What is CMake?


CMake is a widely-used open-source build system and project management tool designed to simplify the build process for software projects. Developed by Kitware, CMake provides a unified platform-independent way to manage the build process for projects written in various programming languages, including C, C++, and Fortran. Its main goal is to automate the build configuration process, ensuring smooth and consistent building across different platforms and environments.


Technical Explanation

CMake uses a text-based configuration file called CMakeLists.txt to define project parameters, dependencies, and build settings. It generates platform-specific build files (e.g., Makefiles, Visual Studio project files) based on the provided configuration, allowing developers to compile and build their projects seamlessly on different platforms. CMake’s modular design supports the integration of various compilers, IDEs, and tools.

Use cases

CMake is essential for projects of all sizes, from small open-source libraries to large-scale software applications. Its ability to generate project files for multiple build systems (e.g., Make, Ninja, Visual Studio) makes it a versatile choice. CMake is especially valuable in cross-platform development, where maintaining consistent build processes across Windows, macOS, and Linux is essential.

Alternative Technologies

Alternative build systems like Autotools and Meson are available, but CMake’s popularity and flexibility make it a strong choice. The Autotools suite is primarily used in Unix-like systems and focuses on generating shell scripts for configuration. Meson is a newer build system known for its simplicity and performance. However, CMake’s wide adoption, extensive documentation, and support for numerous programming languages contribute to its continued popularity in the software development community.