Assembling a Complete Toolchain


Clang is only one component in a complete tool chain for C family programming languages. In order to assemble a complete toolchain, additional tools and runtime libraries are required. Clang is designed to interoperate with existing tools and libraries for its target platforms, and the LLVM project provides alternatives for a number of these components.

This document describes the required and optional components in a complete toolchain, where to find them, and the supported versions and limitations of each option.


This document currently describes Clang configurations on POSIX-like operating systems with the GCC-compatible clang driver. When targeting Windows with the MSVC-compatible clang-cl driver, some of the details are different.


A complete compilation of C family programming languages typically involves the following pipeline of tools, some of which are omitted in some compilations:

  • Preprocessor: This performs the actions of the C preprocessor: expanding #includes and #defines. The -E flag instructs Clang to stop after this step.
  • Parsing: This parses and semantically analyzes the source language and builds a source-level intermediate representation (“AST”), producing a precompiled header (PCH), preamble, or precompiled module file (PCM), depending on the input. The -precompile flag instructs Clang to stop after this step. This is the default when the input is a header file.
  • IR generation: This converts the source-level intermediate representation into an optimizer-specific intermediate representation (IR); for Clang, this is LLVM IR. The -emit-llvm flag instructs Clang to stop after this step. If combined with -S, Clang will produce textual LLVM IR; otherwise, it will produce LLVM IR bitcode.
  • Compiler backend: This converts the intermediate representation into target-specific assembly code. The -S flag instructs Clang to stop after this step.
  • Assembler: This converts target-specific assembly code into target-specific machine code object files. The -c flag instructs Clang to stop after this step.
  • Linker: This combines multiple object files into a single image (either a shared object or an executable).

Clang provides all of these pieces other than the linker. When multiple steps are performed by the same tool, it is common for the steps to be fused together to avoid creating intermediate files.

When given an output of one of the above steps as an input, earlier steps are skipped (for instance, a .s file input will be assembled and linked).

The Clang driver can be invoked with the -### flag (this argument will need to be escaped under most shells) to see which commands it would run for the above steps, without running them. The -v (verbose) flag will print the commands in addition to running them.

Clang frontend

The Clang frontend (clang -cc1) is used to compile C family languages. The command-line interface of the frontend is considered to be an implementation detail, intentionally has no external documentation, and is subject to change without notice.

Language frontends for other languages

Clang can be provided with inputs written in non-C-family languages. In such cases, an external tool will be used to compile the input. The currently-supported languages are:

  • Ada (-x ada, .ad[bs])
  • Fortran (-x f95, .f, .f9[05], .for, .fpp, case-insensitive)
  • Java (-x java)

In each case, GCC will be invoked to compile the input.


Clang can either use LLVM’s integrated assembler or an external system-specific tool (for instance, the GNU Assembler on GNU OSes) to produce machine code from assembly. By default, Clang uses LLVM’s integrataed assembler on all targets where it is supported. If you wish to use the system assember instead, use the -fno-integrated-as option.


Clang can be configured to use one of several different linkers:

  • GNU ld
  • GNU gold
  • LLVM’s lld
  • MSVC’s link.exe

Link-time optimization is natively supported by lld, and supported via a linker plugin when using gold.

The default linker varies between targets, and can be overridden via the -fuse-ld=<linker name> flag.

Runtime libraries

A number of different runtime libraries are required to provide different layers of support for C family programs. Clang will implicitly link an appropriate implementation of each runtime library, selected based on target defaults or explicitly selected by the --rtlib= and --stdlib= flags.

The set of implicitly-linked libraries depend on the language mode. As a consequence, you should use clang++ when linking C++ programs in order to ensure the C++ runtimes are provided.


There may exist other implementations for these components not described below. Please let us know how well those other implementations work with Clang so they can be added to this list!

Compiler runtime

The compiler runtime library provides definitions of functions implicitly invoked by the compiler to support operations not natively supported by the underlying hardware (for instance, 128-bit integer multiplications), and where inline expansion of the operation is deemed unsuitable.

The default runtime library is target-specific. For targets where GCC is the dominant compiler, Clang currently defaults to using libgcc_s. On most other targets, compiler-rt is used by default.

compiler-rt (LLVM)

LLVM’s compiler runtime library provides a complete set of runtime library functions containing all functions that Clang will implicitly call, in libclang_rt.builtins.<arch>.a.

You can instruct Clang to use compiler-rt with the --rtlib=compiler-rt flag. This is not supported on every platform.

