If there are multiple configuration options, passing them through compiler flags becomes very burdensome. It also makes the configuration settings hard to inspect. To make things easier, Meson supports the generation of configure files. This feature is similar to one found in other build systems such as CMake.

Suppose we have the following Meson snippet:

conf_data = configuration_data()
conf_data.set('version', '1.2.3')
configure_file(input : '',
               output : 'config.h',
               configuration : conf_data)

and that the contents of are

#define VERSION_STR "@version@"

Meson will then create a file called config.h in the corresponding build directory whose contents are the following.

#define VERSION_STR "1.2.3"

More specifically, Meson will find all strings of the type @varname@ and replace them with respective values set in conf_data. You can use a single configuration_data object as many times as you like, but it becomes immutable after being passed to the configure_file function. That is, after it has been used once to generate output the set function becomes unusable and trying to call it causes an error. Since 1.5.0 Copy of immutable configuration_data is however mutable.

For more complex configuration file generation Meson provides a second form. To use it, put a line like this in your configuration file.

#mesondefine TOKEN

The replacement that happens depends on what the value and type of TOKEN is:

#define TOKEN     // If TOKEN is set to boolean true.
#undef TOKEN      // If TOKEN is set to boolean false.
#define TOKEN 4   // If TOKEN is set to an integer or string value.
/* undef TOKEN */ // If TOKEN has not been set to any value.

Note that if you want to define a C string, you need to do the quoting yourself like this:

conf_data.set('TOKEN', '"value"')

Since this is such a common operation, Meson provides a convenience method:

plain_var = 'value'
conf_data.set_quoted('TOKEN', plain_var) # becomes #define TOKEN "value"

Often you have a boolean value in Meson but need to define the C/C++ token as 0 or 1. Meson provides a convenience function for this use case.

conf_data.set10(token, boolean_value)
# The line above is equivalent to this:
if boolean_value
  conf_data.set(token, 1)
  conf_data.set(token, 0)

Configuring without an input file

If the input file is not defined then Meson will generate a header file all the entries in the configuration data object. The replacements are the same as when generating #mesondefine entries:

conf_data.set('FOO', '"string"') => #define FOO "string"
conf_data.set('FOO', 'a_token')  => #define FOO a_token
conf_data.set('FOO', true)       => #define FOO
conf_data.set('FOO', false)      => #undef FOO
conf_data.set('FOO', 1)          => #define FOO 1
conf_data.set('FOO', 0)          => #define FOO 0

In this mode, you can also specify a comment which will be placed before the value so that your generated files are self-documenting.

conf_data.set('BAR', true, description : 'Set BAR if it is available')

Will produce:

/* Set BAR if it is available */
#define BAR

Dealing with file encodings

The default Meson file encoding to configure files is utf-8. If you need to configure a file that is not utf-8 encoded the encoding keyword will allow you to specify which file encoding to use. It is however strongly advised to convert your non utf-8 file to utf-8 whenever possible. Supported file encodings are those of python3, see standard-encodings.

Using dictionaries

Since 0.49.0 configuration_data() takes an optional dictionary as first argument. If provided, each key/value pair is added into the configuration_data as if set() method was called for each of them. configure_file()'s configuration kwarg also accepts a dictionary instead of a configuration_data object.


cdata = configuration_data({
  'STRING' : '"foo"',
  'INT' : 42,
  'DEFINED' : true,
  'UNDEFINED' : false,

configure_file(output : 'config1.h',
  configuration : cdata,

configure_file(output : 'config2.h',
  configuration : {
    'STRING' : '"foo"',
    'INT' : 42,
    'DEFINED' : true,
    'UNDEFINED' : false,

A full example

Generating and using a configuration file requires the following steps:

  • generate the file
  • create an include directory object for the directory that holds the file
  • use it in a target

We are going to use the traditional approach of generating a header file in the top directory. The common name is config.h but we're going to use an unique name. This avoids the problem of accidentally including the wrong header file when building a project with many subprojects.

At the top level we generate the file:

conf_data = configuration_data()
# Set data
configure_file(input : '',
  output : 'projconfig.h',
  configuration : conf_data)

Immediately afterwards we generate the include object.

configuration_inc = include_directories('.')

Finally we specify this in a target that can be in any subdirectory.

executable(..., include_directories : configuration_inc)

Now any source file in this target can include the configuration header like this:


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