Building and Using DLLs

DLLs are Dynamic Link Libraries, which means that they're linked into your program at run time instead of build time. There are three parts to a DLL:

The code and data are the parts you write - functions, variables, etc. All these are merged together, like if you were building one big object files, and put into the dll. They are not put into your .exe at all.

The exports contains a list of functions and variables that the dll makes available to other programs. Think of this as the list of "global" symbols, the rest being hidden. Normally, you'd create this list by hand with a text editor, but it's possible to do it automatically from the list of functions in your code. The dlltool program creates the exports section of the dll from your text file of exported symbols.

The import library is a regular UNIX-like .a library, but it only contains the tiny bit of information needed to tell the OS how your program interacts with ("imports") the dll. This information is linked into your .exe. This is also generated by dlltool.

Building DLLs

This page gives only a few simple examples of gcc's DLL-building capabilities. To begin an exploration of the many additional options, see the gcc documentation and website, currently at

Let's go through a simple example of how to build a dll. For this example, we'll use a single file myprog.c for the program (myprog.exe) and a single file mydll.c for the contents of the dll (mydll.dll).

Fortunately, with the latest gcc and binutils the process for building a dll is now pretty simple. Say you want to build this minimal function in mydll.c:

#include <stdio.h>

  printf ("Hello World!\n");

First compile mydll.c to object code:

gcc -c mydll.c

Then, tell gcc that it is building a shared library:

gcc -shared -o mydll.dll mydll.o

That's it! To finish up the example, you can now link to the dll with a simple program:

main ()
  hello ();

Then link to your dll with a command like:

gcc -o myprog myprog.c -L./ -lmydll

However, if you are building a dll as an export library, you will probably want to use the complete syntax:

gcc -shared -o cyg${module}.dll \
    -Wl,--out-implib=lib${module}.dll.a \
    -Wl,--export-all-symbols \
    -Wl,--enable-auto-import \
    -Wl,--whole-archive ${old_libs} \
    -Wl,--no-whole-archive ${dependency_libs}

The name of your library is ${module}, prefixed with cyg for the DLL and lib for the import library. Cygwin DLLs use the cyg prefix to differentiate them from native-Windows MinGW DLLs, see the MinGW website for more details. ${old_libs} are all your object files, bundled together in static libs or single object files and the ${dependency_libs} are import libs you need to link against, e.g '-lpng -lz -L/usr/local/special -lmyspeciallib'.

Linking Against DLLs

If you have an existing DLL already, you need to build a Cygwin-compatible import library. If you have the source to compile the DLL, see the section called “Building DLLs” for details on having gcc build one for you. If you do not have the source or a supplied working import library, you can get most of the way by creating a .def file with these commands (you might need to do this in bash for the quoting to work correctly):

echo EXPORTS > foo.def
nm foo.dll | grep ' T _' | sed 's/.* T _//' >> foo.def

Note that this will only work if the DLL is not stripped. Otherwise you will get an error message: "No symbols in foo.dll".

Once you have the .def file, you can create an import library from it like this:

dlltool --def foo.def --dllname foo.dll --output-lib foo.a