If using libc++ and/or libc++abi, you may need to configure them to use compiler-rt rather than libgcc_s by passing -DLIBCXX_USE_COMPILER_RT=YES and/or -DLIBCXXABI_USE_COMPILER_RT=YES to cmake. Otherwise, you may end up with both runtime libraries linked into your program (this is typically harmless, but wasteful).

libgcc_s (GNU)

GCC’s runtime library can be used in place of compiler-rt. However, it lacks several functions that LLVM may emit references to, particularly when using Clang’s __builtin_*_overflow family of intrinsics.

You can instruct Clang to use libgcc_s with the --rtlib=libgcc flag. This is not supported on every platform.

Atomics library

If your program makes use of atomic operations and the compiler is not able to lower them all directly to machine instructions (because there either is no known suitable machine instruction or the operand is not known to be suitably aligned), a call to a runtime library __atomic_* function will be generated. A runtime library containing these atomics functions is necessary for such programs.

compiler-rt (LLVM)

compiler-rt contains an implementation of an atomics library.

libatomic (GNU)

libgcc_s does not provide an implementation of an atomics library. Instead, GCC’s libatomic library can be used to supply these when using libgcc_s.


Clang does not currently automatically link against libatomic when using libgcc_s. You may need to manually add -latomic to support this configuration when using non-native atomic operations (if you see link errors referring to __atomic_* functions).

Unwind library

The unwind library provides a family of _Unwind_* functions implementing the language-neutral stack unwinding portion of the Itanium C++ ABI (Level I). It is a dependency of the C++ ABI library, and sometimes is a dependency of other runtimes.

libunwind (LLVM)

LLVM’s unwinder library can be obtained from subversion:

llvm-src$ svn co projects/libunwind

When checked out into projects/libunwind within an LLVM checkout, it should be automatically picked up by the LLVM build system.

If using libc++abi, you may need to configure it to use libunwind rather than libgcc_s by passing -DLIBCXXABI_USE_LLVM_UNWINDER=YES to cmake. If libc++abi is configured to use some version of libunwind, that library will be implicitly linked into binaries that link to libc++abi.

libgcc_s (GNU)

libgcc_s has an integrated unwinder, and does not need an external unwind library to be provided.

libunwind (

This is another implementation of the libunwind specification. See libunwind (

libunwind (PathScale)

This is another implementation of the libunwind specification. See libunwind (pathscale).

Sanitizer runtime

The instrumentation added by Clang’s sanitizers (-fsanitize=...) implicitly makes calls to a runtime library, in order to maintain side state about the execution of the program and to issue diagnostic messages when a problem is detected.

The only supported implementation of these runtimes is provided by LLVM’s compiler-rt, and the relevant portion of that library (libclang_rt.<sanitizer>.<arch>.a) will be implicitly linked when linking with a -fsanitize=... flag.

C standard library

Clang supports a wide variety of C standard library implementations.

C++ ABI library

The C++ ABI library provides an implementation of the library portion of the Itanium C++ ABI, covering both the support functionality in the main Itanium C++ ABI document and Level II of the exception handling support. References to the functions and objects in this library are implicitly generated by Clang when compiling C++ code.

While it is possible to link C++ code using libstdc++ and code using libc++ together into the same program (so long as you do not attempt to pass C++ standard library objects across the boundary), it is not generally possible to have more than one C++ ABI library in a program.

The version of the C++ ABI library used by Clang will be the one that the chosen C++ standard library was linked against. Several implementations are available:

libc++abi (LLVM)

libc++abi is LLVM’s implementation of this specification.

libsupc++ (GNU)

libsupc++ is GCC’s implementation of this specification. However, this library is only used when libstdc++ is linked statically. The dynamic library version of libstdc++ contains a copy of libsupc++.


Clang does not currently automatically link against libatomic when statically linking libstdc++. You may need to manually add -lsupc++ to support this configuration when using -static or -static-libstdc++.

libcxxrt (PathScale)

This is another implementation of the Itanium C++ ABI specification. See libcxxrt.

C++ standard library

Clang supports use of either LLVM’s libc++ or GCC’s libstdc++ implementation of the C++ standard library.

libc++ (LLVM)

libc++ is LLVM’s implementation of the C++ standard library, aimed at being a complete implementation of the C++ standards from C++11 onwards.

You can instruct Clang to use libc++ with the -stdlib=libc++ flag.

libstdc++ (GNU)

libstdc++ is GCC’s implementation of the C++ standard library. Clang supports a wide range of versions of libstdc++, from around version 4.2 onwards, and will implicitly work around some bugs in older versions of libstdc++.

You can instruct Clang to use libstdc++ with the -stdlib=libstdc++ flag.