Building and Using the STLplus Library Collection


The STLplus library collection is intended to be portable between operating systems and compilers. At present, this means Windows/Unix/MacOSX systems and Clang/Gnu gcc/Microsoft/Borland compilers. Whether this will be extended to other operating systems and compilers is a moot point, since the library requires a good implementation of C++ templates.

In all cases you need to unpack the software into a directory which from now on will be referred to as "the STLplus3 directory". This directory contains a subdirectory for each of the libraries (e.g. "containers") and a subdirectory for the documentation in "docs" and error messages in "messages".

The simplest approach is to simply build all of the libraries - using libraries stand-alone takes a bit more work.


As far as is reasonable, the STLplus libraries have been designed to be used separately. However, some of the libraries use the STLplus containers and portability libraries to make them easier to code and to make them portable too. Also, two of the libraries (persistence and strings) provide additional functionality for the containers and portability libraries and therefore depend on them. The following table lists the dependencies:

Dependencies between STLplus libraries
LibraryDepends on
persistencecontainers, portability
subsystemscontainers, portability
stringscontainers, portability

The bold dependencies are required, or hard dependencies. If a library has a hard dependency, then you cannot use it stand-alone - you must incorporate both the library and all of its hard dependencies into your project.

The italicised dependencies are optional, or soft dependencies. They are on by default, but can be switched off if the required library is not installed. For example, if you want to use the persistence library as a stand-alone library for making C++ types persistent but are not interested in the containers library, then that can be done.

The key to building a library without the soft dependency on the containers library is to build using the following compiler directive:

Builds the library without the dependency on the containers library. All features provided by the containers library will be disabled.
Builds the library without the dependency on the portability/inf type which in turn removes the dependency on the portability library. All features provided by the inf type will be disabled.

These compiler directives must be used to build the library - for example, to make the portability library stand-alone, build it with these compiler directives. The same directives must also be used to build any file in your program that includes headers from the library. The simplest way to do this is to enable the directives for the whole project.

Monolithic Build

You can merge the libraries together into one large library - known as a monolithic build of STLplus. The simplest way of doing this is to use a shell - DOS shell on Windows, bash shell on Gnu/Linux or other Unix - and cd to the stlplus3/source directory. There, run the script make_monolithic. This copies all of the source code into the directory. Then you will find there are alternative project files and build scripts in the source directory to allow you to use STLplus as a monolithic library.

Furthermore, the Monolithic build has the header file stlplus3.hpp which includes the whole library collection in one go.

The rest of the documentation is based on the assumption that you are using STLplus as a library collection, but should be easy to relate to the use of the monolithic build instead.

Gnu Gcc Using My Makefiles

About my Make System

If you are using Clang or Gnu gcc as your compiler, then I supply a set of make rules with STLplus that will not only build this project but any other projects you are using too. In each of the STLplus source directories is a Makefile. This is usually quite small. The simplest Makefile contains the following:

include ../../makefiles/gcc.mak

The makefiles module is required and can be downloaded from the same place that you got the STLplus library. It contains the gcc.mak makefile rules which automatically adjust to any project provided that it is organised in a certain way.

The STLplus Makefile assumes that the makefiles module is in the same parent directory as the stlplus3 module. This is recommended, but if you wish to use a different configuration, you will need to edit the include path in the Makefile to reflect the change.

At the top level of the STLplus library collection is another Makefile which will build all of the libraries in one go. It contains the following:

include ../../makefiles/subdirectories.mak

The subdirectories.mak rules simply call make recursively on each subdirectory which contains a Makefile.

The makefiles module is a generic build system which provides a standard set of make rules for compiling and linking virtually any libraries and applications. It is not specific to STLplus. You are free to use it as the build system for your own projects if you prefer. It is designed to be as simple as possible to use whilst allowing multi-library projects and different build configurations - it currently supports a Debug build, a Release build and a Gprof (code profiling) build. You do not have to use it of course - you can write your own Makefile. However, you are recommended to use these makefiles to build STLplus.

Building with my Make System

To build the STLplus library collection, first start a command-line shell. Then change directory to the STLplus3 directory. Then simply run one of the following commands:

Builds a debug library
make RELEASE=on
Builds a release library
make GPROF=on
Builds a code profiling library (using gprof)

You can build all three of these variants of the library without them interfering since the object files are stored in separate subdirectories for each build.

In all three cases the build creates an archive which is called lib<library>.a, where <library> is the name of the library - e.g. libportability.a for the portability library. This is stored in a subdirectory of the library directory which is build-specific. Refer to the porting page and look for the Build Name column in the table. As an example, the build for DEC Alpha running Gnu/Linux has the Build Name GNU-alpha. This then has an extra suffix added depending on the variant:

for the debug variant
for the release variant
for the gprof variant

So, for example, the debug variant of the DEC Alpha build will be stored in a subdirectory called GNU-alpha-debug.

