Generating Build Environment with CMake

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CMake generates build environments for nearly any compiler or IDE from a single project definition. The following examples will demonstrate how to add a CMake file to the cross-platform “Hello World” C++ code.

CMake files are always named “CMakeLists.txt” and should already exist in every project’s root directory (and possibly in sub-directories too.) A basic CMakeLists.txt file looks like:

cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 2.4)


add_executable(HelloWorld main.cpp)

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This file tells CMake the project name, what file version to expect, and instructions to generate an executable called “HelloWorld” that requires main.cpp.

Generate a build environment for your installed compiler/IDE from the command line:

> cmake .

Build the application with:

> cmake --build .

This generates the default build environment for the system, depending on the OS and installed tools. Keep source code clean from any build artifacts with use of “out-of-source” builds:

> mkdir build
> cd build
> cmake ..
> cmake --build .

CMake can also abstract the platform shell’s basic commands from the previous example:

> cmake -E make_directory build
> cmake -E chdir build cmake .. 
> cmake --build build

CMake includes generators for a number of common build tools and IDEs. To generate makefiles for Visual Studio’s nmake:

> cmake -G "NMake Makefiles" ..
> nmake

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