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This article is an excerpt from the book, Computer Vision with OpenCV 3 and Qt5 written by Amin Ahmadi Tazehkandi.  This book covers how to build, test, and deploy Qt and OpenCV apps, either dynamically or statically.

Today, we will learn three different methods to deploy a QT + OpenCV application.

It is extremely important to provide the end users with an application package that contains everything it needs to be able to run on the target platform. And demand very little or no effort at all from the users in terms of taking care of the required dependencies. Achieving this kind of works-out-of-the-box condition for an application relies mostly on the type of the linking (dynamic or static) that is used to create an application, and also the specifications of the target operating system.

Deploying using static linking

Deploying an application statically means that your application will run on its own and it eliminates having to take care of almost all of the needed dependencies, since they are already inside the executable itself. It is enough to simply make sure you select the Release mode while building your application, as seen in the following screenshot:

Deploy using static link


When your application is built in the Release mode, you can simply pick up the produced executable file and ship it to your users.

If you try to deploy your application to Windows users, you might face an error similar to the following when your application is executed:

Windows error

The reason for this error is that on Windows, even when building your Qt application statically, you still need to make sure that Visual C++ Redistributables exist on the target system. This is required for C++ applications that are built by using Microsoft Visual C++, and the version of the required redistributables correspond to the Microsoft Visual Studio installed on your computer. In our case, the official title of the installer for these libraries is Visual C++ Redistributables for Visual Studio 2015, and it can be downloaded from the following link: https:/ / www. microsoft. com/en- us/ download/ details. aspx? id= 48145. It is a common practice to include the redistributables installer inside the installer for our application and perform a silent installation of them if they are not already installed. This process happens with most of the applications you use on your Windows PCs, most of the time, without you even noticing it.

We already quite briefly talked about the advantages (fewer files to deploy) and disadvantages (bigger executable size) of static linking. But when it is meant in the context of deployment, there are some more complexities that need to be considered. So, here is another (more complete) list of disadvantages, when using static linking to deploy your applications:

  • The building takes more time and the executable size gets bigger and bigger.
  • You can’t mix static and shared (dynamic) Qt libraries, which means you can’t
    use the power of plugins and extending your application without building
    everything from scratch.
  • Static linking, in a sense, means hiding the libraries used to build an application.

Unfortunately, this option is not offered with all libraries, and failing to comply with it can lead to licensing issues with your application. This complexity arises partly because of the fact that Qt Framework uses some third-party libraries that do not offer the same set of licensing options as Qt itself. Talking about licensing issues is not a discussion suitable for this book, so we’ll suffice with mentioning that you must be careful when you plan to create commercial applications using static linking of Qt libraries. For a detailed list of licenses used by third-party libraries within Qt, you can always refer to the Licenses Used in Qt web page from the following link:

http://doc.qt.io/qt-5/ licenses-used-in-qt.html

Static linking, even with all of its disadvantages that we just mentioned, is still an option, and a good one in some cases, provided that you can comply with the licensing options of the Qt Framework. For instance, in Linux operating systems where creating an installer for our application requires some extra work and care, static linking can help extremely reduce the effort needed to deploy applications (merely a copy and paste). So, the final decision of whether to use static linking or not is mostly on you and how you plan to deploy your application. Making this important decision will be much easier by the end of this chapter, when you have an overview of the possible linking and deployment methods.

Deploying using dynamic linking

When you deploy an application built with Qt and OpenCV using shared libraries (or dynamic linking), you need to make sure that the executable of your application is able to reach the runtime libraries of Qt and OpenCV, in order to load and use them. This reachability or visibility of runtime libraries can have different meanings depending on the operating system. For instance, on Windows, you need to copy the runtime libraries to the same folder where your application executable resides, or put them in a folder that is appended to the PATH environment value. Qt Framework offers command-line tools to simplify the deployment of Qt applications on Windows and macOS. As mentioned before, the first thing you need to do is to make sure your application is built in the Release mode, and not Debug mode. Then, if you are on Windows, first copy the executable (let us assume it is called app.exe) from the build folder into a separate folder (which we will refer to as deploy_path) and execute the following commands using a command-line instance:

cd deploy_path

QT_PATHbinwindeployqt app.exe

The windeployqt tool is a deployment helper tool that simplifies the process of copying the required Qt runtime libraries into the same folder as the application executable. Itsimply takes an executable as a parameter and after determining the modules used to create it, copies all required runtime libraries and any additional required dependencies, such as Qt plugins, translations, and so on. This takes care of all the required Qt runtime libraries, but we still need to take care of OpenCV runtime libraries. If you followed all of the steps in Chapter 1, Introduction to OpenCV and Qt, for building OpenCV libraries dynamically, then you only need to manually copy the opencv_world330.dll and opencv_ffmpeg330.dll files from OpenCV installation folder (inside the x86vc14bin folder) into the same folder where your application executable resides.

