5.12. Using shared libraries¶
On some platforms GHC supports building Haskell code into shared libraries. Shared libraries are also sometimes known as dynamic libraries, in particular on Windows they are referred to as dynamic link libraries (DLLs).
Shared libraries allow a single instance of some pre-compiled code to be shared between several programs. In contrast, with static linking the code is copied into each program. Using shared libraries can thus save disk space. They also allow a single copy of code to be shared in memory between several programs that use it. Shared libraries are often used as a way of structuring large projects, especially where different parts are written in different programming languages. Shared libraries are also commonly used as a plugin mechanism by various applications. This is particularly common on Windows using COM.
In GHC version 6.12 building shared libraries is supported for Linux (on x86 and x86-64 architectures). GHC version 7.0 adds support on Windows (see Building and using Win32 DLLs), FreeBSD and OpenBSD (x86 and x86-64), Solaris (x86) and Mac OS X (x86 and PowerPC).
Building and using shared libraries is slightly more complicated than
building and using static libraries. When using Cabal much of the detail
is hidden, just use
--enable-shared when configuring a package to
build it into a shared library, or to link it against other packages
built as shared libraries. The additional complexity when building code
is to distinguish whether the code will be used in a shared library or
will use shared library versions of other packages it depends on. There
is additional complexity when installing and distributing shared
libraries or programs that use shared libraries, to ensure that all
shared libraries that are required at runtime are present in suitable
5.12.1. Building programs that use shared libraries¶
To build a simple program and have it use shared libraries for the
runtime system and the base libraries use the
ghc --make -dynamic Main.hs
This has two effects. The first is to compile the code in such a way
that it can be linked against shared library versions of Haskell
packages (such as base). The second is when linking, to link against the
shared versions of the packages’ libraries rather than the static
versions. Obviously this requires that the packages were built with
shared libraries. On supported platforms GHC comes with shared libraries
for all the core packages, but if you install extra packages (e.g. with
Cabal) then they would also have to be built with shared libraries
--enable-shared for Cabal).
5.12.2. Shared libraries for Haskell packages¶
You can build Haskell code into a shared library and make a package to
be used by other Haskell programs. The easiest way is using Cabal,
simply configure the Cabal package with the
If you want to do the steps manually or are writing your own build system then there are certain conventions that must be followed. Building a shared library that exports Haskell code, to be used by other Haskell code is a bit more complicated than it is for one that exports a C API and will be used by C code. If you get it wrong you will usually end up with linker errors.
In particular Haskell shared libraries must be made into packages. You
cannot freely assign which modules go in which shared libraries. The
Haskell shared libraries must match the package boundaries. The reason
for this is that GHC handles references to symbols within the same
shared library (or main executable binary) differently from references
to symbols between different shared libraries. GHC needs to know for
each imported module if that module lives locally in the same shared lib
or in a separate shared lib. The way it does this is by using packages.
-dynamic, a module from a separate package is assumed to
come from a separate shared lib, while modules from the same package (or
the default “main” package) are assumed to be within the same shared lib
(or main executable binary).
Most of the conventions GHC expects when using packages are described in
Building a package from Haskell source. In addition note that GHC expects the
files to use the extension
.dyn_hi. The other requirements are the
same as for C libraries and are described below, in particular the use
of the flags
5.12.3. Shared libraries that export a C API¶
Building Haskell code into a shared library is a good way to include Haskell code in a larger mixed-language project. While with static linking it is recommended to use GHC to perform the final link step, with shared libraries a Haskell library can be treated just like any other shared library. The linking can be done using the normal system C compiler or linker.
It is possible to load shared libraries generated by GHC in other programs not written in Haskell, so they are suitable for using as plugins. Of course to construct a plugin you will have to use the FFI to export C functions and follow the rules about initialising the RTS. See Making a Haskell library that can be called from foreign code. In particular you will probably want to export a C function from your shared library to initialise the plugin before any Haskell functions are called.
