CPP/C++ Compiler Flags and Options

Table of Contents

1 Compiler flags and invocation

1.1 GCC, GCC/Mingw and Clang++

1.1.1 General Compiler and Linker Flags

Search Path and Library Linking Flags

  • -l[linalg]
    • => Links to shared library or shared object - Specifically, it links to linalg.dll on Windows, liblinalg.so (on Unix-like oses like Linux, BSD, AIX, …) or linalg.dylib on MacOSX.
  • -L[/path/to/shared-libraries]
    • => Add search path to shared libraries, directory containing *.so, *.dll or *.dlyb files such as libLinearAlgebra.so depending on the current operating system.
  • -I[/path/to/header-files]
    • Add search path to header files (.h) or (.hpp).
  • -D[FLAG] or -D[FLAG]=VALUE
    • Pass preprocessor flag #if FLAG …

GCC and Clang Most common compiler flags:

  • std - Specify the C++ version or ISO standard version.
    • -std=c++11 (ISO C++11)
    • -std=c++14 (ISO C++14)
    • -std=c++1z (ISO C++17)
    • -std=c++20 (C++20 experimental)
    • -std=gnu++ (ISO C++ with GNU extensions)
  • Verbosity - [W stands for warning]
    • -Wall
      • Turns on lots of compiler warning flags, specifically (-Waddress, -Wcomment, -Wformat, -Wbool-compare, -Wuninitialized, -Wunknown-pragmas, -Wunused-value, -Wunused-value …)
    • -Werror
      • Turn any warning into a compilation error.
    • -Wextra or just -W (see more)
      • Enables extra flags not enabled by -Wall, such as -Wsign-compare (C only), -Wtype-limits, -Wuninitialized …
    • -pendantic or -Wpendantic
      • Issue all warning required by ISO C and ISO C++ standard, it issues warning whenever there are compiler extensions non compliant to ISO C or C++ standard.
    • -Wconversion
    • -Wcast-align
    • -Wunnused
    • -Wshadow
    • -Wold-style-cast
    • -Wpointer-arith -Wcast-qual -Wmissing-prototypes -Wno-missing-braces
  • Output file: -o <outputfile>
    • g++ file.cpp -o file.bin
  • Common library flags
    • -lm - Compiles against the shared library libm (basic math library, mostly C only)
    • -lpthread - Compile against Posix threads shared library
  • Include Path - Directories containing headers files.
    • -I/path/to/include1 -I/path/to/include2 …
  • Compilation flags -D<flag name>
    • -DCOMPILE_VAR -> Enable flag COMPILE_VAR - It is equivalent to add to the code (#define COMPILE_VAR)
    • -DDO_SOMETHING=1 - Equivalent to add to the code #define DO_SOMETHING = 1
  • Optmization - docs
    • -O0
      • No optmization, faster compilation time, better for debugging builds.
    • -O2
    • -O3
      • Higher level of optmization. Slower compile-time, better for production builds.
    • -OFast
      • Enables higher level of optmization than (-O3). It enables lots of flags as can be seen src (-ffloat-store, -ffsast-math, -ffinite-math-only, -O3 …)
    • -finline-functions
    • -m64
    • -funroll-loops
    • -fvectorize
    • -fprofile-generate
  • Misc
    • -fexceptions -fstack-protector-strong –param=ssp-buffer-size=4
  • Special Options
    • -g
      • => Builds executable with debugging symbols for GDB GNU Debugger or LLDB Clang/LLVM Debugger. It should only be used during development for debugging builds.
    • -c
      • => Compiler source(s) to object-code (input to linker). This option is better for incremental compilation when using multiple files.
    • -pie
      • => Builds a dynamically linked position independent executable.
    • -static-pie
      • => Builds a staticlaly linked position independent executable.
    • -shared
      • => Build a shared library (.so or .dylib on U*nix-like Oses) or .dll on MS-Windows.
    • -fno-exceptions
      • => Disable C++ exceptions (it may be better for embedded systems or anything where exceptiions may not be acceptable).
    • -fno-rtti
      • => Disable RTTI (Runtime Type Information) - There many texts around where game and embedded systems developers report that they disable RTTI due to performance concerns.
    • -fvisibility=hidden
      • => Make library symbols hidden by default, in a similar way to what happens in Windows DLLs where exported symbols must have the prefix __declspec(dllexport) or __declspec(dllimport). When all symbols are exported by default, it may increase the likelyhood of undefined behavior if there a multiple definitions of same symbol during linking. See more at:
      • Simple C++ Symbol Visibility Demo | LabJack
    • https://wiki.debian.org/Hardening
      • => Lots of compiler flags for hardening security.

