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Packaging Guide

8. Shared Libraries

Shared libraries are compiled code which is intended to be shared among several different programs. They are distributed as .so files in /usr/lib/.

A library exports symbols which are the compiled versions of functions, classes and variables. A library has a name called an SONAME which includes a version number. This SONAME version does not necessarily match the public release version number. A program gets compiled against a given SONAME version of the library. If any of the symbols is removed or changes then the version number needs to be changed which forces any packages using that library to be recompiled against the new version. Version numbers are usually set by upstream and we follow them in our binary package names called an ABI number, but sometimes upstreams do not use sensible version numbers and packagers have to keep separate version numbers.

Libraries are usually distributed by upstream as standalone releases. Sometimes they are distributed as part of a program. In this case they can be included in the binary package along with the program (this is called bundling) if you do not expect any other programs to use the library, more often they should be split out into separate binary packages.

The libraries themselves are put into a binary package named libfoo1 where foo is the name of the library and 1 is the version from the SONAME. Development files from the package, such as header files, needed to compile programs against the library are put into a package called libfoo-dev.

8.1. An Example

We will use libnova as an example:

$ bzr branch ubuntu:trusty/libnova
$ sudo apt-get install libnova-dev

To find the SONAME of the library run:

$ readelf -a /usr/lib/libnova-0.12.so.2 | grep SONAME

The SONAME is libnova-0.12.so.2, which matches the file name (usually the case but not always). Here upstream has put the upstream version number as part of the SONAME and given it an ABI version of 2. Library package names should follow the SONAME of the library they contain. The library binary package is called libnova-0.12-2 where libnova-0.12 is the name of the library and 2 is our ABI number.

If upstream makes incompatible changes to their library they will have to reversion their SONAME and we will have to rename our library. Any other packages using our library package will need to recompiled against the new version, this is called a transition and can take some effort. Hopefully our ABI number will continue to match upstream’s SONAME but sometimes they introduce incompatibilities without changing their version number and we will need to change ours.

Looking in debian/libnova-0.12-2.install we see it includes two files:


The last one is the actual library, complete with minor and point version number. The first one is a symlink which points to the actual library. The symlink is what programs using the library will look for, the running programs do not care about the minor version number.

libnova-dev.install includes all the files needed to compile a program with this library. Header files, a config binary, the .la libtool file and libnova.so which is another symlink pointing at the library, programs compiling against the library do not care about the major version number (although the binary they compile into will).

.la libtool files are needed on some non-Linux systems with poor library support but usually cause more problems than they solve on Debian systems. It is a current Debian goal to remove .la files and we should help with this.

8.2. Static Libraries

The -dev package also ships usr/lib/libnova.a. This is a static library, an alternative to the shared library. Any program compiled against the static library will include the code directory into itself. This gets round worrying about binary compatibility of the library. However it also means that any bugs, including security issues, will not be updated along with the library until the program is recompiled. For this reason programs using static libraries are discouraged.

8.3. Symbol Files

When a package builds against a library the shlibs mechanism will add a package dependency on that library. This is why most programs will have Depends: ${shlibs:Depends} in debian/control. That gets replaced with the library dependencies at build time. However shlibs can only make it depend on the major ABI version number, 2 in our libnova example, so if new symbols get added in libnova 2.1 a program using these symbols could still be installed against libnova ABI 2.0 which would then crash.

To make the library dependencies more precise we keep .symbols files that list all the symbols in a library and the version they appeared in.

libnova has no symbols file so we can create one. Start by compiling the package:

$ bzr builddeb -- -nc

The -nc will cause it to finish at the end of compilation without removing the built files. Change to the build and run dpkg-gensymbols for the library package:

$ cd ../build-area/libnova-0.12.2/
$ dpkg-gensymbols -plibnova-0.12-2 > symbols.diff

This makes a diff file which you can self apply:

$ patch -p0 < symbols.diff

Which will create a file named similar to dpkg-gensymbolsnY_WWI that lists all the symbols. It also lists the current package version. We can remove the packaging version from that listed in the symbols file because new symbols are not generally added by new packaging versions, but by the upstream developers:

$ sed -i s,-0ubuntu2,, dpkg-gensymbolsnY_WWI

Now move the file into its location, commit and do a test build:

$ mv dpkg-gensymbolsnY_WWI ../../libnova/debian/libnova-0.12-2.symbols
$ cd ../../libnova
$ bzr add debian/libnova-0.12-2.symbols
$ bzr commit -m "add symbols file"
$ bzr builddeb

If it successfully compiles the symbols file is correct. With the next upstream version of libnova you would run dpkg-gensymbols again and it will give a diff to update the symbols file.

8.4. C++ Library Symbols Files

C++ has even more exacting standards of binary compatibility than C. The Debian Qt/KDE Team maintain some scripts to handle this, see their Working with symbols files page for how to use them.

8.5. Further Reading

Junichi Uekawa’s Debian Library Packaging Guide goes into this topic in more detail.