External Project module

Note: the functionality of this module is governed by Meson's rules on mixing build systems.

This is an experimental module, API could change.

This module allows building code that uses build systems other than Meson. This module is intended to be used to build Autotools subprojects as fallback if the dependency couldn't be found on the system (e.g. too old distro version).

The project will be compiled out-of-tree inside Meson's build directory. The project will also be installed inside Meson's build directory using make's DESTDIR feature. During project installation step, that DESTDIR will be copied verbatim into the desired location.

External subprojects can use libraries built by Meson (main project, or other subprojects) using pkg-config, thanks to *-uninstalled.pc files generated by pkg.generate().

External build system requirements:

  • Must support out-of-tree build. The configure script will be invoked with the current workdir inside Meson's build directory and not subproject's top source directory.
  • Configure script must generate a Makefile in the current workdir.
  • Configure script must take common directories like prefix, libdir, etc, as command line arguments.
  • Configure script must support common environment variable like CFLAGS, CC, etc.
  • Compilation step must detect when a reconfigure is needed, and do it transparently.

Known limitations:

  • Executables from external projects cannot be used uninstalled, because they would need its libraries to be installed in the final location. This is why there is no find_program() method.
  • The configure script must generate a Makefile, other build systems are not yet supported.
  • When cross compiling, if PKG_CONFIG_SYSROOT_DIR is set in environment or sys_root in the cross file properties, the external subproject will not be able to find dependencies built by Meson using pkg-config. The reason is pkg-config and pkgconf both prepend the sysroot path to -I and -L arguments from -uninstalled.pc files. This is arguably a bug that could be fixed in future version of pkg-config/pkgconf.

Added 0.56.0



This function should be called at the root directory of a project using another build system. Usually in a meson.build file placed in the top directory of a subproject, but could be also in any subdir.

Its first positional argument is the name of the configure script to be executed (e.g. configure), that file must be in the current directory and executable. Note that if a bootstrap script is required (e.g. autogen.sh when building from git instead of tarball), it can be done using run_command() before calling add_project() method.

Since 0.60.0 If the first positional argument is 'waf', special treatment is done for the waf build system. The waf executable must be found either in the current directory, or in system PATH.

Keyword arguments:

  • configure_options: An array of strings to be passed as arguments to the configure script. Some special tags will be replaced by Meson before passing them to the configure script: @PREFIX@, @LIBDIR@ and @INCLUDEDIR@. Note that libdir and includedir paths are relative to prefix in Meson but some configure scripts requires absolute path, in that case they can be passed as '--libdir=@PREFIX@/@LIBDIR@'. Since 0.57.0 default arguments are added in case some tags are not found in configure_options: '--prefix=@PREFIX@', '--libdir=@PREFIX@/@LIBDIR@', and '--includedir=@PREFIX@/@INCLUDEDIR@'. It was previously considered a fatal error to not specify them.
  • cross_configure_options: Extra options appended to configure_options only when cross compiling. special tag @HOST@ will be replaced by '{}-{}-{}'.format(host_machine.cpu_family(), build_machine.system(), host_machine.system(). If omitted it defaults to ['--host=@HOST@'].
  • verbose: If set to true the output of sub-commands ran to configure, build and install the project will be printed onto Meson's stdout.
  • env : environment variables to set, such as ['NAME1=value1', 'NAME2=value2'], a dictionary, or an env object.
  • depends : Since 0.63.0 Specifies that this project depends on the specified target(s) that must be built before running make to build this external project. This should be used for example when the external project links to a Meson library() that the configure script will find using the -uninstalled.pc pkg-config file generated by Meson.

Returns an ExternalProject object

ExternalProject object



Return a dependency object that can be used to build targets against a library from the external project.

Keyword arguments:

  • subdir path relative to includedir to be added to the header search path.

Example meson.build file for a subproject

project('My Autotools Project', 'c',
  meson_version : '>=0.56.0',

mod = import('unstable-external_project')

p = mod.add_project('configure',
  configure_options : ['--prefix=@PREFIX@',

mylib_dep = p.dependency('mylib')
meson.override_dependency('mylib', mylib_dep)

Using wrap file

Most of the time the project will be built as a subproject, and fetched using a .wrap file. In that case the simple meson.build file needed to build the subproject can be provided by adding patch_directory=mysubproject line in the wrap file, and place the build definition file at subprojects/packagefiles/mysubproject/meson.build.

The results of the search are