IDE integration

Meson has exporters for Visual Studio and XCode, but writing a custom backend for every IDE out there is not a scalable approach. To solve this problem, Meson provides an API that makes it easy for any IDE or build tools to integrate Meson builds and provide an experience comparable to a solution native to the IDE.

All the resources required for such a IDE integration can be found in the meson-info directory in the build directory.

The first thing to do when setting up a Meson project in an IDE is to select the source and build directories. For this example we assume that the source resides in an Eclipse-like directory called workspace/project and the build tree is nested inside it as workspace/project/build. First, we initialize Meson by running the following command in the source directory.

meson builddir

With this command meson will configure the project and also generate introspection information that is stored in intro-*.json files in the meson-info directory. The introspection dump will be automatically updated when meson is (re)configured, or the build options change. Thus, an IDE can watch for changes in this directory to know when something changed.

The meson-info directory should contain the following files:

File Description
intro-benchmarks.json Lists all benchmarks
intro-buildoptions.json Contains a full list of meson configuration options for the project
intro-buildsystem_files.json Full list of all meson build files
intro-dependencies.json Lists all dependencies used in the project
intro-installed.json Contains mapping of files to their installed location
intro-projectinfo.json Stores basic information about the project (name, version, etc.)
intro-targets.json Full list of all build targets
intro-tests.json Lists all tests with instructions how to run them

The content of the JSON files is further specified in the remainder of this document.

The targets section

The most important file for an IDE is probably intro-targets.json. Here each target with its sources and compiler parameters is specified. The JSON format for one target is defined as follows:

    "name": "Name of the target",
    "id": "The internal ID meson uses",
    "type": "<TYPE>",
    "defined_in": "/Path/to/the/targets/",
    "subproject": null,
    "filename": ["list", "of", "generated", "files"],
    "build_by_default": true / false,
    "target_sources": [],
    "installed": true / false,

If the key installed is set to true, the key install_filename will also be present. It stores the installation location for each file in filename. If one file in filename is not installed, its corresponding install location is set to null.

The subproject' key specifies the name of the subproject this target was defined in, ornull` if the target was defined in the top level project.

A target usually generates only one file. However, it is possible for custom targets to have multiple outputs.

Target sources

The intro-targets.json file also stores a list of all source objects of the target in the target_sources. With this information, an IDE can provide code completion for all source files.

    "language": "language ID",
    "compiler": ["The", "compiler", "command"],
    "parameters": ["list", "of", "compiler", "parameters"],
    "sources": ["list", "of", "all", "source", "files", "for", "this", "language"],
    "generated_sources": ["list", "of", "all", "source", "files", "that", "where", "generated", "somewhere", "else"]

It should be noted that the compiler parameters stored in the parameters differ from the actual parameters used to compile the file. This is because the parameters are optimized for the usage in an IDE to provide autocompletion support, etc. It is thus not recommended to use this introspection information for actual compilation.

Possible values for type

The following table shows all valid types for a target.

value of type Description
executable This target will generate an executable file
static library Target for a static library
shared library Target for a shared library
shared module A shared library that is meant to be used with dlopen rather than linking into something else
custom A custom target
run A Meson run target
jar A Java JAR target

Using --targets without a build directory

It is also possible to get most targets without a build directory. This can be done by running meson introspect --targets /path/to/

The generated output is similar to running the introspection with a build directory or reading the intro-targets.json. However, there are some key differences:

  • The paths in filename now are relative to the future build directory
  • The install_filename key is completely missing
  • There is only one entry in target_sources:
    • With the language set to unknown
    • Empty lists for compiler and parameters and generated_sources
    • The sources list should contain all sources of the target

There is no guarantee that the sources list in target_sources is correct. There might be differences, due to internal limitations. It is also not guaranteed that all targets will be listed in the output. It might even be possible that targets are listed, which won't exist when meson is run normally. This can happen if a target is defined inside an if statement. Use this feature with care.

Build Options

The list of all build options (build type, warning level, etc.) is stored in the intro-buildoptions.json file. Here is the JSON format for each option.

    "name": "name of the option",
    "description": "the description",
    "type": "type ID",
    "value": "value depends on type",
    "section": "section ID"

The supported types are:

  • string
  • boolean
  • combo
  • integer
  • array

For the type combo the key choices is also present. Here all valid values for the option are stored.

The possible values for section are:

  • core
  • backend
  • base
  • compiler
  • directory
  • user
  • test

To set the options, use the meson configure command.

Since Meson 0.50.0 it is also possible to get the default buildoptions without a build directory by providing the root instead of a build directory to meson introspect --buildoptions.

Running --buildoptions without a build directory produces the same output as running it with a freshly configured build directory.

However, this behavior is not guaranteed if subprojects are present. Due to internal limitations all subprojects are processed even if they are never used in a real meson run. Because of this options for the subprojects can differ.

The dependencies section

The list of all found dependencies can be acquired from intro-dependencies.json. Here, the name, compiler and linker arguments for a dependency are listed.

Scanning for dependecie with --scan-dependencies

It is also possible to get most dependencies used without a build directory. This can be done by running meson introspect --scan-dependencies /path/to/

The output format is as follows:

    "name": "The name of the dependency",
    "required": true,
    "conditional": false,
    "has_fallback": false

The required keyword specifies whether the dependency is marked as required in the (all dependencies are required by default). The conditional key indicates whether the dependency() function was called inside a conditional block. In a real meson run these dependencies might not be used, thus they may not be required, even if the required key is set. The has_fallback key just indicates whether a fallback was directly set in the dependency() function.


Compilation and unit tests are done as usual by running the ninja and ninja test commands. A JSON formatted result log can be found in workspace/project/builddir/meson-logs/testlog.json.

When these tests fail, the user probably wants to run the failing test in a debugger. To make this as integrated as possible, extract the tests from the intro-tests.json and intro-benchmarks.json files. This provides you with all the information needed to run the test: what command to execute, command line arguments and environment variable settings.

    "name": "name of the test",
    "workdir": "the working directory (can be null)",
    "timeout": "the test timeout",
    "suite": ["list", "of", "test", "suites"],
    "is_parallel": true / false,
    "cmd": ["command", "to", "run"],
    "env": {
        "VARIABLE1": "value 1",
        "VARIABLE2": "value 2"

Programmatic interface

Meson also provides the meson introspect for project introspection via the command line. Use meson introspect -h to see all available options.

This API can also work without a build directory for the --projectinfo command.

Existing integrations

The results of the search are