Static Libraries vs. Dynamic Libraries

Functions are blocks of code that are reusable throughout a program. Using them saves time, removing the need to rewrite code multiple times. Libraries, like functions also save time in that they make functiones reusable in multiple programs.

Static libraries, while reusable in multiple programs, are locked into a program at compile time. Dynamic, or shared libraries on the other hand, exist as separate files outside of the executable file.

The downside of using a static library is that it’s code is locked into the final executable file and cannot be modified without a re-compile. In contrast, a dynamic library can be modified without a need to re-compile.

Because dynamic libraries live outside of the executable file, the program need only make one copy of the library’s files at compile-time. Whereas using a static library means every file in your program must have it’s own copy of the library’s files at compile-time.

The downside of using a dynamic library is that a program is much more susceptible to breaking. If a dynamic library for example becomes corrupt, the executable file may no longer work. A static library, however, is untouchable because it lives inside the executable file.

The upside of using a dynamic library is that multiple running applications can use the same library without the need for each to have it’s own copy.

Another benefit of using static libraries is execution speed at run-time. Because the it’s object code (binary) is already included in the executable file, multiple calls to functions can be handled much more quickly than a dynamic library’s code, which needs to be called from files outside of the executable.

What does this mean in practical terms? Well, imagine you’re a devloper who has issued an application to thousands of users. When you want to make a few updates to the app, would you rather have to re-issue the entire program, or would you rather just issue updates in the form of modified libraries? The answer depends on the downsides your application can afford. If you have a lot of files, multiple copies of a static library means an increase in the executable file’s size. If, however, the benefits of execution time outweigh the need to save space, the static library is the way to go.

Dynamic Library Creation (Linux only)

  1. gcc *.c -c -fpic
    The .c source files need to be prepared for use in a dynamic library. Since multiple programs can all use one instance of a dynamic library, the library can’t store data at fixed addresses. This is because the location of the library in memory will vary between programs. This is done by using the compiler flag -fpic. Since we need to apply this step after the compile process has generated the object code, the compiler must be told to halt and return one object file (.o) for each source file. This is done by using the -c flag.
  2. gcc *0 -shared -o liball.so
    The object files are now ready to be compiled into a dynamic library. This is done by compiling all of the .o files using by using the -shared flag. Later when compiling program files, the compiler identifies a library by looking for files beginning with ‘lib’ and ending with a library extension (.so for dynamic, .a for static). Therefore it’s important to name a library accordingly.
  3. export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=$PWD:$LD_LIBRARY_PATH
    Because a program needs to know where to look for library files, we must add that location to the environmental variable LD_LIBRARY_PATH.

Static Library Creation (Linux only)

Creating a static library is much simpler. First, create the object files the same way as step 1 above. Then archive the library using ‘ar rcs liball.a *.0’

Your program should include a prototype for each of the functions that exist in your library. If you’re using a header file for these prototypes, make sure to include the name of that file in your other files by using #include “<header file>”

Program compilation
gcc -L. -lall -o my_program main.c

When compiling program files, we have to tell the compiler to use the library files and where to find them. ‘-l’ tells it we want to include library files. And ‘all’ tells it to look for the library liball.so. It’s important to leave the ‘lib’ and ‘.so’ out of the flag because the compiler already identifies library files that way. ‘-L.’ tells the compiler it can find the library file in the current directory.