Things I’ve learned about making portable binaries

I don’t claim to be a master at linking and ELF (Linux) executables, but there’s some tricks I’ve learned that I wish someone had explained to me back then.

There’s two problems to resolve to make clean distributable binaries: dependency hell and the libc compatibility. By solving both, we can get an executable to run on any recent Linux system, regardless of the distribution and installed packages.

Dependency hell

Compiling to a binary is a two-step process. There’s the actual compiling, then the linking. In the first step, each source file gets turned into an Object file (.o extension). Then all the .o and the .a files are put together in a binary and the ELF meta-information is added. .a files are static library files. If your code uses an external library and that library has previously been statically compiled, then the .a file can be directly embedded into the binary. The ELF headers contain data such as “where is the main?” and “where should I look for the dynamically linked libraries (.so files)?”

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