When you use my makefile system in a multi-library project, the make system will automatically select the correct version of lib<library>.a depending on the configuration chosen for the build. For example, if you build an application dependent on the portability library and you are on a DEC Alpha platform and building the debug variant, the build system will automatically link with GNU-alpha-debug/libportability.a.

Using with my Make System

Once you have built the STLplus library collection, you can incorporate any of its libraries into another project. If you want, you can build your own projects with the makefiles module. However, this is not necessary - see the section on general guidelines - Using The Libraries.

To use the STLplus libraries as part of another project, you need to create a Makefile for that project that will make the stlplus headers available and will link in the appropriate archive files for each of the libraries that you are using. The recommended way of doing this is to use the standard gcc.mak makefile provided as part of the makefiles module.

I'll assume that your project is in another directory next to (i.e. at the same level in the filesystem) as the STLplus directory. I'll also assume you are using the makefiles module and that this is also installed alongside. Finally, I'll assume that your source code is in a subdirectory of the project directory, for example in a subdirectory called "source".

Here is an example Makefile to build an object library from source that includes the STLplus portability and containers libraries:

LIBRARIES = ../../stlplus3/portability ../../stlplus3/containers
include ../../makefiles/gcc.mak

This is stored in a file called Makefile in the source code directory of the project.

The LIBRARIES variable is a space-separated list of libraries to include in the project. It should point to the source code directory of each library, i.e. where the .hpp and .cpp files are to be found. The makefiles module's rules will build the current directory and will add the LIBRARIES as extra include paths during compilation. Since this Makefile only builds an object library, there is no link step.

Note: the LIBRARIES variable should list the libraries in their dependency order (see the section on dependencies) with the higher-level libraries first and their required libraries after them. For example, the subsystems library should be listed before the portability library.

When using this generic makefile, there are some rules to follow to make it work.

The current directory, i.e. the one containing the Makefile, may be called source, in which case the directory above that is used as the name of the library. If the current directory is not called source, then the directory name is taken to be the library name. For example, if you call your project test and store the source in a folder test/source then the makefile system will generate an object library called libtest.a

To build a program rather than a library requires just one more line to be added to the Makefile. Here is an example Makefile that builds a program:

IMAGE     = client
LIBRARIES = ../../stlplus3/portability ../../stlplus3/containers
include ../../makefiles/gcc.mak

The IMAGE variable tells the make system first that a program is being built and second where the linked program should be placed and what it should be called. In this case there is no path to the IMAGE so it will be built in the current directory. The name of the program will be client (in fact, on Windows, client.exe, but the .exe extension should never be specified).

A common variant is to link all programs into a common "bin" directory at the same level of directory as the library directories. This is two levels up from the source directory:

IMAGE     = ../../bin/client
LIBRARIES = ../../stlplus3/portability ../../stlplus3/containers
include ../../makefiles/gcc.mak

The overall directory structure is now:

One final trick worth noting is that the IMAGE variable can be used to put different operating system programs into different subdirectories by using the PLATFORM variable. For example, here's a variant on the Makefile shown earlier for the client program:

IMAGE     = ../../bin/${PLATFORM}/client
LIBRARIES = ../../stlplus3/portability ../../stlplus3/containers
include ../../makefiles/gcc.mak

This will put Cygwin binaries in ../../bin/CYGWIN and Gnu/Linux binaries into ../../bin/GNULINUX.

Furthermore, the IMAGE variable can put each different build into a different subdirectory by using the SUBDIR variable instead of PLATFORM. The SUBDIR variable includes a prefix for the platform and the suffix for the different build configuration, so the debug build will be called CYGWIN-i686-debug for the Cygwin build and GNU-i686-debug for the Linux build.

Microsoft Visual Studio on Windows

The STLplus library collection can alternatively be built on Windows using the native Microsoft Visual Studio compiler. The STLplus library includes a Visual Studio solution for Visual Studio 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2017. Each library in the collection has its own project file which can be incorporated into any other workspace or solution. So individual libraries can be incorporated stand-alone in this way.

Beware that there is a terminology problem here - Microsoft call a library a project and a project a solution, and so on. I will try to remember to use Microsoft terminology here.

Building The Libraries

The STLplus library collection comes with a collection of Visual Studio Solution and Project files which are kept in a directory called 'ide'. Select the appropriate set of solution and project files for the version of Visual Studio that you have.