To build Haskell modules that export a C API into a shared library use
ghc --make -dynamic -shared -fPIC -flink-rts Foo.hs -o libfoo.so
As before, the
-dynamic flag specifies that this library links
against the shared library versions of the
-flink-rts additionally links against the shared library version of
rts package (linking against the
rts package is not enabled by
default when building shared libraries). You may also omit
and link the RTS library into your final executable.
-fPIC flag is required for all code that will end up in a
shared library. The
-shared flag specifies to make a shared library
rather than a program. To make this clearer we can break this down into
separate compilation and link steps:
ghc -dynamic -fPIC -c Foo.hs ghc -dynamic -shared -flink-rts Foo.o -o libfoo.so
In principle you can use
-dynamic in the
link step. That means to statically link the runtime system and all of the base
libraries into your new shared library. This would make a very big, but
standalone shared library. On most platforms however that would require all the
static libraries to have been built with
-fPIC so that the code is
suitable to include into a shared library and we do not do that at the moment.
If your shared library exports a Haskell API then you cannot directly link it into another Haskell program and use that Haskell API. You will get linker errors. You must instead make it into a package as described in the section above.
5.12.4. Finding shared libraries at runtime¶
The primary difficulty with managing shared libraries is arranging things such that programs can find the libraries they need at runtime. The details of how this works varies between platforms, in particular the three major systems: Unix ELF platforms, Windows and Mac OS X.
On Unix there are two mechanisms. Shared libraries can be installed into
standard locations that the dynamic linker knows about. For example
/usr/local/lib on most systems. The other mechanism
is to use a “runtime path” or “rpath” embedded into programs and
libraries themselves. These paths can either be absolute paths or on at
least Linux and Solaris they can be paths relative to the program or
library itself. In principle this makes it possible to construct fully
relocatable sets of programs and libraries.
GHC has a
-dynload linking flag to select the method that is used to
find shared libraries at runtime. There are currently two modes:
- A system-dependent mode. This is also the default mode. On Unix ELF
systems this embeds
RUNPATHentries into the shared library or executable. In particular it uses absolute paths to where the shared libraries for the rts and each package can be found. This means the program can immediately be run and it will be able to find the libraries it needs. However it may not be suitable for deployment if the libraries are installed in a different location on another machine.
- This does not embed any runtime paths. It relies on the shared
libraries being available in a standard location or in a directory
given by the
To use relative paths for dependent libraries on Linux and Solaris you
can pass a suitable
-rpath flag to the linker:
ghc -dynamic Main.hs -o main -lfoo -L. -optl-Wl,-rpath,'$ORIGIN'
This assumes that the library
libfoo.so is in the current directory
and will be able to be found in the same directory as the executable
main once the program is deployed. Similarly it would be possible to
use a subdirectory relative to the executable e.g.
This relative path technique can be used with either of the two
-dynload modes, though it makes most sense with the
The difference is that with the
deploy mode, the above example will
end up with an ELF
RUNPATH of just
$ORIGIN while with the
sysdep mode the
RUNPATH will be
$ORIGIN followed by all the
library directories of all the packages that the program depends on
rts packages etc.) which are typically absolute
paths. The unix tool
readelf --dynamic is handy for inspecting the
RUNPATH entries in ELF shared libraries and executables.
On most UNIX platforms it is also possible to build executables that can be
dlopen‘d like shared libraries using the
-pie flag during
22.214.171.124. Mac OS X¶
The standard assumption on Darwin/Mac OS X is that dynamic libraries will be
stamped at build time with an “install name”, which is the full ultimate
install path of the library file. Any libraries or executables that
subsequently link against it (even if it hasn’t been installed yet) will pick
up that path as their runtime search location for it. When compiling with ghc
directly, the install name is set by default to the location where it is built.
You can override this with the
-dylib-install-name ⟨path⟩ option
-install_name to the Apple linker). Cabal does this for you.
It automatically sets the install name for dynamic libraries to the absolute
path of the ultimate install location.