Linker Flags

  • Verbose
    • -Wl,–verbose
    • -Wl,–print-memory-usage
  • Directory which linker will search for libraries (*.so files on Unix; *.dylib on MacOSX and *.dll on Windows)
    • -L/path/to-directory
  • Strip Debug Information
    • -Wl,-s
  • Build Shared Library
    • -shared
  • Set Unix Shared Library SONAME (See)
    • –Wl,soname,<NAME>
    • –Wl,soname,libraryname.so.1
  • General Format of Linker Options
    • -Wl,–<OPTION>=<VALUE>
  • Windows-only (MINGW)
    • -Wl,–subsystem,console => Build for console subsystem.
    • -Wl,–subsystem,windows => Build for winodw subsystem.
    • -ld3d9 => Link against DirectX (d3d9.dll)
  • Windows-only DLL (Dynamic Linked Libraries)
    • -shared
    • -Wl,–export-all-symbols
    • -Wl,–enable-auto-import
  • Static link against LibGCC runtime library:
    • -static-libgcc
  • Static link against libstdC++ runtime library:
    • -static-libstdc++
  • Static link against Gfortran (GNU fortran) runtime library.
    • -static-libgfortran
  • Set Unix RPATH (Note Windows does not have rpath)
    • –Wl,rpath=/path/to/directory1;/path/to/directory2
  • Set Unix RPATH to executable current directory.
    • –Wl,rpath=$ORIGIN
  • Change the default dynamic linker (UNIX and Linux)
    • -Wl,-dynamic-linker,/path/to/linker/ld-linux.so.2.1
  • Common Unix Dependencies:
    • -lpthread => Link against POSIX threads library.
    • -ldl => Link against libdl library for dlopen(), dlclose(), APIs.
  • Exclude Runtime Libraries (gcc docs)
    • -nostartfiles => "Do not use the standard system startup files when linking. The standard system libraries are used normally, unless -nostdlib, -nolibc, or -nodefaultlibs is used."
    • -nodefaultlibs => Do not use the standard system libraries when linking.
    • -nolibc => Do not use the C library or system libraries tightly coupled with it when linking.
    • -nostdlib => Do not use the standard system startup files or libraries when linking.
  • Set heap size
    • -Wl,–heap,201561
  • Stack reserve size
    • -Wl,–stack,419525
  • Generate Linker Map (mostly used for embedded systems)
    • -Wl,-Map=linker-map.map
  • Use a custom linker script (embedded systems)
    • -Wl,T/path/to/linker-script.ld
  • Linker version script
    • -Wl,–version-script,criptfile
  • Eliminate dead-code or unused code for decreasing the program or firmware size (embedded systesm) - (Elinux)
    • -ffunction-sections -fdata-sections -Wl,–gc-sections
  • Miscellaneous
    • -Wl,–allow-multiple-definition
    • -fno-keep-inline-dllexport
    • -Wl,–lager-address-aware
    • -Wl,–image-base,358612

Files Generated by the Compiler

  • Object Files
    • *.o -> Generated on *NIX - Linux, MacOSX … by GCC or Clang
    • *.obj -> Windows
  • Binary Native Executable - Object Code
    • *NIX: Linux, MacOSX, FreeBSD -> Without extension.
    • Windows: *.exe
    • *.hex -> Extension of many compiled firmwares generated by embedded systems compilers such as proprietary compilers for Microcontrollers.
  • Shared Objects - Shared Libraries
    • *.dll -> Called dynamic linked libraries on Windows -> libplot.dll
    • *.so -> Called shared Object on Linux -> libplot.so
    • *.dylib -> Extension used on MacOSX.
  • Static Library
    • *.a - extension

