C library to help making applications portable (ARCHIVED). Issue tracking on GIthub for historical reasons. https://github.com/cluck/apportable/issues
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This project is not finished yet; use with care.

Linux and macOS Build Status Windows Build status

C library to help making applications portable.


There is a distinction between portable applications and portable source-code; the latter is source code with an inherent flexibility which lets us compile the program on different platforms The former instead allows to copy applications from one similar system to another, without the need to place dependencies in system-default, and thus particularly guarded locations - i.e. without installation. This library is about offering the functionality to make binaries portable, providing itself portable source-code, so that it is particularly interesting for applications with already have portable source code.

Installed applications can easily locate their files on absolute paths, once they know the distributions conventions. Configuration files for example are usually considered to be under $(sysconfdir), which the maintainer can define at compile time to be - usually - /etc/. Portable applications instead can not be accommodated with a fixed absolute path.

Different strategies exist, but all depend on a carefully prepared environment, which is normally not realistic. Neither environment variables are reliably set, nor can a regular user set the working directory for a binary.

Portable applications need a way to compute the paths to their resources relative to the binary file. This is surprisingly a hard problem, especially cross-platform. The code differs not only by platform, but also for the compiler and the specific C library implementation.


This library is designed such that existing build systems can be leveraged, without too much code change. It is also designed to be turned off by default, so that adding apportable to the build system in not enough to introduce additional security problems, except if requested explicitely by the maintainers.

To use apportable add apportable.c to the linked objects, and somehow add apportable.h to the necessary source files. It should not hurt to add apportable.h globally, as all variables are prefixed with apportable_. Finally you need to enable the code explicitely by defining APPORTABLE on the compiler.

Once you have integrated apportable in the build and enabled it with APPORTABLE, the basic idea is that whenever the build system expects you to define a static path

CONFIGFILE = "/etc/apportable.conf"

it can be replaced by a function call:

CONFIGFILE = apportable_template("$ORIGIN/../etc/apportable.conf")

This is possible as static strings are basically pointers to an array of characters (char *), thus replacing the code with a function which is guaranteed to return a valid pointer is normally fine.

Note: this works, as long as the string is not concatenated to other strings:

FILE * cf = open(PREFIX CONFIGFILE, "r");

In such a case, the source code needs to be modified directly:

FILE * cf = open(apportable_template("$ORIGIN/../etc/apportable.conf"), "r");

Source code compatibility

This should be written in POSIX 2008 compatible C99, to make it interesting and usable by most existing software.

It was tested to compile on:

  • Apple LLVM version 9.0.0
  • gcc (Debian 6.3.0-18) 6.3.0
  • Visual Studio 2008

For testig (and a programming exercise in handling Unicode and Python), a Python extension has been added, which is tested with the same compilers and Python 2.7 and Python 3.2+.

Encoding (UTF-8, UTF-16, UTF-32)

Functions for both ASCII compatible UTF-8 (char *) and native wide character (wchar_t, UTF-16, UTF-32) arguments are provided, the latter are prefixed with a w (like in wutf8). All the necessary conversions are done with platform standard means, that is for now either libiconv or the Windows API.

The testing infrastructure cross-checks the internal conversion against Python's conversion between the formats, in the hope that this further validates the function's design.