The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Installing and Using Meson

This page is meant for people who are new to using Meson and possibly even to compiling C and/or C++ code in general. It is meant to contain one simple way of getting your build environment up and running. If you are more experienced and have your own preferred way of installing and using development software, feel free to use that instead. This guide only deals with Linux, Windows and macOS platforms. If you use some other platform, such as one of the BSDs, you probably already know how to install development tools on it (probably better than we do, even).

There are three phases to getting a development environment running.

  1. Installing a compiler toolchain
  2. Installing Meson
  3. Creating a project and building it

Installing a compiler toolchain


All Linux distributions provide easy access to development tools. Typically you need to open a terminal and execute one command, which depends on your distro.

  • Debian, Ubuntu and derivatives: sudo apt install build-essential
  • Fedora, Centos, RHEL and derivatives: sudo dnf install gcc-c++
  • Arch: sudo pacman -S gcc


The most common development toolchain on Windows is Visual Studio, which can be downloaded from the Visual Studio web site. Select the Community version unless you have bought a license.

Download page of Visual Studio

Download the installer and run it. When you are given a list of things to install, select Desktop development with C++. This installs both a C and a C++ compiler.

Installing the Visual Studio compilers

Once the installer finishes the compiler toolchain is ready to use.


On macOS the development toolchain must be installed via the Mac app store. Search for an app called XCode and install it.

App store page for XCode

Note: Installing XCode is not sufficient by itself. You also need to start XCode' GUI application once. This will make XCode download and install more files that are needed for compilation.

Installing Meson


Installing Meson is just as simple as installing the compiler toolchain.

  • Debian, Ubuntu and derivatives: sudo apt install meson ninja-build
  • Fedora, Centos, RHEL and derivatives: sudo dnf install meson ninja-build
  • Arch: sudo pacman -S meson


Meson provides a standard Windows .msi installer that can be downloaded from the Releases page.

Meson installed download

Download and run it to install all the necessary bits. You can verify that your installation is working by running the Visual Studio developer tools command prompt that can be found in the start menu.

Devtool prompt

You should be able to run both meson and ninja and query their versions.

A working Windows install


Due to the way Apple has set things up, getting macOS working is a bit more complicated. The first thing you need to do is to install the newest version of Python 3 from the project's web site.

Downloading the Python for macOS installer

Once you have a working Python you can install the necessary bits using Python's Pip package manager.

pip install --user meson ninja

This will install the necessary files in your home directory, but sadly they are not directly usable. You need to add the directory they are written to in the system's PATH environment variable so the programs can be used directly from the terminal. This requires editing a text configuration file.

The correct file to edit depends on which shell you are currently using. If you have an old macOS install it is probably Bash and the file you need to edit is .bash_profile. If, on the other hand, you have a new macOS install then you are probably using Zsh and the file to edit is .zshrc. In either case the file should be in your home directory.

For Bash the line you need to add is this:


whereas for Zsh it is this:

export PATH=$PATH:/Users/username/Library/Python/3.9/bin

In both case you need to change the values for username and 3.9. The former needs to be substituted with your Unix username while the latter needs to contain the actual Python version you installed.

Once this is done close the terminal application and start it again. Now you should be able to run the meson command.

A working macOS install

Running Meson

Start a terminal application. On Windows you have to use the Visual Studio Developer Tools Command Prompt as discussed above, because the compilers are only available in that terminal. You also need to change into your home directory (Linux and macOS terminals start in the home directory by default).

cd \users\username

Create a new directory to hold your project.

mkdir testproject
cd testproject

Use Meson to create and build a new sample project.

meson init --name testproject --build

This will create a project skeleton for you and compile it. The result is put in the build subdirectory and can be run directly from there.


All finished and ready to go

The project is now ready for development. You can edit the code with any editor and it is rebuilt by going in the build subdirectory and executing the meson compile command. If your version of Meson is too old, you can compile the project by running the command ninja instead.

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