[cfe-dev] RFC: Upcoming Build System Changes

Daniel Dunbar daniel at zuster.org
Thu Oct 27 18:11:22 PDT 2011

Hi all,

As you might have inferred, I'm in the process of working on some changes to the
way LLVM builds. I have outlined a rough proposal below, unless there are any
major objections I will probably start committing stuff next week.

This message may be verbose, if you want the executive summary, skip
to 'What This
Means For Jane "LLVM Developer" Doe' at the bottom.


We currently maintain two build systems (make, CMake). This has a couple of

 * Duplication: the two build systems duplicate a significant amount of implicit
   logic (higher level dependencies), some config files, and other miscellaneous

 * Maintenance: Some parts of the build systems requires regular maintenance
   (the CMake file lists, CMake dependency lists, module structure). Having one
   more thing to maintain is annoying.

 * Inconsistency: The two build systems behave inconsistently in some ways. If
   we want both to officially supported systems, it would be nice for them to
   behave as identically as possible.

   For example, CMake now uses explicit dependencies which are hard coded into
   the CMake files, but the Makefiles work completely differently.

There are also other general issues with the way LLVM is built now:

 * LLVM has a higher level structure for its organization, but this is not
   explicit. LLVM is roughly organized into components (libraries, tools, etc.)
   by directory. It would be nice to have this be more explicit.

 * Much of the project build structure is implicit in the Makefiles or
   CMakeFiles. It is not particularly explicit anywhere that, say, parts of
   VMCore depend on building the Intrinsics, which depend on building tblgen.

 * The Make system is not very efficient. We use recursive Makefiles which make
   the current system (relatively) simple in some ways, but mean the Make build
   is not nearly as scalable as it could be. In particular, the current
   organization means the built is often serialized on something that is not a
   strict dependency. It also makes it much more likely to do things like a
   stampeding link of all the tools, even though many tools could have been
   built earlier.

Specific Goals

 * Move both build systems to use explicit library dependencies, in a clean
   fashion. The CMake files do this now, but I don't think it has been made
   clear to developers when they are supposed to edit these files, or how (other
   than when something breaks, I guess).

 * Explicitly describe as much of the project structure as necessary to support
   builds. This means explicitly specifying how the project is organized, and
   the dependencies among the components required to build (e.g., Intrinsics
   before VMCore).

   I believe a number of other projects/users (FreeBSD, fbuild) have
built there own
   build system for LLVM. Encoding the project structure clearly should make it
   easier for such projects, or for other future users that want to do the same.

   This should make it easier to experiment with the build system, for example
   we could just directly generate good Makefiles for our project, or could
   experiment with systems like Ninja which expect to be targetted by a
   generator of some kind.


My initial proposal is focused at moving us to use explicit library
dependencies, but paves the way for centralizing more "build systemy" stuff in
the future.

 * Every LLVM "component" (roughly corresponds to each place we have a Makefile
   or CMakeLists.txt currently) will get a 'LLVMBuild.txt' file.

   This file will be an LLVM specific description of that component. Initially,
   it will look something like this::

     # The kind of component this is (currently library, tool, build tool). More
     # types will be defined over time.
     type = Library

     # The name of the component.
     name = VMCore

     # The name of the component to logically group this in. This is just for
     # organization purposes.
     parent = Libraries

     # The names of the library components that are also required when linking
     # with this library. More on this later.
     required_libraries = Support

   The exact structure of the format is TBD (and easy to change), currently the
   format is INI style but I may decide to change to JSON once all the pieces
   are in place.

   The LLVM web pages will have clear documentation on what these files should
   look like, what is required, what is supported, and so on.

 * I will add a new tool in utils/llvm-build which is designed to load and work
   with these files. This tool will be written in Python, and the expectation is
   that it can be run at configure time.

   TO BE CLEAR: I intend to introduce a hard dependency on requiring Python in
   order to build LLVM.

