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Tutorial 7: Export Table

We have learned about one part of the dynamic linking, namely the import table, in the previous tutorial. Now we will learn about the other side of the coin, the export table.


When the PE loader runs a program, it loads the associated DLLs into the process address space. It then extracts information about the import functions from the main program. It uses the information to search the DLLs for the addresses of the functions to be patched into the main program. The place in the DLLs where the PE loader looks for the addresses of the functions is the export table.

When a DLL/EXE exports a function to be used by other DLL/EXE, it can do so in two ways: it can export the function by name or by ordinal only. Say if there is a function named "GetSysConfig" in a DLL, it can choose to tell the other DLLs/EXEs that if they want to call the function, they must specify it by its name, ie. GetSysConfig. The other way is to export by ordinal. What's an ordinal? An ordinal is a 16-bit number that uniquely identifies a function in a particular DLL. This number is unique only within the DLL it refers to. For example, in the above example, the DLL can choose to export the function by ordinal, say, 16. Then the other DLLs/EXEs which want to call this function must specify this number in GetProcAddress. This is called export by ordinal only.

Export by ordinal only is strongly discouraged because it can cause a maintenance problem for the DLL. If the DLL is upgraded/updated, the programmer of that DLL cannot alter the ordinals of the functions else other programs that depend on the DLL will break.

Now we can examine the export structure. As with import table, you can find where the export table is from looking at the data directory. In this case, the export table is the first member of the data directory. The export structure is called IMAGE_EXPORT_DIRECTORY. There are 11 members in the structure but only some of them are really used.

Field Name Meaning
nName The actual name of the module. This field is necessary because the name of the file can be changed. If it's the case, the PE loader will use this internal name.
nBase A number that you must bias against the ordinals to get the indexes into the address-of-function array.
NumberOfFunctions Total number of functions/symbols that are exported by this module.
NumberOfNames Number of functions/symbols that are exported by name. This value is not the number of ALL functions/symbols in the module. For that number, you need to check NumberOfFunctions. This value can be 0. In that case, the module may export by ordinal only. If there is no function/symbol to be exported in the first case, the RVA of the export table in the data directory will be 0.
AddressOfFunctions An RVA that points to an array of RVAs of the functions/symbols in the module. In short, RVAs to all functions in the module are kept in an array and this field points to the head of that array.
AddressOfNames An RVA that points to an array of RVAs of the names of functions in the module.
AddressOfNameOrdinals An RVA that points to a 16-bit array that contains the ordinals associated with the function names in the AddressOfNames array above.

Just reading the above table may not give you the real picture of the export table. The simplified explanation below will clarify the concept.

The export table exists for use by the PE loader. First of all, the module must keep the addresses of all exported functions somewhere so the PE loader can look them up. It keeps them in an array that is pointed to by the field AddressOfFunctions. The number of elements in the array is kept in NumberOfFunctions. Thus if the module exports 40 functions, it must have 40 members in the array pointed to by AddressOfFunctions and NumberOfFunctions must contain a value 40. Now if some functions are exported by names, the module must keep the names in the file. It keeps the RVAs to the names in an array so the PE loader can look them up. That array is pointed to by AddressOfNames and the number of names in NumberOfNames. Think about the job of the PE loader, it knows the names of the functions, it must somehow obtain the addresses of those functions. Up to now, the module has two arrays: the names and the addresses but there is no linkage between them. Thus we need something that relates the names of the functions to their addresses. The

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