The solution can now be built. This will build all of the libraries in the collection. First, select the configuration you wish to build - Debug or Release - and the platform - Win32 or x64. You can build all of the projects by building the whole solution and it builds all the projects.

The Debug configuration is for use in debug builds, the Release is for use in release builds (no debug information). At this stage, if you wish, you can select other configurations and build them too. Each configuration is stored separately so they do not overwrite each other.

Note: the supplied project file will build STLplus so that it uses the multi-threaded DLL versions of the C runtime library (msvcrt.dll). You may need to adjust the project settings, either for STLplus or for your application so that all projects use the same settings. The symptom that will tell you that you have this problem is that, when you link your application, every symbol in the C runtime library will result in an error message from the linker saying that it is multiply defined.

Using The Libraries

Once you have built the STLplus library collection, you can then use it in other projects. This is done by setting up compiler and linker dependencies. The compiler dependencies give your code access to the STLplus headers, then the linker dependency brings in the compiled object code.

Note: These instructions are for Visual Studio 2015. Other versions are similar but all the dialogs have been redesigned - the principles however are the same.

To set up these dependencies, select the project that you wish to have access to the stlplus libraries. Then select the right-click menu item Properties. A mind-bogglingly complicated dialog will pop up. It is possible to configure all Configuyrations and Platforms on one go. To do this, select the Configuration drop-down menu in the top left and choose All Configurations. Also select the Platform dropdown menu and select All Platforms.

Native build on Windows using MinGW Gnu gcc

The MinGW development environment also allows native Windows applications to be built using the Gnu compiler. This accesses operating services through the Windows system calls directly.

The compiler is pre-configured with _WIN32 enabled, so programs and libraries (such as STLplus) that use this switch will automatically build correctly.

The standard Makefile system I supply will compile out of the box with MinGW if it is run in the MSys environment.

Other Unix builds using Gnu gcc

STLplus is designed to be portable to any Unix system, well at least any Posix-compliant Unix system, but this is only true when using the Gnu gcc compiler. Native compilers on the various flavours of Unix are not supported. This is not a realistic goal when there are so many variations between compilers.

The only problem you may have is that your version of Unix is not recognised by the makefiles module. You can test this by running make and seeing if you get an error message.

If you do get an error, you can easily add support for your platform. The key is the first executable code in the makefiles/gcc.mak file:

OS     := $(shell uname -s)

ifneq ($(findstring CYGWIN,$(OS)),)

This executes the 'uname' system command and then tries to identify the operating system by recognising a substring of the return value. This is then used to set PLATFORM to a simplified name for that platform. For example, the current version of Cygwin that I'm using has a uname of "CYGWIN_NT-5.0". The code shown above recognises the Cygwin build and sets PLATFORM to be the simplified form "CYGWIN". In general, the PLATFORM value should be a short representation of the operating system name in uppercase and with no punctuation since it is passed to the compiler as a macro. Different names should be used for different versions of the operating system that use different object code and are not binary compatible. Binary compatible versions of an operating system should be mapped onto the same short name. Thus, support for all Gnu/Linux systems can be handled by one variant:

# Build on Gnu/Linux
ifneq ($(findstring GNU,$(UNAME)),)

In fact, support for Gnu/Linux and Solaris has already been added in this way. Further platforms will be added as I try them.

The PLATFORM name is used as the prefix to the subdirectory used to store object code. Thus the Cygwin debug build is stored in CYGWIN-i686-debug whilst the Gnu/Linux debug build is stored in GNU-i686-debug. This organisation means that the same disk can be mounted on different operating systems and built without the different operating systems conflicting with each other. It also keeps the different kinds of build (e.g. release or debug) in separate directories.

The PLATFORM value is also passed to the compiler as a macro definition in the form -D<platform>, where <platform> is the name of the platform (e.g. -DGNU). This means that if it proves necessary to differentiate between platforms to get any part of the C++ code working, then this is done by adding "#ifdef GNU" or whatever compiler switches to the code. The macro _WIN32 is defined for native Windows builds regardless of the compiler - if this is not set then the default is to assume a vanilla Unix build. To date, only very minor differences have been found between different Unix platforms. However, if you use a different build system it is a good idea to pass this parameter to the compiler (e.g. -DGNU) in case future updates to the library do need to have these switches. Check the ../../makefiles/gcc.mak file for the values currently supported, even if you don't plan to use my make system.

The makefile system is set up assuming the Gnu gcc compiler is to be used on all platforms that use the makefiles system. However, I have found that on FreeBSD platforms (and maybe others?), the Gnu make (installed as gmake) can be used as described here to build the libraries with the built-in clang compiler. The STLplus libraries build without a hitch with clang and the operating system seems to automatically map the makefiles calls to g++/gcc onto the clang equivalents.