One of the changes in the recent pkg-config releases is that the
--libs output no longer prints out the entire list of
libraries expanded from the requested set of packages. As an example,
here is the output of pkg-config --libs gtk+-2.0 with version

-lgtk-x11-2.0 -lgdk-x11-2.0 -latk-1.0 -lgdk_pixbuf-2.0
-lm -lpangoxft-1.0 -lpangox-1.0 -lpango-1.0 -lgobject-2.0
-lgmodule-2.0 -ldl -lglib-2.0

And with 0.17.1:


If an application is compiled with the first set of -l
flags, it will include DT_NEEDED tag for each of those
libraries. With the second set, it will only have a
DT_NEEDED tag for When run,
the application will still pull in all the other libraries via shared
library dependencies.

The rationale for this change seems to boil down to:

  • Some programs link to more libraries than they need to.
  • Sometimes programs link to libraries that they don’t use directly
    – they’re encapsulated by some other library they use.

  • The application will need to be recompiled if one of the libraries
    it is linked against breaks ABI, even if the library is not used

At first this seems sensible. However, in a lot of cases
applications actually use libraries that are only pulled in through
dependencies. For instance, almost every GTK application is going to
be using some glib APIs as well.

With the new pkg-config output, the fact that the application
depends on the ABI of “” is no longer
recorded. The application is making use of those APIs, so it declare
that. Without the glib DT_NEEDED tag, the application is
relying on the fact that GTK isn’t likely to stop depending on glib

Furthermore, this causes breakage if you link your application with
the libtool
-no-undefined flag. On platforms that support it, this
generates an error if you don’t list all the libraries the application
depends on. This allows for some optimisations on some platforms
(e.g. Solaris), and is required on others (e.g. Win32).

(interestingly, this problem doesn’t exhibit itself on Linux.
The -no-undefined flag expands to nothing, even though the
linker supports the feature through the -zdefs flag)

For these reasons, I’ve disabled the feature in jhbuild’s
bootstrap, using the --enable-indirect-deps configure flag.
If the aim is just to get rid of unnecessary library dependencies, the
GNU linker’s --as-needed flag seems to be a better choice.
It will omit a DT_NEEDED tag if none of the symbols from the
library are used by the application.