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Libretro cores are individual standalone programs that implement the libretro API specification as glue code. If a core is correctly implemented, this program can then be executed on any Libretro frontend.

Libretro API

A Libretro core implements the libretro API specification that allows the ported program to interface with a Libretro frontend program.

Dynamic/static library

Libretro cores usually get compiled and linked into an intermediary form called a 'dynamic library' (or a static library for platforms that don't have dynamic linker support).