I was wondering what the loaders in Linux and Windows are called, i.e., their command names? Loaders' definitions are

In computing, a loader is the part of an operating system that is responsible for loading programs.

5 Answers 5


There's at least 3 things that you could call "loaders" in Linux. The "ld" part of a compile, that puts together various object (.o) and archive (.a) files into a single executable is one. "ld" also checks shared object (.so) files to see if the dynamic linker can work correctly.

The dynamic linker (do man ld.so for details) gets run by the Linux kernel as part of starting up an ELF format executable. It reads linking information from the ELF file, and then (at least) maps in shared object files (.so suffix). The details are rather involved, and at least sometimes involve updating the GOT, a section in memory that maps a compiled-in branch destination to the actual, as-loaded address of the library code. See: http://netwinder.osuosl.org/users/p/patb/public_html/elf_relocs.html for a lot of details.

There's also a piece of the Linux kernel that reads in executable files, that's sometimes called a "loader". When you configure a linux kernel, you can choose to include or exclude some of these executable file formats (a.out, mainly) loaders. I had the code of linux lying about, and I found "loaders" for different executable formats in linux- binfmt_aout.c, binfmt_elf.c, binfmt_script.c, and a few others.

I know next to nothing of how Windows does this same process, but it must do most or all of the same things.

  • Thanks! So is "program loader" in my questions the same thing mentioned in your third paragraph? Is it also done by "ld" in linux?
    – Tim
    Jul 25, 2011 at 15:38
  • Also is ld.so part of the "loader" piece of Linux kernel that reads in executables? Does ld.so run during loading the executables or during running executables
    – Tim
    Jul 25, 2011 at 16:57
  • I wasn't entirely sure from how you worded it, but I believe the linux kernel pieces are what you were talking about. "ld.so" is not part of the kernel: it's in a file /lib/ld-linux.so.2 on my 2 x86 linux boxes, and it's called by the kernel part based on the ".interp" ELF section. Jul 25, 2011 at 22:25
  • ld.so is the a.out loader. ld-linux.so is the ELF Linux loader. Jun 21, 2013 at 18:04

The loader is part of the kernel and usually called as part of a system call. It's not a named command you type in on the command line. Instead, the shell (command line or GUI) calls it when you do things like press enter after a command or double-click an icon.

  • 1
    I think with loader he meant programs like the ld program for linux e.g., too, the program loader.
    – Falcon
    Jul 25, 2011 at 14:09
  • 1
    ld isn't really a loader, it's more of a linker (it resolves external symbol references and creates the "load file"). I think the original question was aimed more at the concept of reading an executable from disk and initializing the run-time (although I could be mistaken).
    – TMN
    Jul 25, 2011 at 17:43

Strictly answering: Nothing.

Commands to load programs do not exist as commands. For simple reason, that typically, any OS command is actually a program. Then how can you load the program, which is supposed to load other programs, when the program itself needs to be loaded in first place ?

If you drill through sematics of definition... Then the best answer is "shell". Shell is the command to load other programs (which are commands).

In Windows it is: explorer.exe, cmd.exe, debug.exe and may be few more

  • This is not correct, programs like the "shell" on Linux or explorer.exe and cmd.exe on Windows are just user interfaces to allow the user to interact with their computer. When the user starts a program all they do is fork their process and execute the execve system call of the operating system. The operating system then handles the loading and also loads the library for dynamic linking if necessary, but the dynmamic linking part happens in user-space after execve passes control the the executed program. Also commands are not programs but a concept of shells (CLI).
    – lanoxx
    Jan 30, 2015 at 22:19

As @falcon noted, the Linux loader is called "ld." In Windows, I don't know how much of the details of program loading and execution are actually made public.


The crux of the idea here is that the OS is driving the program loading. There isn't a direct command to load a program in either Linux or Windows, this is all handled by the OS itself. In this process the OS allocates memory, stack/heap space, any registers that are needed, and a program status register - that keeps track of all of this for when processes are suspended/interrupted. This is how "protected/user" mode saves us from blowing up a computer because we constantly triple-fault because we're using commands that shouldn't be being used (most of this is done in ring 0 - ie real mode, much removed from us).

The item that others are pointing you to are .exe's .bin's and the linker/loader for gcc/asm/etc which only set up a file for when the OS calls the loading of the program, these still do not directly affect the loading of the program (because you can call ld to actually toss the program in RAM and set up the registers, although you can call it to tell the program how to compile so that it says I want to load registers x, y, and z and start in memory location 0x0000FFFF....) and diety / os willing it'll put that there.

  • Thanks! In "you can call ld to actually toss the program in RAM and set up the registers, although you can call it to tell the program how to compile so that it says I want to load registers x, y, and z and start in memory location 0x0000FFFF....", do you mean "ld" is just a linker for compilation, or also a loader for starting running an executable?
    – Tim
    Jul 25, 2011 at 16:12
  • ld tells how the compiler should link the the code in machine code. In this one can specify parameters for how the code should be linked together. One can't directly specify the exact address in RAM that the program will go, but it can specify things like the offset of the code, and should certain parts of the program be section/head/page aligned and how it should treat these sections. The OS has protections against you placing things yourself into RAM and hard disk space, with various interrupts being thrown if you attempt to make manual changes. Jul 25, 2011 at 16:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.