Frameworks/Epics/CMake target usage requirements

This page collects ideas and requirements for a CMake which is fully target orientated, rather than directory orientated. Additionally the targets propagate usage requirements to simplify the use of well-defined targets.

By 'fully target orientated', the intention is to be able to connect targets in a build system to other targets in that same build system and to imported targets.

Several feature requests related to this also mention the requirement to set these properties on a per-source-file basis. This wiki page ignores the source-file level requirement and defers it to future work.

There are several dimensions to this:

  • CMake needs to be able to set all necessary properties to configure the build.
  • CMake needs to be able to set properties differently based on debug and release configurations
  • Transitive behaviour - dependants should be easily informed of what properties they should use.
  • CMake needs to be able to set properties differently based on whether downstreams should use its contents or not (public versus private).
  • Different values based on whether linking statically or dynamically
  • Possibly different values based on the language being used.
  • Different values based on whether it is used from its build location (ie, targets created in the same buildsystem) or installed location (eg the include directories of a library). This will be possible with generator expressions. Eg:
     set_property(TARGET foo PROPERTY
  • The public/installed include directories must be relocatable. For dependencies, this will be possible with generator expressions which assume the dependency has already been found: $<TARGET_PROPERTY:depend:INTERFACE_INCLUDE_DIRECTORIES>
  • CMake may need update some properties based on the value of some other properties. For example, if the WIN32_EXECUTABLE property is true, we may need to link in a static library, as we do on windows with qtmain.,26577

There is also a possibility that the host and target platforms (when cross compiling) should be dimensions of this feature (or possibly the generator being used). It's not clear how that could work however without turning the possibilities for Generator-expressions entirely unmaintainable. For more see For now, that's not a topic for this page.

The properties that should be covered by this mechanism are:

  • Link libraries
  • Include directories
  • Preprocessor definitions
  • Compiler flags (eg, if -msoft-float is used by a dependency then it should be used by dependents, or -std=C++11?) Note that the raw flags should not be stored as a target property as they vary among compilers. Instead abstracted properties on the target should be made available, such as POSITION_INDEPENDENT_CODE or STD_CXX11.
  • Linker flags

There are several aspects to this

  • The implementation - the upstream developer needs to be able to mark properties for the values in each required dimension (The usage requirements).
  • The publisher - Imported targets need to be able to define their usage requirements . Exported target generator needs to be able to generate them.
  • The consumer - Developer needs to be able to easily read and act upon the usage requirements of dependencies.

In the case of using targets from the same buildsystem, the publisher phase is not executed, and the consumer phase simply uses the same properties set in the implementation phase.

The consuming phase

The target API for the consumer is a new cmake command like:

target_link_libraries(Foo Bar Qt5::Widgets boost::program_options boost::mpl)

where Foo is a target created in the local CMakeLists file, and the other targets are one of:

  • A target created in this buildsystem, or
  • An imported target

The publishing phase

All required information would need to be encoded in properties on the targets, probably in generator expressions (eg, The INTERFACE_INCLUDE_DIRECTORIES of the Bar target might contain several entries of the form $<$<CONFIG:Debug>:/foo/bar>).

For creators of Find modules, the responsibility would be on the Find module author to ensure correctly creating imported targets and populating the correct properties on them.

For Config files, exported targets should be used, which will generate properties on the imported targets based on the values of properties set during the implementation phase.

The implementation phase

For authors of libraries which create CMake Config files, there needs to be API to populate each property on particular targets. The properties are then used when targets are exported with the install(... EXPORT ...) signature.

Plumbing API:

The plumbing API and implementation detail for this will be based on target properties, not directory level properties.

The properties will have well-defined names, preferably without containing any of the dimensions in their name (eg, language, config, shared/ststic etc) but the value will make use of generator expressions to deal with those dimensions. The implementor will be able to for example:

set_property(TARGET Foo
set_property(TARGET Foo

A more complete syntax for the generator expressions is described here.

Current state

Property Directory-level API Target-level API Notes
Link Libraries link_libraries command target_link_libraries command Already possible to differentiate between public and private linking, and debug/optimized. However, it might be worth porting this to generator expressions too for consistency and to allow differentiation based on other configurations.
Include directories include_directories set target property INCLUDE_DIRECTORIES

Needs to get support for generator expressions, and possibly needs a way to differentiate public/private

Preprocessor defintions add_defnitions command set target property COMPILE_DEFINITIONS and COMPILE_DEFINITIONS_<CONFIG> No way of specifying language (needed?). May need to get support for generator expressions, and needs a way to differentiate public/private
Compile options set(CMAKE_CXX_FLAGS) string with language and configuration specified set COMPILE_FLAGS target property with no language or configuration specified No way of specifying language (needed?). Needs to get support for generator expressions for configuration, and needs a way to differentiate public/private. Rebase the COMPILE_OPTIONS branch to master and finish it so that we can deal with ';' separated lists instead of spaces.


