Contributing to Meson

A large fraction of Meson is contributed by people outside the core team. This documentation explains some of the design rationales of Meson as well as how to create and submit your patches for inclusion to Meson.

Thank you for your interest in participating to the development.

Submitting patches

All changes must be submitted as pull requests to Github. This causes them to be run through the CI system. All submissions must pass a full CI test run before they are even considered for submission.


All new features must come with automatic tests that throughly prove that the feature is working as expected. Similarly bug fixes must come with a unit test that demonstrates the bug, proves that it has been fixed and prevents the feature from breaking in the future.

Sometimes it is difficult to create a unit test for a given bug. If this is the case, note this in your pull request. We may permit bug fix merge requests in these cases. This is done on a case by case basis. Sometimes it may be easier to write the test than convince the maintainers that one is not needed. Exercise judgment and ask for help in problematic cases.

The tests are split into two different parts: unit tests and full project tests. To run all tests, execute ./ Unit tests can be run with ./ and project tests with ./

Each project test is a standalone project that can be compiled on its own. They are all in test cases subdirectory. The simplest way to run a single project test is to do something like ./ test\ cases/common/1\ trivial builddir. The one exception to this is test cases/unit directory discussed below.

The test cases in the common subdirectory are meant to be run always for all backends. They should only depend on C and C++, without any external dependencies such as libraries. Tests that require those are in the test cases/frameworks directory. If there is a need for an external program in the common directory, such as a code generator, it should be implemented as a Python script. The goal of test projects is also to provide sample projects that end users can use as a base for their own projects.

All project tests follow the same pattern: they are compiled, tests are run and finally install is run. Passing means that building and tests succeed and installed files match the installed_files.txt file in the test's source root. Any tests that require more thorough analysis, such as checking that certain compiler arguments can be found in the command line or that the generated pkg-config files actually work should be done with a unit test.

Projects needed by unit tests are in the test cases/unit subdirectory. They are not run as part of ./


The docs directory contains the full documentation that will be used to generate the Meson web site. Every change in functionality must change the documentation pages. In most cases this means updating the reference documentation page but bigger changes might need changes in other documentation, too.

All new functionality needs to have a mention in the release notes. These features should be written in standalone files in the docs/markdown/snippets directory. The release manager will combine them into one page when doing the release.

Python Coding style

Meson follows the basic Python coding style. Additional rules are the following:

  • indent 4 spaces, no tabs ever
  • indent files with two spaces
  • try to keep the code as simple as possible
  • contact the mailing list before embarking on large scale projects to avoid wasted effort

Meson uses Flake8 for style guide enforcement. The Flake8 options for the project are contained in setup.cfg.

To run Flake8 on your local clone of Meson:

$ python3 -m pip install flake8
$ cd meson
$ flake8

C/C++ coding style

Meson has a bunch of test code in several languages. The rules for those are simple.

  • indent 4 spaces, no tabs ever
  • brace always on the same line as if/for/else/function definition

External dependencies

The goal of Meson is to be as easily usable as possible. The user experience should be "get Python3 and Ninja, run", even on Windows. Unfortunately this means that we can't have dependencies on projects outside of Python's standard library. This applies only to core functionality, though. For additional helper programs etc the use of external dependencies may be ok. If you feel that you are dealing with this kind of case, please contact the developers first with your use case.

Turing completeness

The main design principle of Meson is that the definition language is not Turing complete. Any change that would make Meson Turing complete is automatically rejected. In practice this means that defining your own functions inside files and generalised loops will not be added to the language.

Do I need to sign a CLA in order to contribute?

No you don't. All contributions are welcome.

No lingering state

Meson operates in much the same way as functional programming languages. It has inputs, which include files, values of options, compilers and so on. These are passed to a function, which generates output build definition. This function is pure, which means that:

  • for any given input the output is always the same
  • running Meson twice in a row always produce the same output in both runs

The latter one is important, because it enforces that there is no way for "secret state" to pass between consecutive invocations of Meson. This is the reason why, for example, there is no set_option function even though there is a get_option one.

If this were not the case, we could never know if the build output is "stable". For example suppose there were a set_option function and a boolean variable flipflop. Then you could do this:

set_option('flipflop', not get_option('flipflop'))

This piece of code would never converge. Every Meson run would change the value of the option and thus the output you get out of this build definition would be random.

Meson does not permit this by forbidding these sorts of covert channels.

There is one exception to this rule. Users can call into external commands with run_command. If the output of that command does not behave like a pure function, this problem arises. Meson does not try to guard against this case, it is the responsibility of the user to make sure the commands they run behave like pure functions.

Environment variables

Environment variables are like global variables, except that they are also hidden by default. Envvars should be avoided whenever possible, all functionality should be exposed in better ways such as command line switches.

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