Template:macOS library overview

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Note: Dynamic libraries are also known as dynamic shared libraries, shared objects, or dynamically linked libraries.
Static libraries are also known as static archive libraries and static linked shared libraries.

Most of an application's functionality is implemented in libraries of executable code. When an application's source code is compiled into object code and linked with a static library, the object code and library code that the application uses is copied into the executable file that is loaded into memory in its entirety at launch time. The kind of library that becomes part of an application's executable is known as a static library. Static libraries are collections or archives of object files.

There are two important factors which determine the performance of applications: their launch times and their memory footprints. Reducing the size of an executable file and minimizing its memory use once launched make an application launch faster and use less memory. Using dynamic libraries instead of static libraries reduces the executable file size of an application. Dynamic libraries also allow applications to delay loading libraries with special functionality until they’re needed instead of loading them at launch time. This feature contributes further to reduced launch times and efficient memory use. Another reason to use dynamic libraries is so that you can share code among multiple applications thereby saving the memory (and to a lesser extent nowadays, disk space) that would otherwise be used for multiple copies of the library code.

There are, however, some advantages to statically linking libraries with an executable instead of dynamically linking them. The most significant advantage is that the application can be certain that all its libraries are present and that they are the correct version. Static linking of libraries also allows the application to be contained in a single executable file, simplifying distribution and installation. Also with static linking, only those parts of the library that are directly and indirectly referenced by the target executable are included in the executable. With dynamic libraries, the entire library is loaded, as it is not known in advance which functions will be used by the application. Whether this advantage is significant in practice depends on the structure of the library.

Library extensions and prefixes

Operating System Dynamic library Static library Library prefix
FreeBSD .so .a lib
macOS .dylib .a lib
Linux .so .a lib
Windows .dll .lib n/a

The library prefix column indicates how the names of the libraries are resolved and created. Under macOS, the library name will always have the lib prefix when it is created. So if you create a dynamic library called test, this will result in the file libtest.dylib. When importing routines from shared libraries, it is not necessary to give the library prefix or the filename extension.