Installing and Accessing Shared Libraries

Following on from last week, you should have been able to build your own .so library file and link to it with a separate executable.

This week we’ll look at installing the shared library (see last week for the source files. This weeks commands follow on from there).

Basically we have three options when it comes to building and including shared libraries.


You’ve already seen one option, which is to specify the location of the library with -L and also pass an -rpath to the linker so that it embeds that path in the executable stating where the library can be found (so the loader will be able to locate it at runtime).

Using rpath is fine, but if you share your shared library with others, they all need to make sure it lives in the same directory that you have specified. In my case, the library was located in my home directory, faye, which wouldn’t be much good if I wanted anyone else to use my program on their computer!


This second method uses the environment variable LD_LIBRARY_PATH. You can see what it is currently set to with the command:


This should be blank (unless you have previously used it for something!)

To use it, you just need to set it to also include the location of your shared object:


Now if we echo the command we see:


And at compile time, we can create an executable that links to the library with the following line:

g++ -Wall -L/home/faye/sotest main.cpp -lpal

We pass the path to the linker with the -L option above and the LD_LIBRARY_PATH variable tells the loader where to find the library when we run the executable (so we no longer need the rpath option to embed the path into the executable).


LD_LIBRARY_PATH isn’t really the optimal solution – it’s good for testing because you don’t need root access to use it, but you probably don’t want to distribute code that relies on LD_LIBRARY_PATH being set.

Before we move on, clear the LD_LIBRARY_PATH variable with:



This is the ‘official’ way to install your shared library, and it requires root privileges.

First of all, the location we’re going to use is the standard /usr/lib.

You need to copy the library to that location (which you will need to use sudo for, or login as root to perform):

sudo mv /home/faye/ /usr/lib

Next run ldconfig, which will update the cache of libraries available in the standard system directories:

sudo ldconfig

You can check if the cache has been updated by requesting the cache and grepping it for our libpal library:

ldconfig -p | grep libpal (libc6,x86-64) => /lib/    //here it is!

Now we can compile our executable exactly as we would normally (and as we originally tried last week):

g++ -Wall main.cpp -lpal

We don’t need the rpath (the loader finds the library via the ldconfig cache), we don’t need the -L option (the linker finds the library in the standard search paths), and it runs exactly as it should.


Creating a Shared Library

I thought we could take a quick look at how to create a shared library out of our code. This week we’ll create the library and next week we’ll look at the various ways of installing/accessing it on the operating system.

I’m going to re-use the palindrome program I’ve talked about before (a proper version, not the dodgy one).

First of all we want to break the code up into several files instead of having it all in one cpp file. We’ll take the palindrome function out and use that to create a library. Obviously if you were creating your own libraries you’d probably want a lot more functionality, but I’ll leave that part to you 😉

Right then. Let’s create a header file, pal.h:

bool isPalindrome(char* word);

And a cpp file, pal.cpp:

#include "pal.h"
#include <string.h>

bool isPalindrome(char* word)
    bool ret = true;

    char *p = word;
    int len = strlen(word);
    char *q = &word[len-1];

    for (int i = 0 ; i < len ; ++i, ++p, --q)
        if (*p != *q)
            ret = false;

    return ret;

And then get down to the business of creating our shared object!

First of all we want to compile the code above into an object file.

To do this we pass gcc the -c option, which tells it NOT to perform the linking stage (if you did try to link, gcc would complain that you have no main function defined – because a program can’t run without a main, but a library doesn’t need one).

g++ -fPIC -c -Wall pal.cpp

This will create a pal.o file in the directory that you are working in.

Next, we want to create our actual library with this line, which I’ll explain below:

ld -shared pal.o -o

This uses the linker program (ld), usually called by g++ (remember we told g++ with the -c option not to link in the first stage). It says make a shared object (the -shared option), using the input file pal.o and call it (the -o option). The .so extension is the usual naming convention for shared libraries.

After running this, you should be able to see the file in your working directory.

Cool! You’ve just created a shared library 🙂

Next up we actually want to use that library with some other code. So let’s create  a main.cpp file that calls the library function isPalindrome:

#include "pal.h"
#include <iostream>

using namespace std;

int main()
    while (1)
        char buffer[64] = {0};
        cin >> buffer;

        if (isPalindrome(buffer))
            cout << "Word is a palindrome" << endl;
            cout << "Word is not a palindrome" << endl;

    return 0;

As with all libraries, we use it in main.cpp by including the library header (pal.h). Then at compile time we have to tell gcc that we want to link to the library.

We would normally link to a library with a line like this:

g++ -Wall main.cpp -lpal

However, if we try this, we get an error that says:

/usr/bin/ld: cannot find -lpal
collect2: error: ld returned 1 exit status


This is because the linker, ld, looks in a specified set of locations for libraries and our library doesn’t live there (more on this next week).

So what can we do?

A temporary solution is to tell ld where the library currently lives. It’s in our working directory, so we can use the -rpath option to let the linker know about it.

g++ -Wall -L/home/faye -Wl,-rpath=/home/faye/ main.cpp -lpal

g++ -Wall is our usual compile command, checking for all warnings.

-L is the path to the shared library, provided so that the linker knows where to look for it.

-Wl means a list of comma separated options for the linker follows, and the only option we pass is:

-rpath – which means that the path the library will be embedded in the executable so that the loader will be able to find it at run time.

Finally we have our main.cpp file, and then we add in our new shared library by filename with


Just to make that clear:

-L is used for the linker
-rpath embeds the path (via the linker) for the loader.

If you omit either of these, you will have problems either linking or running.

If you run this now, with ./a.out, you’ll get the following:


We’ll look at other ways of accessing shared libraries next week (i.e. without using -rpath).

In the meantime, have fun!