Getting Started with CMake: An Introduction to Building and Managing Cross-Platform Projects

CMake is an open-source, cross-platform tool for building and managing software projects. It provides a powerful and flexible system for defining build configurations, generating native build files for a wide range of platforms and compilers, and building and testing software projects. With CMake, developers can focus on writing code and let CMake handle the tedious and error-prone aspects of software builds.

In this article, we will introduce the basics of CMake and demonstrate how to use it to build a simple software project.

What is CMake?

CMake is a build system generator. It reads a set of build instructions, known as a CMakeLists.txt file, and generates native build files for a variety of platforms and compilers, such as makefiles on Unix-like systems and Visual Studio solutions on Windows. The generated build files can be used to build, test, and install software projects.

CMake was created to overcome the limitations of traditional build systems, such as make, and to provide a platform-independent build system that can handle complex dependencies and build configurations. It has become the de facto standard for building and managing software projects in many organizations and open-source projects.

Setting Up a CMake Project

To use CMake, we first need to write a CMakeLists.txt file that contains the build instructions for our project. This file is typically located in the root directory of the project and contains information about the project's sources, dependencies, build options, and target platforms.

Here is an example CMakeLists.txt file for a simple C++ project:

cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 3.10)

add_executable(hello_world main.cpp)

This file tells CMake that we want to build an executable named hello_world from the source file main.cpp. The cmake_minimum_required directive specifies the minimum version of CMake required to build the project.

Once we have written our CMakeLists.txt file, we can use CMake to generate the native build files for our project. To do this, we run the following commands:

mkdir build
cd build
cmake ..

The first command creates a directory named build to store the generated build files. The second command changes to the build directory, and the third command runs CMake, specifying the location of the CMakeLists.txt file using ...

CMake will generate the native build files in the build directory and configure the build environment based on the options specified in the CMakeLists.txt file.

Building a Project with CMake

Once the build files have been generated, we can use them to build our project. The exact steps to build a project with CMake vary depending on the platform and compiler being used, but typically involve running a build command, such as make on Unix-like systems or msbuild on Windows.

For example, on Unix-like systems, we can build our project with the following command:


And on Windows, we can build the project with the following command:

msbuild hello_world.sln


CMake is a powerful and flexible tool for building and managing software projects. It provides a platform-independent build system that can handle complex dependencies, support multiple build environments, and simplify the configuration process. With its easy-to-use scripting language and a wide range of available plugins and modules, CMake is an excellent choice for any project that requires a sophisticated build system. Whether you're a seasoned software developer or a newcomer, learning to use CMake is an important step in advancing your career and expanding your knowledge of software development tools. So, why not give it a try and see how it can help you and your projects today?