Managing libraries (static and dynamic libraries)#

If you need to manage a program built of dozens of source files (and that is not uncommon!), the command-line needed to specify all the object files will be very long indeed. This soon becomes tedious or even impossible to maintain. So a different solution is called for: create your own libraries.

Libraries contain any number of object files in a compact form, so that the command-line becomes far shorter:

$ gfortran -o tabulate tabulate.f90 functions.o supportlib.a

where “supportlib.a” is a collection of one, two or many object files, all compiled and then put into a library. The extension “.a” is used by Linux and Linux-like platforms. On Windows the extension “.lib” is used.

Creating your own libraries is not that complicated: on Linux, you can achieve this using a utility like ar:

$ gfortran -c file1.f90 file2.f90
$ gfortran -c file3.f90 ...
$ ar r supportlib.a file1.o file2.o
$ ar r supportlib.a file3.o ...

or on Windows using the lib utility:

c:\...> ifort -c file1.f90 file2.f90
c:\...> ifort -c file3.f90 ...
c:\...> lib /out:supportlib.lib file1.obj file2.obj
c:\...> lib supportlib.lib file3.obj ...


  • The command ar with the option r either creates the library (the name appears after the option) or adds new object files to the library (or replaces any existing ones).

  • The command lib will create a new library if you use specify the option /out: with the name of the new library next to it. To add object files to an existing library, leave out the /out: bit.

  • On platforms like Linux there is a particular convention to name libraries. If you name your library like “libname.a” (note the “lib” prefix), then you can refer to it as -lname in the link step.

  • Libraries are often sought in directories indicated by an option -L or /LIBPATH. This saves you from having to specify the exact path for every library.

Using libraries you can build very large programs without having to resort to extremely long command lines.

Static versus dynamic libraries#

The above discussion is tacitly assuming that you are using the so-called static libraries. Static libraries (or at least parts of their contents) become an integral part of the executable program. The only way to change the routines incorporated in the program is by rebuilding the program with a new version of the library.

A flexible alternative is to use the so-called dynamic libraries. These libraries remain outside the executable program and as a consequence can be replaced without rebuilding the entire program. Compilers and indeed the operating system itself rely heavily on such dynamic libraries. You could consider dynamic libraries as a sort of executable programs that need a bit of help to be run.

Building dynamic libraries works slightly differently from building static libraries: you use the compiler/linker instead of a tool like ar or lib.

On Linux:

$ gfortran -fpic -c file1.f90 file2.f90
$ gfortran -fpic -c file3.f90 ...
$ gfortran -shared -o file1.o file2.o file3.o ...

On Windows, with the Intel Fortran compiler:

$ ifort -c file1.f90 file2.f90
$ ifort -c file3.f90 ...
$ ifort -dll -exe:supportlib.dll file1.obj file2.obj file3.obj ...

The differences are that:

  • You need to specify a compile option on Linux, for gfortran that is -fpic, because the object code is slightly different.

  • You need to tell in the link step that you want a dynamic library (on Linux: a shared object/library, hence the extension “.so”; on Windows: a dynamic link library)

There is one more thing to be aware of: On Windows you must explicitly specify that a procedure is to be exported, i.e. is visible in the dynamic library. There are several ways — depending on the compiler you use — to achieve this. One method is via a so-called compiler directive:

subroutine myroutine( ... )

Or, with the Intel Fortran compiler:

subroutine myroutine( ... )

Besides a dynamic library (DLL), a so-called import library may be generated.

Because the details differ per compiler, here are two examples: gfortran on Cygwin and Intel Fortran on Windows. In both cases we look at the tabulate program in the file “tabulate.f90”.

GNU/Linux and gfortran#

The tabulate program requires a user-defined routine f. If we let it reside in a dynamic library, say “functions.dll”, we can simply replace the implementation of the function by putting another dynamic library in the directory. No need to rebuild the program as such.

On Cygwin it is not necessary to explicitly export a procedure — all publically visible routines are exported when you build a dynamic library. Also, no import library is generated.

Since our dynamic library can be built from a single source file, we can take a shortcut:

$ gfortran -shared -o functions.dll functions.f90

This produces the files “functions.dll” and “user_functions.mod”. The utility nm tells us the exact name of the function f:

$ nm functions.dll
000000054f9d7000 B __dynamically_loaded
                 U __end__
0000000000000200 A __file_alignment__
000000054f9d1030 T __function_MOD_f
000000054f9d1020 T __gcc_deregister_frame
000000054f9d1000 T __gcc_register_frame

It has received a prefix __function_MOD_ to distinguish it from any other routine “f” that might be defined in another module.

The next step is to build the program:

$ gfortran -o tabulate tabulate.f90 functions.dll

The DLL and the .mod file are used to build the executable program with checks on the function’s interface, the right name and the reference to “a” DLL, called “functions.dll”.

You can replace the shared library “functions.dll” by another one, implementing a different function “f”. Of course, you need to be careful to use the correct interface for this function. The compiler/linker are not invoked anymore, so they can do no checking.

Windows and Intel Fortran#

The setup is the same as with Linux, but on Windows it is necessary to explicitly export the routines. And an import library is generated — this is the library that should be used in the link step.

The source file must contain the compiler directive, otherwise the function f is not exported:

real function f( x )

Again we take a shortcut:

$ ifort -exe:functions.dll functions.f90 -dll

This produces the files “functions.dll”, “user_functions.mod” as well as “functions.lib” (and two other files of no importance here). The “dependency walker” program tells us that the exact name of the function “f” is FUNCTION_mp_F. It is also exported, so that it can be found by the linker in the next step:

$ ifort tabulate.f90 functions.lib

Note that we need to specify the name of the export library, not the DLL!

(Note also: the Intel Fortran compiler uses the name of the first source file as the name for the executable — here we do without the -exe option.)

Just as under Cygwin, the DLL and the .mod file are used to build the executable program with checks on the function’s interface, the right name and the reference to “a” DLL, called “functions.dll”.

You can replace the shared library “functions.dll” by another one, but the same caution is required: while the implementation can be quite different, the function’s interface must be the same.