Status Description Notes
DONE Agree on and implement generator expression language Steve/Brad
DONE Extend built-in generator expression API as required Steve
DONE At the start of generate-time, create a const cmGeneratorTarget for each cmTarget* (target-prime-time). From this point on, no generator should need to use a cmTarget*. CMake 2.8.9 or earlier
DONE Implement evaluation of results of generator expressions while evaluating the parent. For example if A depends on B, and C depends on B, C should get the requested content from A when evaluating its expression that uses B. Together with this feature, implement code to ensure that the dependencies form a DAG, and error out if not. CMake 2.8.10
DONE Implement support for generator expressions in the COMPILE_DEFINITIONS target property (likely the easiest one to start with). Consider creating and storing cmGeneratorExpression objects early (at target-prime-time) and evaluating them later. Similar for all following target properties. The add_definitions() presents issues due to the -D requirement there, and it is likely not needed anyway, so don't support generator expressions with that command. Consider adding a compile_defintions() command if such a thing is wanted at 'directory scope' (unlikely). CMake 2.8.10
DONE Implement support for generator expressions in the INCLUDE_DIRECTORIES target property. CMake 2.8.10
DONE Implement support for INTERFACE_COMPILE_DEFINITIONS target property. CMake 2.8.11
DONE Implement support for INTERFACE_INCLUDE_DIRECTORIES target property. This will require the creation of a new generator expressions $<BUILD_INTERFACE> which is "1" if the target is part of the same build-system, or a build-imported target created by export(), and $<INSTALL_INTERFACE> which is "0" if the target is an install(EXPORT)ed target. This is needed because directories which should be used at build-time are not the same as those to use with installed targets. $<TARGET_PROPERTY:foo,INTERFACE_INCLUDE_DIRECTORIES> should work as expected for both build targets/build-imported targets and installed imported targets. In fact is it likely the only option for installed imported targets because the imported target generator does not know the correct paths. As config files need to find their own dependencies anyway, they can ensure that they get imported targets for those dependencies in the Find modules. CMake 2.8.11
DONE Implement support for generator targets in target_link_libraries, LINK_LIBRARIES and INTERFACE_LINK_LIBRARIES target properties, using knowledge and refactorings already gained. CMake 2.8.11
DONE Implement imported usage requirements in boost, at least as proof of concept Steve
DONE Implement compile features in interfaces such as INTERFACE_POSITION_INDEPENDENT_CODE. CMake 2.8.11
DONE Implement imported usage requirements in FindQt4.cmake. CMake 2.8.11
DONE Investigate whether targets-as-interfaces can benefit the try_compile API. We currently have issues with it in KDE due to the need for CMAKE_POSITION_INDEPENDENT_CODE to be set globally. CMake 2.8.11
DONE Implement imported usage requirements in Qt 5 Config files. Qt 5.1.0
DONE Implement INTERFACE_COMPILE_OPTIONS target property. This is similar to the features stuff, but with the difference that it is compiler specific and a workaround for lack of a similar feature in CMake so far. Add a way for users to use $<$<MATCHES: $<CXX_COMPILER_ID>,GCC>:-fPIC> (similar for compiler versions). This can be used for soft/hard float, c++11 etc until CMake has built-in support for those. CMake 2.8.12
DONE Implement target usage in some macros/functions. For example, qt5_generate_moc currently reads the directory property INCLUDE_DIRECTORIES, but not the target property (as it does not include yet). At this point, we can do things like this: qt5_generate_moc(infile.h moc_outfile.cpp TARGET foo); add_library(foo ${srcs}). TARGET foo is specified before the foo target exists, but it is used as part of a generator expression like add_custom_command(COMMAND ${Qt5Core_MOC_EXECUTABLE} ARGS "$<JOIN: -I,$<TARGET_PROPERTY:${theTARGET},INTERFACE_INCLUDE_DIRECTORIES>>"), where the $<JOIN> generator expression takes a separator and a list to join with it. CMake 2.8.12
DONE Implement support for libraries of type INTERFACE_LIBRARY which only contain interface properties. CMake 3.0.0
DONE Implement compile feature for language dialects. CMake 3.1.0


This page was last edited on 21 February 2015, at 09:36. Content is available under Creative Commons License SA 4.0 unless otherwise noted.