodified C or C++ source package. It currently runs on *nix platforms such as Linux, FreeBSD, and Mac OS X.

WLLVM provides python-based compiler wrappers that work in two steps. The wrappers first invoke the compiler as normal. Then, for each object file, they call a bitcode compiler to produce LLVM bitcode. The wrappers also store the location of the generated bitcode file in a dedicated section of the object file. When object files are linked together, the contents of the dedicated sections are concatenated (so we don't lose the locations of any of the constituent bitcode files). After the build completes, one can use a WLLVM utility to read the contents of the dedicated section and link all of the bitcode into a single whole-program bitcode file. This utility works for both executable and native libraries.

This two-phase build process is necessary to be a drop-in replacement for gcc or g++ in any build system. Using the LTO framework in gcc and the gold linker plugin works in many cases, but fails in the presence of static libraries in builds. WLLVM's approach has the distinct advantage of generating working binaries, in case some part of a build process requires that.

WLLVM works with either clang or the gcc dragonegg plugin. If you are not interested in dragonegg support, and speed is an issue for you, you may want to try out gllvm.


As of August 2016 WLLVM is now a pip package. You can just do:

pip install wllvm


sudo pip install wllvm

depending on your machine's permissions.


If you want to develop or use the development version:

git clone
cd whole-program-llvm

Now you need to install WLLVM. You can either install globally on your system in develop mode:

sudo pip install -e .

or install WLLVM into a virtual python environment in develop mode to avoid installing globally:

virtualenv venv
source venv/bin/activate
pip install -e .


WLLVM includes four python executables: wllvm for compiling C code and wllvm++ for compiling C++, an auxiliary tool extract-bc for extracting the bitcode from a build product (object file, executable, library or archive), and a sanity checker, wllvm-sanity-checker for detecting configuration oversights.

Three environment variables must be set to use these wrappers:

  • LLVM_COMPILER should be set to either dragonegg or clang.
  • LLVM_GCC_PREFIX should be set to the prefix for the version of gcc that should be used with dragonegg. This can be empty if there is no prefix. This variable is not used if $LLVM_COMPILER == clang.
  • LLVM_DRAGONEGG_PLUGIN should be the full path to the dragonegg plugin. This variable is not used if $LLVM_COMPILER == clang.

Once the environment is set up, just use wllvm and wllvm++ as your C and C++ compilers, respectively.

In addition to the above environment variables the following can be optionally used:

  • LLVM_CC_NAME can be set if your clang compiler is not called clang but something like clang-3.7. Similarly LLVM_CXX_NAME can be used to describe what the C++ compiler is called. Note that in these sorts of cases, the environment variable LLVM_COMPILER should still be set to clang not clang-3.7 etc. We also pay attention to the environment variables LLVM_LINK_NAME and LLVM_AR_NAME in an analagous way, since they too get adorned with suffixes in various Linux distributions.

  • LLVM_COMPILER_PATH can be set to the absolute path to the folder that contains the compiler and other LLVM tools such as llvm-link to be used. This prevents searching for the compiler in your PATH environment variable. This can be useful if you have different versions of clang on your system and you want to easily switch compilers without tinkering with your PATH variable. Example LLVM_COMPILER_PATH=/home/user/llvm_and_clang/Debug+Asserts/bin.

  • WLLVM_CONFIGURE_ONLY can be set to anything. If it is set, wllvm and wllvm++ behave like a normal C or C++ compiler. They do not produce bitcode. Setting WLLVM_CONFIGURE_ONLY may prevent configuration errors caused by the unexpected production of hidden bitcode files. It is sometimes required when configuring a build.

Building a bitcode module with clang

export LLVM_COMPILER=clang

tar xf pkg-config-0.26.tar.gz
cd pkg-config-0.26
CC=wllvm ./configure

This should produce the executable pkg-config. To extract the bitcode:

extract-bc pkg-config

which will produce the bitcode module pkg-config.bc.


A gentler set of instructions on building apache in a vagrant Ubuntu 14.04 can be found here, and for Ubuntu 16.04 here.

Building a bitcode module with dragonegg

export LLVM_COMPILER=dragonegg
export LLVM_GCC_PREFIX=llvm-
export LLVM_DRAGONEGG_PLUGIN=/unsup/llvm-2.9/lib/

tar xf pkg-config-0.26.tar.gz
cd pkg-config-0.26
CC=wllvm ./configure

Again, this should produce the executable pkg-config. To extract the bitcode:

extract-bc pkg-config

which will produce the bitcode module pkg-config.bc.

Building bitcode archive

export LLVM_COMPILER=clang
tar -xvf bullet-2.81-rev2613.tgz
mkdir bullet-bin
cd bullet-bin
CC=wllvm CXX=wllvm++ cmake ../bullet-2.81-rev2613/

# Produces src/LinearMath/libLinearMath.bca
extract-bc src/LinearMath/libLinearMath.a

Note that by default extracting bitcode from an archive produces an archive of bitcode. You can also extract the bitcode directly into a module.

extract-bc -b src/LinearMath/libLinearMath.a

produces src/LinearMath/libLinearMath.a.bc.

Building an Operating System

To see how to build freeBSD 10.0 from scratch check out this guide.

Configuring without building bitcode

Sometimes it is necessary to disable the production of bitcode. Typically this is during configuration, where the production of unexpected files can confuse the configure script. For this we have a flag WLLVM_CONFIGURE_ONLY which can be used as follows:

WLLVM_CONFIGURE_ONLY=1 CC=wllvm ./configure
CC=wllvm make

Building a bitcode archive then extracting the bitcode

export LLVM_COMPILER=clang
tar xvfz jansson-2.7.tar.gz
cd jansson-2.7
CC=wllvm ./configure
mkdir bitcode
cp src/.libs/libjansson.a bitcode
cd bitcode
extract-bc libjansson.a
llvm-ar x libjansson.bca
ls -la

Preserving bitcode files in a store

Sometimes it can be useful to preserve the bitcode files produced in a build, either to prevent deletion or to retrieve it later. If the environment variable WLLVM_BC_STORE is set to the absolute path of an existing directory, then WLLVM will copy the produced bitcode file into that directory. The name of the copied bitcode file is the hash of the path to the original bitcode file. For convenience, when using both the manifest feature of extract-bc and the store, the manifest will contain both the original path, and the store path.


To support cross-compilation WLLVM supports the -target triple used by clang. More information can be found here.

Additionally, WLLVM leverages objcopy for some of its heavy lifting. When cross-compiling you must ensure to use the appropriate objcopy for the target architecture. The BINUTILS_TARGET_PREFIX environment variable can be used to set the objcopy of choice, for example, arm-linux-gnueabihf.

LTO Support

In some situations it is desirable to pass certain flags to clang in the step that produces the bitcode. This can be fulfilled by setting the LLVM_BITCODE_GENERATION_FLAGS environment variable to the desired flags, for example "-flto -fwhole-program-vtables".


The WLLVM tools can show various levels of output to aid with debugging. To show this output set the WLLVM_OUTPUT_LEVEL environment variable to one of the following levels:

  • INFO

For example:


Output will be directed to the standard error stream, unless you specify the path of a logfile via the WLLVM_OUTPUT_FILE environment variable.

For example:

    export WLLVM_OUTPUT_FILE=/tmp/wllvm.log

Sanity Checking

Too many environment variables? Try doing a sanity check:


it might point out what is wrong.


WLLVM is released under the MIT license. See the file LICENSE for details.


A wrapper script to build whole-program LLVM bitcode files







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