We didn’t really go into the benefits of turning on the BUILD_opencv_world option when we built OpenCV in the early chapters of the book; however, it should be clear now that this simplifies the deployment and usage of the OpenCV libraries, by requiring only a single entry for LIBS in the *.pro file and manually copying only a single file (not counting the ffmpeg library) when deploying OpenCV applications. It should be also noted that this method has the disadvantage of copying all OpenCV codes (in a single library) along your application even when you do not need or use all of its modules in a project. Also note that on Windows, as mentioned in the Deploying using static linking section, you still need to similarly provide the end users of your application with Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributables.

On a macOS operating system, it is also possible to easily deploy applications written using Qt Framework. For this reason, you can use the macdeployqt command-line tool provided by Qt. Similar to windeployqt, which accepts a Windows executable and fills the same folder with the required libraries, macdeployqt accepts a macOS application bundle and makes it deployable by copying all of the required Qt runtimes as private frameworks inside the bundle itself. Here is an example:

cd deploy_path

QT_PATH/bin/macdeployqt my_app_bundle

Optionally, you can also provide an additional -dmg parameter, which leads to the creation of a macOS *.dmg (disk image) file. As for the deployment of OpenCV libraries when dynamic linking is used, you can create an installer using Qt Installer Framework (which we will learn about in the next section), a third-party provider, or a script that makes sure the required runtime libraries are copied to their required folders. This is because of the fact that simply copying your runtime libraries (whether it is OpenCV or anything else) to the same folder as the application executable does not help with making them visible to an application on macOS. The same also applies to the Linux operating system, where unfortunately even a tool for deploying Qt runtime libraries does not exist (at least for the moment), so we also need to take care of Qt libraries in addition to OpenCV libraries, either by using a trusted third-party provider (which you can search for online) or by using the cross-platform installer provided by Qt itself, combined with some scripting to make sure everything is in place when our application is executed.

Deploy using Qt Installer Framework

Qt Installer Framework allows you to create cross-platform installers of your Qt applications for Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems. It allows for creating standard installer wizards where the user is taken through consecutive dialogs that provide all the necessary information, and finally display the progress for when the application is being installed and so on, similar to most of installations you have probably faced, and especially the installation of Qt Framework itself. Qt Installer Framework is based on Qt Framework itself but is provided as a different package and does not require Qt SDK (Qt Framework, Qt Creator, and so on) to be present on a computer. It is also possible to use Qt Installer Framework in order to create installer packages for any application, not just Qt applications.

In this section, we are going to learn how to create a basic installer using Qt Installer Framework, which takes care of installing your application on a target computer and copying all the necessary dependencies. The result will be a single executable installer file that you can put on a web server to be downloaded or provide it in a USB stick or CD, or any other media type. This example project will help you get started with working your way around the many great capabilities of Qt Installer Framework by yourself.

You can use the following link to download and install the Qt Installer Framework. Make sure to simply download the latest version when you use this link, or any other source for downloading it. At the moment, the latest version is 3.0.2:

https://download.qt.io/official_releases/qt-installer-framework

After you have downloaded and installed Qt Installer Framework, you can start creating the required files that Qt Installer Framework needs in order to create an installer. You can do this by simply browsing to the Qt Installer Framework, and from the examples folder copying the tutorial folder, which is also a template in case you want to quickly rename and re-edit all of the files and create your installer quickly. We will go the other way and create them manually; first because we want to understand the structure of the required files and folders for the Qt Installer Framework, and second, because it is still quite easy and simple. Here are the required steps for creating an installer:

  1. Assuming that you have already finished developing your Qt and OpenCV
    application, you can start by creating a new folder that will contain the installer
    files. Let’s assume this folder is called deploy.
  2. Create an XML file inside the deploy folder and name it config.xml. This XML
    file must contain the following:
Your application1.0.0Your application InstallerYour vendorSuper App@[email protected]/InstallationDirectory

Make sure to replace the required XML fields in the preceding code with information relevant to your application and then save and close this file:

