Wrap best practices and tips

There are several things you need to take into consideration when writing a Meson build definition for a project. This is especially true when the project will be used as a subproject. This page lists a few things to consider when writing your definitions.

Do not put config.h in external search path

Many projects use a config.h header file that they use for configuring their project internally. These files are never installed to the system header files so there are no inclusion collisions. This is not the case with subprojects, your project tree may have an arbitrary number of configuration files, so we need to ensure they don't clash.

The basic problem is that the users of the subproject must be able to include subproject headers without seeing its config.h file. The most correct solution is to rename the config.h file into something unique, such as foobar-config.h. This is usually not feasible unless you are the maintainer of the subproject in question.

The pragmatic solution is to put the config header in a directory that has no other header files and then hide that from everyone else. One way is to create a top level subdirectory called internal and use that to build your own sources, like this:

subdir('internal') # create config.h in this subdir
internal_inc = include_directories('internal')
shared_library('foo', 'foo.c', include_directories : internal_inc)

Many projects keep their config.h in the top level directory that has no other source files in it. In that case you don't need to move it but can just do this instead:

internal_inc = include_directories('.') # At top level meson.build

Make libraries buildable both as static and shared

Some platforms (e.g. iOS) requires linking everything in your main app statically. In other cases you might want shared libraries. They are also faster during development due to Meson's relinking optimization. However building both library types on all builds is slow and wasteful.

Your project should provide a toggle specifying which type of library it should build. As an example if you have a Meson option called shared_lib then you could do this:

if get_option('shared_lib')
  libtype = 'shared_library'
else
  libtype = 'static_library'
endif

mylib = build_target('foo', 'foo.c',
  target_type : libtype)

Declare generated headers explicitly

Meson's Ninja backend works differently from Make and other systems. Rather than processing things directory per directory, it looks at the entire build definition at once and runs the individual compile jobs in what might look to the outside as a random order.

The reason for this is that this is much more efficient so your builds finish faster. The downside is that you have to be careful with your dependencies. The most common problem here is headers that are generated at compile time with e.g. code generators. If these headers are needed when building code that uses these libraries, the compile job might be run before the code generation step. The fix is to make the dependency explicit like this:

myheader = custom_target(...)
mylibrary = shared_library(...)
mydep = declare_dependency(link_with : mylibrary,
  include_directories : include_directories(...),
  sources : myheader)

And then you can use the dependency in the usual way:

executable('dep_using_exe', 'main.c',
  dependencies : mydep)

Meson will ensure that the header file has been built before compiling main.c.

Avoid exposing compilable source files in declare_dependency

The main use for the sources argument in declare_dependency is to construct the correct dependency graph for the backends, as demonstrated in the previous section. It is extremely important to note that it should not be used to directly expose compilable sources (.c, .cpp, etc.) of dependencies, and should rather only be used for header/config files. The following example will illustrate what can go wrong if you accidentally expose compilable source files.

So you've read about unity builds and how Meson natively supports them. You decide to expose the sources of dependencies in order to have unity builds that include their dependencies. For your support library you do

my_support_sources = files(...)

mysupportlib = shared_library(
  ...
  sources : my_support_sources,
  ...)
mysupportlib_dep = declare_dependency(
  ...
  link_with : mylibrary,
  sources : my_support_sources,
  ...)

And for your main project you do:

mylibrary = shared_library(
  ...
  dependencies : mysupportlib_dep,
  ...)
myexe = executable(
  ...
  link_with : mylibrary,
  dependencies : mysupportlib_dep,
  ...)

This is extremely dangerous. When building, mylibrary will build and link the support sources my_support_sources into the resulting shared library. Then, for myexe, these same support sources will be compiled again, will be linked into the resulting executable, in addition to them being already present in mylibrary. This can quickly run afoul of the One Definition Rule (ODR) in C++, as you have more than one definition of a symbol, yielding undefined behavior. While C does not have a strict ODR rule, there is no language in the standard which guarantees such behavior to work. Violations of the ODR can lead to weird idiosyncratic failures such as segfaults. In the overwhelming number of cases, exposing library sources via the sources argument in declare_dependency is thus incorrect. If you wish to get full cross-library performance, consider building mysupportlib as a static library instead and employing LTO.

There are exceptions to this rule. If there are some natural constraints on how your library is to be used, you can expose sources. For instance, the WrapDB module for GoogleTest directly exposes the sources of GTest and GMock. This is valid, as GTest and GMock will only ever be used in terminal link targets. A terminal target is the final target in a dependency link chain, for instance myexe in the last example, whereas mylibrary is an intermediate link target. For most libraries this rule is not applicable though, as you cannot in general control how others consume your library, and as such should not expose sources.

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