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Deploying Applications on Unix/X11
by Jan Erik Hanssen
This article is the last in a series of three covering the deployment of Qt applications on various platforms. This time, we focus on Unix systems with X11.

Update: The information in this article applies to Qt 3. See the Qt Reference Documentation for the latest information.

Deployment on Unix is a huge topic, due to the proliferation of Unix systems (commercial Unices, Linux distributions, etc.). This article concentrates on how to determine which files you should include in your distribution and how to make sure that the application will find them at run-time.

Before we start, be aware that programs compiled for one Unix flavor will probably not run on a different Unix system. For example, unless you use a cross-compiler, you cannot compile your application on Irix and distribute it on AIX.

Static Linking

Static linking is often the safest and easiest way to distribute an application on Unix since it relieves you from the task of distributing the Qt library and ensuring that it's located in the default search path for libraries on the target system. The main disadvantages are that the executable is larger (because it includes the Qt library), plugins won't work, and the user won't be able to independently upgrade the Qt library used by the application.

To use this approach, you must start by building a static version of the Qt library.

    cd $QTDIR
    ./configure -static <other parameters>
    make sub-src

If you want to have a static and a dynamic Qt library side by side, you can do the following instead:

    cd $QTDIR/src
    make staticlib

When make is done, you will find a file called libqt.a or libqt-mt.a in the $QTDIR/lib directory.

Because the linkers on most Unix systems prefer shared libraries over static ones if both exist, you must add these lines to your application's .pro file:

    mystaticconfig {
        QMAKE_LIBS_QT =
        LIBS += $(QTDIR)/lib/libqt.a

Replace libqt.a with libqt-mt.a if you built Qt with thread support enabled. Also note that you might need to append more libraries to the LIBS line.

The next step is to regenerate the makefile and rebuild the application:

    make clean
    qmake "CONFIG+=mystaticconfig"

To check that the application really links statically with Qt, run the ldd tool (available on most Unices):

    ldd ./application

Verify that libqt (or libqt-mt) is not mentioned in the output.

Applications that link against a static version of the Qt library cannot use Qt plugins. This is because the plugins link against the shared Qt library, and bad things will happen if you load two versions of the same library (one static, one shared).

Shared Libraries

The alternative to static linking is to compile Qt as a shared library. This is what you get if you don't pass the -static option to the configure script.

The library binary is put in the "$QTDIR/lib" directory. On most systems, the extension for shared libraries is .so. A notable exception is HP-UX, which uses .sl.

The main issue with shared libraries is that you must ensure that the dynamic linker will find the library. Unless told otherwise, the dynamic linker doesn't search the directory where your application resides. There are many ways to solve this:


When you build the Qt library, the search path for plugins (as well as a few other paths) is hard-coded into the library. For example, if you compile the Qt library in "/usr/local/qt", the first plugin search path will be hard-coded as "/usr/local/qt/plugins".

To change this, you can add a custom search path when you start your application using QApplication::addLibraryPath() or QApplication::setLibraryPaths(). Alternatively, your installer application can change the hard-coded paths in the library for you. Take a look at the distributor example located in "$QTDIR/examples/distributor" to see how to achieve this.

Starting with Qt/X11 3.3.0, you can place plugins under the directory where your application resides and Qt will find them. For example, if you want to distribute an SQL plugin with the application, you can copy over the plugin files from "$QTDIR/drivers/sqldrivers" to a directory called sqldrivers inside the application's directory.

Other Libraries

Any shared library that you link against is a potential problem when you want to distribute your application. In particular, the standard C++ library can be a problem if you're compiling your application with a compiler that is binary incompatible with the system compiler. When possible, the safest solution is to link against these libraries statically.

You will probably want to link dynamically with the regular X11 libraries, since some implementations will try to open other shared libraries with dlopen(), and if this fails the X11 library might cause your application to crash.

It's also worth mentioning that Qt will look for certain X11 extensions, such as Xinerama and Xcursor, and possibly pull them in, including all the libraries that they link against. If you can't guarantee the presence of a certain extension, the safest approach is to disable it when configuring Qt (e.g. "./configure" -no-xcursor).

"Xft/FontConfig" and FreeType are other examples of libraries that aren't always available or that aren't always binary compatible. As strange as it may sound, some software vendors have had success by compiling their software on very old machines and have been very careful not to upgrade any of the software running on them.

This document is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 license.

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