Using SDL with Microsoft Visual C++

by Lion Kimbro with additions by James Turk

You can either use the precompiled libraries from the SDL web site, or you can build SDL yourself.

Building SDL

  1. To build SDL, your machine must, at a minimum, have the DirectX9.0c SDK installed. It may or may not be retrievable from the Microsoft website, so you might need to locate it online. Editor‘s note: I’ve been able to successfully build SDL using Visual Studio 2019 without the DX9.0c SDK

  2. Open the Visual Studio solution file at ./VisualC/SDL.sln.

  3. Your IDE will likely prompt you to upgrade this solution file to whatever later version of the IDE you're using. In the Retarget Projects dialog, all of the affected project files should be checked allowing you to use the latest Windows SDK Version you have installed, along with the Platform Toolset.

If you choose NOT to upgrade to use the latest Windows SDK Version or Platform Toolset, then you'll need the Visual Studio 2010 Platform Toolset.

  1. Build the .dll and .lib files by right clicking on each project in turn (Projects are listed in the Workspace panel in the FileView tab), and selecting Build.

You may get a few warnings, but you should not get any errors.

Later, we will refer to the following .lib and .dll files that have just been generated:

  • ./VisualC/Win32/Debug/SDL2.dll or ./VisualC/Win32/Release/SDL2.dll
  • ./VisualC/Win32/Debug/SDL2.lib or ./VisualC/Win32/Release/SDL2.lib
  • ./VisualC/Win32/Debug/SDL2main.lib or ./VisualC/Win32/Release/SDL2main.lib

Note for the x64 versions, just replace Win32 in the path with x64

Creating a Project with SDL

  • Create a project as a Win32 Application.

  • Create a C++ file for your project.

  • Set the C runtime to Multi-threaded DLL in the menu: Project|Settings|C/C++ tab|Code Generation|Runtime Library .

  • Add the SDL include directory to your list of includes in the menu: Project|Settings|C/C++ tab|Preprocessor|Additional include directories

VC7 Specific: Instead of doing this, I find it easier to add the include and library directories to the list that VC7 keeps. Do this by selecting Tools|Options|Projects|VC++ Directories and under the “Show Directories For:” dropbox select “Include Files”, and click the “New Directory Icon” and add the [SDLROOT]\include directory (e.g. If you installed to c:\SDL\ add c:\SDL\include). Proceed to change the dropbox selection to “Library Files” and add [SDLROOT]\lib.

The “include directory” I am referring to is the ./include folder.

Now we're going to use the files that we had created earlier in the Build SDL step.

Copy the following file into your Project directory:

  • SDL2.dll

Add the following files to your project (It is not necessary to copy them to your project directory):

  • SDL2.lib
  • SDL2main.lib

To add them to your project, right click on your project, and select Add files to project.

Instead of adding the files to your project, it is more desirable to add them to the linker options: Project|Properties|Linker|Command Line and type the names of the libraries to link with in the “Additional Options:” box. Note: This must be done for each build configuration (e.g. Release,Debug).

Hello SDL2

Here's a sample SDL snippet to verify everything is setup in your IDE:

    #include "SDL.h"

    int main( int argc, char* argv[] )
        const int WIDTH = 640;
        const int HEIGHT = 480;
        SDL_Window* window = NULL;
        SDL_Renderer* renderer = NULL;

        renderer = SDL_CreateRenderer(window, -1, SDL_RENDERER_ACCELERATED | SDL_RENDERER_PRESENTVSYNC);
        return 0;

That's it!

I hope that this document has helped you get through the most difficult part of using the SDL: installing it. Suggestions for improvements should be posted to the Github Issues.


Thanks to Paulus Esterhazy, for the work on VC++ port.

This document was originally called “VisualC.txt”, and was written by Sam Lantinga.

Later, it was converted to HTML and expanded into the document that you see today by Lion Kimbro.

Minor Fixes and Visual C++ 7 Information (In Green) was added by James Turk