MSVC CRT Initialization

This post provides a detailed view of the MSDN article CRT Initialization. Just paste some content here:

The CRT obtains the list of function pointers from the Visual C++ compiler. When the compiler sees a global initializer, it generates a dynamic initializer in the .CRT$XCU section (where CRT is the section name and XCU is the group name). To obtain a list of those dynamic initializers run the command dumpbin /all main.obj, and then search the .CRT$XCU section (when main.cpp is compiled as a C++ file, not a C file).

The CRT defines two pointers:
– __xc_a in .CRT$XCA
– __xc_z in .CRT$XCZ

Both groups do not have any other symbols defined except __xc_a and __xc_z. Now, when the linker reads various .CRT groups, it combines them in one section and orders them alphabetically. This means that the user-defined global initializers (which the Visual C++ compiler puts in .CRT$XCU) will always come after .CRT$XCA and before .CRT$XCZ.

So, the CRT library uses both __xc_a and __xc_z to determine the start and end of the global initializers list because of the way in which they are laid out in memory after the image is loaded.

Let’s run our VS debugger to further investigate the CRT implementation. I’m using VS2010, and a global instance of class A is declared and initialized:

Now set the breakpoints in the constructor and destructor, and start debugging. I’ve tried exe/dll and dynamic/static CRT combinations to view the call stacks:

_initterm is defined as follow. It is used to walk through __xc_a and __xc_z mentioned above:

__xc_a, __xc_z and other section groups are defined as:

gcc uses similar technology to deal with pre/post-main stuff. The section names are .init and .fini .

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