Compiling against Spot

Table of Contents

This page is not about compiling Spot itself (for this, please refer to the installation instructions), but about how to compile and execute a C++ program written using Spot. Even if some of those explanations might be GNU/Linux specific, they may hint you amount how to solve problems on other systems.

As an example we will take the following simple program, stored in a file called hello.cc:

#include <iostream>
#include <spot/misc/version.hh>

int main()
  std::cout << "Hello world!\nThis is Spot " << spot::version() << ".\n";
  return 0;

After compilation and execution, this should simply display some greetings and the Spot version:

Hello world!
This is Spot 2.11.6.

To successfully compile this example program, we need a C++ compiler, obviously. On this page, we are going to assume that you use g++ (version 7 or later), but other compilers like clang++ share the same user interface. To successfully build the hello program, we might need to tell the compiler several things:

  1. The language that we use is C++17 (or optionally C++20). This usually requires passing an option like -std=c++17. Note that with version 11 of g++ the default will be to compile C++17, so this option will not be necessary.
  2. The C++ preprocessor should be able to find spot/misc/version.hh. This might require appending another directory to the include search path with -I location.
  3. The linker should be able to find the Spot library (on Linux it would be called libspot.so, unless you forced a static compilation, in which case it would be libspot.a). This might require appending another directory to the library search path with -L location in addition to passing the -lspot option.

In the likely case linking was made against the shared library libspot.so, the dynamic loader will have to locate libspot.so every time the hello program is started, so this too might require some fiddling, for instance using the environment variable LD_LIBRARY_PATH if the library has not been installed in a standard location.

Below we review four typical scenarios that differ in how Spot was compiled and installed.

Case 1: You installed Spot using the Debian packages

In particular, you have installed the libspot-dev package: this is the one that contains the header files.

In that case all the C++ headers have been installed under /usr/include/spot/, and the shared library libspot.so has been installed in some subdirectory of /usr/lib/.

In this scenario, the preprocessor, linker, and dynamic linker should be able to find everything by default, and you should be able to compile hello.cc and then execute hello with

g++ -std=c++17 hello.cc -lspot -o hello

Case 2: You compiled Spot yourself, and installed it in the default location

It does not matter if you compiled from the GIT repository, or from the latest tarball. If you ran something like

sudo make install

to install Spot, then the default installation prefix is /usr/local/.

This means that all spot headers have been installed in /usr/local/include/spot/, and the libraries (there is more than just libspot.so, we will discuss that below) have been installed in /usr/local/lib/.

Usually, these directories are searched by default, so

g++ -std=c++17 hello.cc -lspot -o hello

should still work. But if that is not the case, add

g++ -std=c++17 -I/usr/local/include hello.cc -L/usr/local/lib -lspot -o hello

If running ./hello fails with a message about not finding libspot.so, first try to run sudo ldconfig to make sure ld.so's cache is up-to-date, and if that does not help, use

export LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/usr/local/lib:"$LD_LIBRARY_PATH"

to tell the dynamic loader about this location.

Case 3: You compiled Spot yourself, and installed it in a custom directory

For instance you might have used

./configure --prefix ~/usr
make install

to install everything in your home directory. In that case the Spot headers have been installed in $HOME/usr/include/spot and the libraries in $HOME/usr/lib.

You would compile hello.cc with

g++ -std=c++17 -I$HOME/usr/include hello.cc -L$HOME/usr/lib -lspot -o hello

and execute with


but it will be more convenient to define LD_LIBRARY_PATH once for all in your shell's configuration, so that you do not have to redefine it every time you want to run a binary that depends on Spot.

Case 4: You compiled Spot yourself, but did not install it

We do not recommend this, but it is possible to compile programs that uses an uninstalled version of Spot.

So you would just compile Spot in some directory (let's call it /dir/spot-X.Y/) with


And then compile hello.cc by pointing the compiler to the above directory.

There are at least two traps with this scenario:

  1. The subdirectory /dir/spot-X.Y/spot/ contains the headers that would normally be installed in /usr/local/include/spot/ using the same layout, but it also includes some private, internal headers. These headers are normally not installed, so in the other scenarios you cannot use them. In this setup however, you might use them by mistake. Also that directory contains *.cc files implementing all the features of the library. Clearly those file should be considered private as well.
  2. The subdirectory /dir/spot-X.Y/buddy/src contains a few header files (for the BDD library) that would normally be installed directly in /usr/local/include, so this directory has to be searched for as well.
  3. Spot uses GNU Libtool to make it easy to build shared and static libraries portably. All the process of compiling, linking, and installing libraries is done through the concept of Libtool archive (some file with a *.la extension) that is an abstraction for a library (be it static, shared, or both), and its dependencies or options. During make install, these Libtool archives are transformed into actual shared or static libraries, installed and configured properly. But since in this scenario make install is not run, you have to deal with the Libtool archives directly.

So compiling against a non-installed Spot would look like this:

/dir/spot-X.Y/libtool link g++ -std=c++17 -I/dir/spot-X.Y -I/dir/spot-X.Y/buddy/src hello.cc /dir/spot-X.Y/spot/libspot.la -o hello

Using libtool link g++ instead of g++ will cause libtool to edit the g++ command line, and replace /dir/spot-X.Y/spot/libspot.la by whatever options are needed to link against the library represented by this Libtool archive. Furthermore the resulting hello executable will not be a binary, but a shell script that defines some necessary environment variables (like LD_LIBRARY_PATH to make sure the Spot library is found) before running the actual binary.

The fact that hello is a script can be a problem with some development tools. For instance running gdb hello will not work as expected. You would need to run libtool execute gdb hello to obtain the desired result. See the GNU Libtool manual for more details.

Other libraries

If your program has to handle BDDs directly (for instance if you are creating an automaton explicitly), or if your system does not support one library requiring another, you will need to link with the bddx library. This should be as simple as adding -lbddx after -lspot in the first three cases.

Similarly, if Spot has been configured with --enable-pthread, you will need to add -pthread to the compiler flags.

In the fourth case where libtool is used to link against libspot.la linking against libbddx.la should not be necessary because Libtool already handles such dependencies. However the version of libtool distributed with Debian is patched to ignore those dependencies, so in this case you have to list all dependencies.

Additional suggestions

In all the above invocations to g++, we have focused on arguments that are strictly necessary to link against Spot. Obviously in practice you may want to add other options like -Wall -Wextra for more warnings, and optimization options like -g -Og when debugging or -O3 when not debugging.

The Spot library itself can be compiled in two modes. Using

./configure --enable-devel

will turn on assertions, and debugging options, while

./configure --disable-devel

will disable assertions and enable more optimizations.

If you are writing programs against Spot, we recommend to compile Spot with --enable-devel while your are developing your programs (the assertions in Spot can be useful to diagnose problems in your program, or in Spot), and then use --disable-devel once you are confident and desire speed.

On all releases (i.e., version numbers ending with a digit) configure will default to --disable-devel.

Development versions (i.e., versions ending with a letter) default to --enable-devel.