RnR RnR - 1 month ago 11x
C++ Question

Exporting classes containing std:: objects (vector, map, etc) from a dll

I'm trying to export classes from a DLL that contain objects such as std::vectors and std::strings - the whole class is declared as dll export through:

class DLL_EXPORT FontManager

The problem is that for members of the complex types I get this warning:

warning C4251: 'FontManager::m__fonts' : class 'std::map<_Kty,_Ty>' needs to have dll-interface to be used by clients of class 'FontManager'

I'm able to remove some of the warnings by putting the following forward class declaration before them even though I'm not changing the type of the member variables themselves:

template class DLL_EXPORT std::allocator<tCharGlyphProviderRef>;
template class DLL_EXPORT std::vector<tCharGlyphProviderRef,std::allocator<tCharGlyphProviderRef> >;
std::vector<tCharGlyphProviderRef> m_glyphProviders;

Looks like the forward declaration "injects" the DLL_EXPORT for when the member is compiled but is it safe? Does it realy change anything when the client compiles this header and uses the std container on his side? Will it make all future uses of such a container DLL_EXPORT (and possibly not inline?)? And does it really solve the problem that the warning tries to warn about?

Is this warning anything I should be worried about or would it be best to disable it in the scope of these constructs? The clients and the dll will always be built using the same set of libraries and compilers and those are header only classes...

I'm using Visual Studio 2003 with the standard STD library.

---- Update ----

I'd like to target you more though as I see the answers are general and here we're talking about std containers and types (such as std::string) - maybe the question really is:

Can we disable the warning for standard containers and types available to both the client and the dll through the same library headers and treat them just as we'd treat an int or any other built-in type? (It does seem to work correctly on my side.) If so would should be the conditions under which we can do this?

Or should maybe using such containers be prohibited or at least ultra care taken to make sure no assignment operators, copy constructors etc will get inlined into the dll client?

In general I'd like to know if you feel designing a dll interface having such objects (and for example using them to return stuff to the client as return value types) is a good idea or not and why - I'd like to have a "high level" interface to this functionality... maybe the best solution is what Neil Butterworth suggested - creating a static library?


When you touch a member in your class from the client, you need to provide a DLL-interface. A DLL-interface means, that the compiler creates the function in the DLL itself and makes it importable.

Because the compiler doesn't know which methods are used by the clients of a DLL_EXPORTED class it must enforce that all methods are dll-exported. It must enforce that all members which can be accessed by clients must dll-export their functions too. This happens when the compiler is warning you of methods not exported and the linker of the client sending errors.

Not every member must be marked with with dll-export, e.g. private members not touchable by clients. Here you can ignore/disable the warnings (beware of compiler generated dtor/ctors).

Otherwise the members must export their methods. Forward declaring them with DLL_EXPORT does not export the methods of these classes. You have to mark the according classes in their compilation-unit as DLL_EXPORT.

What it boils down to ... (for not dll-exportable members)

  1. If you have members which aren't/can't be used by clients, switch off the warning.

  2. If you have members which must be used by clients, create a dll-export wrapper or create indirection methods.

  3. To cut down the count of externally visible members, use approaches such as the PIMPL idiom.

template class DLL_EXPORT std::allocator<tCharGlyphProviderRef>;

This does create an instantiation of the template specialization in the current compilation unit. So this creates the methods of std::allocator in the dll and exports the corresponding methods. This does not work for concrete classes as this is only an instantiation of template classes.