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Thomas Letan
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Building Static Binaries for OCaml Projects

Building static binaries can come in handy. Most notably, when the time comes to distribute executables. I should know, because I spend a bit of time recently preparing for the 6th release of Spatial Shell, and part of that time was ensuring that folks on Linux unwilling to build an OCaml project from source could still give my project a shot.

Turns out, it can be achieved pretty easily, when you know what you are doing. This is not the first article published on the Internet which explains how to build static binaries, but (1) the ones I have found were a bit verbose and hard to follow, and (2) the most recent versions of OCaml bring a new challenge to tackle.

Setting-Up a Dedicated dune Profile

At the root of your repository, create a dune file containing the following stanza:

   (:standard -cclib -static))))

This tells dune to passes specific arguments to the OCaml compiler when called with the --profile=static command-line argument.

At this point, calling dune build --profile=static is likely to fail with linking related errors. For instance, I got this one.

/sbin/ld: /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-pc-linux-gnu/13.2.1/crt
beginT.o: relocation R_X86_64_32 against hidden symbol `__TMC_END__' can not be used when making a shared object
/sbin/ld: failed to set dynamic section sizes: bad value
collect2: error: ld returned 1 exit status

With OCaml 5.1.0 and OCaml 5.1.1, you are also likely to hit an error related to zstd, which is a new runtime dependency for OCaml programsIt looks like a temporary issue. If I understood correctly, the OCaml core developers are planning to remove said dependency in future versions of the compiler. .

/sbin/ld: cannot find -lzstd: No such file or directory
collect2: error: ld returned 1 exit status

The solution for these two problems is the same.

Setting Up a Specific Opam Switch

The OCaml compiler has a lot of so-called variants. The most famous is probably flambda , which enables a series of optimisations for native compilation.

Nowadays, enabling the specific features of a given variant is achieved by installing the related option package when choosing your compiler version. In our case, we have to install:

The minimal Opam invocation to create such a switch is:

opam switch create . --packages "ocaml-option-static,ocaml-option-no-compression,ocaml.5.1.1"

This particular configuration will produce static binaries using musl , a lightweight libc implementation that is way more suited than the glibc when it comes to static binaries. This means you will have to install musl on your system (it is more than likely that it is packaged by your favorite distribution).

Additionally, you will have to provide the static versions (.a) of the system libraries your project relies on. This part might be tricky to address, and is very dependent on the particular system you are using. For instance, Debian makes this a lot easier than Archlinux. This was typically what was happening with zstd: Archlinux only distributed dynamic libraries, so no .a where available on my laptop. Another example: if your project depends on Zarith , then you have a dependency to gmp. You need to go and find the static library for it before moving to the next sectionOf course, it is also possible that you are working on a pure OCaml project whose only real dependency is to the libc. Lucky you. .

Verifying the Resulting Binaries

Now is the time to call Dune again, with the --profile=static command-line argument. Checking the result of your effort is as simple as calling ldd on the binary compiled by Dune.

    not a dynamic executable

If ldd outputs something of this form, then you are good to go!


This is, in a nutshell, the approach I am using to produce static binaries for Spatial Shell releases. You can find the resulting script in the project repository  if you are interested.

If you have spotted an error in this article, or if you think the solution proposed here can be improved, do not hesitate to reach out to me (ideally though my public inbox). Or, even better, open an issue on Spatial Shell tracker ! Afterall, these are the very steps I’m relying on in order to provide static binaries, so I’d like to know if I am doing something wrong 😅.