Review See:

1.1.2 Peformance Optimization Flags

Levels of Optimization

  • (-O0) - Optimization Level 0 (No optimization, default)
    • Better for debugging builds during development, since it provides faster compile-time.
  • (-O1) - Optimization Level 1
  • (-O2) - Optimization Level 2
    • Enables (-O1); inline small functions;
  • (-O3) - Optimization Level 3 (Most aggressive optimization, Highest level of optmization and speed)
    • Problem: Slower compile-time and large binary size.
    • More function inlining; loop vectorization and SIMD instructions.
  • (-OS) - Code Size Optimization
    • Enable (-O2), but disable some optimizations flags in order to reduce object-code size.
  • (-Oz) [CLANG-ONLY] - Optimizes for size even further than (-OS)
  • (-Ofast) - Activate (-O3) optimization disregarding strict standard compliance.
  • (-Og) - Optmizing for debugging.
    • Enables all optimization that does not conflicts with debugging. It can be used with the (-g) flag for enabling debugging symbols.

Other Optimization Flags


  • Link Time Optimization
    • (-flto)

Loops and Vectorization:

  • Unroll loops
    • -funroll-loop
  • Auto Vectorization
    • (-O3) or (-ftree-vectorize)
  • Verbose Auto Vectorization
    • (-ftree-vectorizer-verbose)


  • Profiling Information for further processing and measuring performance with gprof program:
    • (-pg)
  • Tune to Pentium 4 everything about the produced code.
    • -mcpu=pentium4
  • Generate instructions for Pentium 4
    • -march=pentium4
  • Attempt to Inline All Functions, even if they are not annotated with inlining. Note: inlining trades speed for increasing of code size.
    • -finline-functions
  • Devirtualize - attempt to convert vritual function calls to direct calls. Enabled by: (-O2), (-O3) and (-Os).
    • -fdevirtualize
  • Hide Global Sysmbols by default in shared libraries
    • Note: it equires the exposed symbols to be annotated with GGC extension __attribute__(...). Benefits: decreases startup time; quickier function calls; smaller memory footprints.
    • (-fvisibility=hidden)
    • -Bsymbolic

Further Reading

1.1.3 Useful compiler switches for reducing binary size

Note: Those switches/flags are also useful for embedded systems.

Compiler switch Description
-flto Link time optimization
-ffunction-sections Eliminate unnused code
-fdata-sections Eliminate unnused ELF symbols

1.1.5 Compiler invocation examples

1.1.6 Example - Build executable with unified compilation

Compile file1.cpp, file.cpp, file2.cpp into the executable app.bin

  • Option 1: Compile and link once in a single command. The disadvantage of this way is the slower compile time rather than separate compilation and linking.
# CC=gcc 

$ clang++ file1.cpp file2.cpp file3.cpp \
  -std=c++14  -o app.bin -O3 -g \
  -Wall -Wextra -pendantic \
  -lpthread -lblas -lboost_system -lboost_filesystem \
  -I./include/path1/with/headers1 -I./include2 -L./path/lib1 -L./pathLib2


  • -std=c++14 -> Set the C++ version. This flag can be C++11, C++14, C++17, C++20 …
  • -o app.bin -> Set the output native executable file ot app.bin
  • -I./include/path1/with/headers
    • Directory with header files
  • -g Produce executable with debug symbols
  • -Wall -Wextra -Wshadow
    • Warning flags - enable more verbosity which helps to catch bugs earlier.
  • -O3 - Use optmization of level 3 - the disadvantage of using optmization is the slower compile time. So this flag should only be enabled on production builds.
  • -lpthread -lblas -lboost_system -lboost_filesystem
    • Link against shared libraries (extensions: *.so - Unix, *.dylib or *.dll on Windows) pthread, blas, boost_system

