Common Object File Format (COFF)
Last reviewed: October 12, 1994
Article ID: Q121460
The information in this article applies to:
Microsoft Windows NT operating system version 3.1
Microsoft Windows NT Advanced Server version 3.1
Microsoft Windows NT Workstation version 3.5
Microsoft Windows NT Server version 3.5
Windows NT uses a special format for the executable (image) files and object files. The format used in these
files are referred to as Portable Executable (PE) or Common Object File Format (COFF) files. The name Portable
Executable refers to the fact that executable files can run on more than one platform. This article describes in
detail the internal features of PE/COFF file formats and its parameters.
The PE/COFF file headers consist of a MS-DOS stub, file signature, COFF Header, and Optional Header. An object
file contains only the COFF Header, but an image file contains all the headers described above. The most
important of these headers is the COFF header. The table below describes the information stored in the COFF
Offset Size Field Description
0 2 Machine Number identifying type of target machine.
2 2 Number of Sections Number of sections; indicates size of the
Section Table, which immediately follows
4 4 Time/Date Stamp Time and date the file was created.
8 4 Pointer to Symbol Offset, within the COFF file, of the symbol
12 4 Number of Symbols Number of entries in the symbol table.
This data can be used in locating the
string table, which immediately follows
the symbol table.
16 2 Optional Header Size of the optional header, which is
Size included for executable files but not
object files. An object file should have a
value of 0 here.
18 2 Characteristics Flags indicating attributes of the file.
Windows NT Software Development Kit (SDK) provides a utility called DUMPBIN. DUMPBIN is a 32-bit tool that
displays information about 32-bit Common Object File Format (COFF) binary files. DUMPBIN runs only from a
command prompt. You can use DUMPBIN to examine the following kinds of COFF files: object files, standard
libraries of COFF objects, executable files, and dynamic-link library (DLL) files.
To run DUMPBIN, use the following syntax:
DUMPBIN [options] [files]
The following are options parameters and definitions for DUMPBIN:
/ALL Setting this option causes DUMPBIN to display all
available information except code disassembly.
/ARCHIVEMEMBERS Setting this option causes DUMPBIN to display minimal
information about member objects in a library.
/DISASM Setting this option causes DUMPBIN to show disassembly
of code sections, using symbols if present in the file.
/EXPORTS This option causes DUMPBIN to list all definitions
exported from an executable file or DLL.
/HEADERS Setting this option causes DUMPBIN to display the file
header and the header for each section. When used with a
library, displays the header for each member object.
/IMPORTS This option causes DUMPBIN to list all definitions
imported to an executable file or DLL.
/LINENUMBERS Setting this option causes DUMPBIN to show COFF line
numbers. Line numbers exist in an object file if it was
compiled with /Zi. An executable file or DLL contains
COFF line numbers if it was linked with /DEBUG and
Setting this option causes DUMPBIN to list public symbols
defined in a library. Specify the 1 argument to display
symbols in object order, along with their offsets. Specify
the 2 argument to display offsets and index numbers of
objects, then list the symbols in alphabetical order along
with the object index for each. To get both outputs,
specify /LINKERMEMBER without the number argument.
/OUT:<filename> This option specifies a filename for the output.
Setting this option causes DUMPBIN to display the raw
contents of each section in the file. The arguments
control the format of the display, as follows:
Argument - Result
BYTES - The default. Contents are displayed in hexadecimal bytes,
and also as ASCII if they have a printed representation.
SHORTS - Contents are displayed in hexadecimal words.
LONGS - Contents are displayed in hexadecimal longwords.
NONE - Raw data is suppressed. This is useful to control the
output of /ALL.
number - Displayed lines are set to a width that holds number
values per line.
/RELOCATIONS Setting this option causes DUMPBIN to display any
relocations in the object or image.
This option restricts the output to information on the
/SUMMARY Setting this option causes DUMPBIN to display minimal
information about sections, including total size. This
option is the default if no other option is specified
in a DUMPBIN command.
/SYMBOLS Setting this option causes DUMPBIN to display the COFF symbol
table. Symbol tables exist in all object files. A COFF symbol
table appears in an image file only if it is linked with
Additional reference words: prodnt 3.10 3.50 entry NTS NTW
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Last reviewed: October 12, 1994