  1. Now, create a folder named packages inside the deploy folder. This folder will
    contain the individual packages that you want the user to be able to install, or
    make them mandatory or optional so that the user can review and decide what
    will be installed.
  2. In the case of simpler Windows applications that are written using Qt and
    OpenCV, usually it is enough to have just a single package that includes the
    required files to run your application, and even do silent installation of Microsoft
    Visual C++ Redistributables. But for more complex cases, and especially when
    you want to have more control over individual installable elements of your
    application, you can also go for two or more packages, or even sub-packages.
    This is done by using domain-like folder names for each package. Each package
    folder can have a name like com.vendor.product, where vendor and product
    are replaced by the developer name or company and the application. A subpackage
    (or sub-component) of a package can be identified by adding. subproduct to the name of the parent package. For instance, you can have the following folders inside the packages folder:
com.vendor.product

com.vendor.product.subproduct1

com.vendor.product.subproduct2

com.vendor.product.subproduct1.subsubproduct1

…

This can go on for as many products (packages) and sub-products (sub-packages) as we like. For our example case, let’s create a single folder that contains our executable, since it describes it all and you can create additional packages by simply adding them to the packages folder. Let’s name it something like com.amin.qtcvapp. Now, follow these required steps:

  1. Now, create two folders inside the new package folder that we created, the com.amin.qtcvapp folder. Rename them to data and meta. These two folders must exist inside all packages.
  2. Copy your application files inside the data folder. This folder will be extracted into the target folder exactly as it is (we will talk about setting the target folder of a package in the later steps). In case you are planning to create more than one package, then make sure to separate their data correctly and in a way that it makes sense. Of course, you won’t be faced with any errors if you fail to do so,
    but the users of your application will probably be confused, for instance by skipping a package that should be installed at all times and ending up with an installed application that does not work.
  3. Now, switch to the meta folder and create the following two files inside that folder, and fill them with the codes provided for each one of them.

The package.xml file should contain the following. There’s no need to mention that you must fill the fields inside the XML with values relevant to your package:

The componentInstall this component.1.0.01984-09-16script

The script in the previous XML file, which is probably the most important part of the creation of an installer, refers to a Qt Installer Script (*.qs file), which is named installerscript.qs and can be used to further customize the package, its target folder, and so on. So, let us create a file with the same name (installscript.qs) inside the meta folder, and use the following code inside it:

function Component()

{

// initializations go here

}

Component.prototype.isDefault = function()

{

// select (true) or unselect (false) the component by default

return true;

}

Component.prototype.createOperations = function()

{

try {

// call the base create operations function

component.createOperations();

} catch (e) {

console.log(e);

}

}

This is the most basic component script, which customizes our package (well, it only performs the default actions) and it can optionally be extended to change the target folder, create shortcuts in the Start menu or desktop (on Windows), and so on. It is a good idea to keep an eye on the Qt Installer Framework documentation and learn about its scripting to be able to create more powerful installers that can put all of the required dependencies of your app in place, and automatically. You can also browse through all of the examples inside the examples folder of the Qt Installer Framework and learn how to deal with different deployment cases. For instance, you can try to create individual packages for Qt and OpenCV dependencies and allow the users to deselect them, in case they already have the Qt runtime libraries on their computer.

The last step is to use the binarycreator tool to create our single and standalone installer. Simply run the following command by using a Command Prompt (or Terminal) instance:

binarycreator -p packages -c config.xml myinstaller

The binarycreator is located inside the Qt Installer Framework bin folder. It requires two parameters that we have already prepared. -p must be followed by our packages folder and -c must be followed by the configuration file (or config.xml) file. After executing this command, you will get myinstaller (on Windows, you can append *.exe to it), which you can execute to install your application. This single file should contain all of the required files needed to run your application, and the rest is taken care of. You only need to provide a download link to this file, or provide it on a CD to your users.

The following are the dialogs you will face in this default and most basic installer, which contains most of the usual dialogs you would expect when installing an application:

Deploy using Qt Installer framework

If you go to the installation folder, you will notice that it contains a few more files than you put inside the data folder of your package. Those files are required by the installer to handle modifications and uninstall your application. For instance, the users of your application can easily uninstall your application by executing the maintenance tool executable, which would produce another simple and user-friendly dialog to handle the uninstall process:

Application Installer

We saw how to deploy a QT + OpenCV applications using static linking, dynamic linking, and QT installer.

If you found our post useful, do check out this book Computer Vision with OpenCV 3 and Qt5  to accentuate your OpenCV applications by developing them with Qt.

Computer Vision with OpenCV 3 and Qt5

 


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