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25.4 DLLs with Libtool

Windows' DLLs, are very different to their nearest equivalent on Unix: shared libraries. This makes Libtool's job of hiding both behind the same abstraction extremely difficult -- it is not fully implemented at the time of writing. As a package author that wants to use DLLs on Windows with Libtool, you must construct your packages very carefully to enable them to build and link with DLLs in the same way that they build and link with shared libraries on Unix.

Some of the difficulties that must be addressed follow:

  • At link time, a DLL effectively consists of two parts; the DLL itself which contains the shared object code, and an import library which consists of the stub(65) functions which are actually linked into the executable, at a rate of one stub per entry point. Unix has a run time loader which links shared libraries into the main program as it is executed, so the shared library is but a single file.

  • Pointer comparisons do not always work as expected when the pointers cross a DLL boundary, since you can be comparing the addresses of the stubs in the import library rather than the addresses of the actual objects in the DLL. GCC provides the __declspec extension to alleviate this problem a little.

  • The search algorithm for the runtime library loader is very different to the algorithms typically used on Unix; I'll explain how to dela with this in 25.4.5 Runtime Loading of DLLs.

  • All of the symbols required by a DLL at runtime, must be resolved at link time. With some creative use of import libraries, it is usually possible to work around this shortcoming, but it is easy to forget this limitation if you are developing on a modern system which has lazy symbol resolution. Be sure to keep it at the back of your mind if you intend to have your package portable to Windows.

  • Worst of all, is that it is impossible to reference a non-pointer item imported from a DLL. In practice, when you think you have exported a data item from a DLL, you are actually exporting it's address (in fact the address of the address if you take the import library into consideration), and it is necessary to add an extra level of indirection to any non-pointers imported from a DLL to take this into account. The GNU gcc __declspec extension can handle this automatically too, at the expense of obfuscating your code a little.

Cygwin support in Libtool is very new, and is being developed very quickly, so newer versions generally improve vastly over their predecessors when it comes to Cygwin, so you should get the newest release you can. The rest of this section is correct with respect to Libtool version 1.3.5.

In some future version, Libtool might be able to work as transparently as Autoconf and Automake, but for now designing your packages as described in this chapter will help Libtool to help us have DLLs and Unix shared libraries from the same codebase.

The bottom line here is that setting a package up to build and use modules and libraries as both DLLs and Unix shared libraries is not straightforward, but the rest of this section provides a recipe which I have used successfully in several projects, including the module loader for GNU m4 1.5 which works correctly with DLLs on Windows. Lets create hello world as a DLL, and an executable where the runtime loader loads the DLL.

This document was generated by Gary V. Vaughan on February, 8 2006 using texi2html