   For the Makefiles, this is no worse than requiring Perl, so I don't think
   there is much to argue with.

   For CMake, this is a new dependency. However, I feel this is unavoidable:

     * I see no way to support multiple build systems including CMake without
       either introducing a dependency on some extra tool (which can be shared),
       or duplicating a significant amount of logic in CMake.

       I believe that duplicating logic is worse than adding the Python
       dependency, and I think we already have more CMake code (a relatively
       horrible language) than can be expected for most LLVM developers to deal

   Additionally, we already require Python for running our tests, so anyone
   doing serious LLVM development should have it.

   The one use case I believe this particularly hurts is users who just want to
   download and play with LLVM, but I believe the Right Answer (tm) for that
   case would be for us to provide nice installer packages anyway.

 * utils/llvm-build will be run during configure time (both for Make and CMake),
   and will:

   * Generate the library dependency information required to link tools, in
     whatever format makes the most system for the build system in use.

   * Generate a C++ .inc file containing the dependency table for use by
     llvm-config (which I am going to rewrite in C++).

   * Add dependencies on the LLVMBuild.txt files to the build system, so that
     the build will reconfigure appropriately when the library
requirements change.

 * Remove GenLibDeps.pl, find-cycles.pl, etc.

   We will no longer be using these after llvm-config has moved over.

 * Add explicit source file lists to the LLVMBuild.txt files. Unfortunately,
   this is inevitable if we want to support CMake users projects automatically
   reconfiguring themselves when new files get added. I can make it easier to
   manage (for example, provide build targets that will automatically add any
   new files).

 * Move both Make and CMake over to using the explicit file lists in the
   LLVMBuild files. This ensures that both systems get the same behavior
   (instead of Make users being able to add files and forget to update

 * Add new 'lit' tests to check that the library dependency
information is correct.

   This seems a nicer place to do the checking which is currently partially
   handled by find-cycles, and we should also be able to do a better job of the
   checking (for example, verifying that the dependency list is "exact" -- only
   specifies the minimum set of libraries required, and isn't allowed to specify
   libraries which are only indirectly required).

   It would be particularly cool if we could just write these tests using our
   Object libraries.

   This is one piece I haven't prototyped yet. I can obviously do something as
   good as the current find-cycles.pl, but I hope to do better (eventually).

 * These are just the first steps, after this I will continue to incrementally
   try and move as much common information out of the Make and CMake systems so
   there is "one source of truth" with regard to the project definition.

 * I assume it is obvious, but when I say "LLVM" here I am referring to both
   LLVM and Clang. I have not looked at lldb yet, but if it uses the LLVM build
   system (and llvm-config) functionality I will try to make sure it
continues to work.

What This Means For Jane "LLVM Developer" Doe

In practice, this means:

 * LLVM requires Python to build.

 * When you add a file to LLVM, you will need to edit LLVMBuild.txt instead of
   CMakeLists.txt, which will be in a slightly different, but otherwise totally
   obvious format.

   If you forget to do this, your file will not be built (which will most likely
   cause a link error eventually). This is better than it being built by Make,
   but causing CMake build failures when you check in.

 * When you add a new library requirement to an existing component, you will be
   required to edit LLVMBuild.txt instead of CMakeLists.txt, which will be in a
   slightly different, but otherwise totally obvious (hopefully) format.

   If you forget to do this, you will either get a link error or a test
   failure. This is better than library you need transparently getting linked in
   (with make) because it forces you to think about whether you actually should
   be adding that dependency.

   The goal is that this also ensures that if LLVM links and passes tests on
   your system, then it should for everyone else as well.

 * Developers not actively touching the build system should never need to touch
   a Makefile or a CMake file.

Overall, I believe this should be a quality of life improvement for the
developer community. The only downside is having to deal with a new non-standard
LLVM specific format, but I plan to solve this through documentation.


 - Daniel

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