Mastering CMake: Simplify Your Build Process Across Platforms

After gaining experience in various programming languages, I came to a realization: I can’t seem to move on from C/C++, particularly C++. It’s a language I have learned to both dislike and appreciate again. One major challenge with C++ is its inherent messiness and difficulty to manage. Despite efforts over the years to address this issue, solutions often end up further complicating matters. Enter CMake – a compelling alternative for building C/C++ executables that brings numerous advantages. Essentially, CMake serves as a tool that understands multiple approaches to building code, encompassing a wide range of benefits.

Why learn CMake

Apart from its cross-platform compatibility, extensibility, and configurability, learning CMake offers several compelling reasons. While it may involve getting acquainted with a new syntax and tool, the benefits outweigh the initial learning curve. Although there are alternative build options like Visual Studio or make files, the key reason to learn CMake lies in its potential to become a widely accepted best practice or even a standard for building C/C++ code. Its growing popularity and impact within the software development community make it comparable to Git’s influence in version control. By embracing CMake, developers position themselves to adopt an efficient and widely recognized method for building code, fostering better collaboration and code sharing.

CMake – The Basics

Installing CMake: Begin by installing CMake on your machine. Visit the official CMake website ( and download the appropriate installer for your operating system. Follow the installation instructions to complete the setup.

Creating a CMakeLists.txt File: In your project’s root directory, create a file named “CMakeLists.txt”. This file will contain the build instructions for your project. Open the file in a text editor.

Setting the Minimum CMake Version: Add the following line to specify the minimum version of CMake required for your project:

cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 3.21)

Defining Project Details: Specify the project details using the project command. This includes the project name, version, and optional description:

project(MyProject VERSION 1.0 DESCRIPTION "A sample project")

Adding Source Files: Use the add_executable command to list the source files that should be compiled to create the executable for your project:

target_link_libraries(myapp PUBLIC library1 library2)

Linking Libraries: If your project depends on external libraries, you can link them using the target_link_libraries command:

target_link_libraries(myapp PUBLIC library1 library2)

Configuring Build Options: CMake provides options to configure the build process. For example, you can enable/disable certain features or set compiler flags. Use the option command to define build options:

option(ENABLE_DEBUG "Enable debug mode" ON)

Generating Build Files: Create a separate build directory to keep the source directory clean. Navigate to the build directory in your terminal and run the CMake command followed by the path to the source directory:

cmake /path/to/source

Building the Project: After CMake generates the build files, you can build the project using the appropriate build tool. For Makefiles, use the make command:


Running the Executable: Once the build is successful, you can run the executable generated by the build process:


I recommend starting your CMake journey by following this comprehensive guide to create a simple project and successfully build it using CMake. Understanding the fundamental concepts laid out in this tutorial will equip you with the necessary foundation to delve into more intricate aspects and harness the full potential of CMake in your development projects. By mastering CMake’s capabilities, you can unlock its true power and streamline your workflow for optimal productivity and code management.

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