1.1.7 Compile source with static Linking

$ gcc -static example.o -lgsl -lgslcblas -lm

1.1.8 Release / Debug building


  • GCC and CLANG
    • Debug: No optmized, but faster building time.
      • -OO -g
    • Release:
      • -O3 -s -DNDEBUG [-march=native] [-mtune=native]
      • -O2 -s -DNDEBGU
  • MSVC:
    • Debug:
      • /MDd /Zi /Ob0 /Od /RTC1
    • Release:
      • /MD /O1 /Ob1 /DNDEBUG


  • For GCC and Clang
    • -OO means no optmization
    • -g - adds debugging symbols to executable.
    • -DNDEBUG - disable assertions


1.2 MSVC (VC++ or Visual C++) Compiler Options

MSVC Native tools:

  • CC = cl.exe
    • C and C++ Compiler - Can compile both C and C++ code depending on the flag. By default it compiles C++ code.
  • rc.exe => Resource Compiler.
  • LD = link.exe
    • C++ Linker.
  • AS = ml
    • Assembler
  • AR = lib
    • Archiver

Compiler: cl.exe

  • /nologo - Suppress microsoft's logo
  • /out:<file.exe> - Set output file name.
  • /EHsc
  • /Zi - Add debugging symbols to the executable
  • /c - Doesn't link generating *.exe or *.dll, it creates only intermedidate object code for further separate linking. It is useful for compiling large code bases where each compilation unit can be compiled separately.
  • /W4 - Set the level of warning to the highest.
  • /entry:<entrypoint> - Set the C/C++ runtime, it can be:
    • mainCRTStartup => calls main(), the entrypoint for console mode apps
    • wmainCRTStartup => calls wmain(), as above but the Unicode version
    • WinMainCRTStartup => calls WinMain(), the entrypoint for native Windows apps
    • wWinMainCRTStartup => calls wWinMain(), as above but the Unicode version
    • _DllMainCRTStartup => Calls DLLMain()
  • /subsystem:<type> - Set the subsystem - default Console, it can be:
    • /subsystem:console - For applications that necessarly runs in the console (aka terminal emulator)
    • /subsystem:windows - Doesn't display the cmd.exe terminal when ones click at the application executable.
  • /TC -> Specify that file name is C source code
  • /TP -> Specify that file name is a C++ source code (default)
  • /MD, /MT, /LD => Run-time library - Indcates that object-code (compiled program) is a DLL.
  • /GF -> (Eliminate Duplicate Strings) - Enables the compiler to create a single copy of identical strings in the program image and in memory during execution. This is an optimization called string pooling that can create smaller programs.

CRT C Runtime Options

File: Linking type Build Type Compiler Flag
libcmt.lib Static Debug /MT
libcmtd.lib Static Release /MTd
msvcrt.lib Dynamic (DLL) Release /MD
msvcrtd.lib Dynamic (DLL) Debug /MDd
  • Static Linking: The library is appended to the executable, only a single file, the executable needs to be deployed.
  • Dynamic Linking: The library is DLL shared library and not appended to the executable. The executable needs to be deployed with the library.


Useful preprocessor:

  • Set subsystem
#pragma comment(linker, "/SUBSYSTEM:WINDOWS")
#pragma comment(linker, "/SUBSYSTEM:CONSOLE")
  • Set linker library to be linked. This pragma is particularly useful in graphical applications.
#pragma comment(lib, "user32.lib")


  • Compile multiple files generating an executable named out.exe. Note the default subsystems is the console (/subsystem:console) and the default entry point is (mainCRTStartup).
    • /Isrc/includes => Directories containing header files
    • /ld or /linker => Linker flags
    • && out.exe => If the compilation is successful runs the generated executable out.exe
$ cl.exe source1.cpp source2.cpp /Fe:out.exe /Isrc/includes /ld gdi.lib user32.lib && out.exe
  • Compile multiple files for windows subsystem (GUI app) and with wmainCRtstartup.
$ cl.exe source1.cpp source2.cpp /Fe:out.exe /Isrc/includes /entry:wmainCRtstartup /subsystem:windows /ld user32.lib && out.exe


See also:

Created: 2021-06-04 Fri 15:07