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Cross platform CMake projects do platform introspection by the means of "Check" macros. Have a look at CMake's How To Write Platform Checks wiki page for a detailed explanation.

There are quite a few of them:

All these checks will create small CMake project which will try to compile a C or C++ program, and based on the success of the compilation will set a CMake cache variable.

Usually in a Continuous Integration (CI) Build the compilation starts from scratch with a an empty build folder. Also the CI-Build is also set up using a compilation cache for the C / C++ code e.g. ccache, clcache etc.

Depending how the compilation cache is set up they might also speed up the CMake Check macros.

But what if we can cache CMake Check results? This is where cmake-checks-cache comes into action!

Creating the cmake_checks_cache.txt file

One needs to run CMake with -DCMAKE_MODULE_PATH pointing out to the CMakeChecksCache checkout! That was it!

In the build folder you will get a file named cmake_checks_cache.txt which contains all the trapped Check macro calls and all the CMAKE_* cache variables.

The part with the CMAKE_* cache variables is needed for skipping the initial CMake platform compiler / linker / assembler introspection. Please note that you need to copy also the CMakeFiles/<CMake Version>/CMake*.cmake files.

On Windows make sure that you use absolute paths with slashes for -DCMAKE_MODULE_PATH argument. Otherwise you will get some nasty CMake errors.

LLVM + clang example

The usual CMake command line looks like this (in a Visual C++ 2017 command prompt):

$ cmake -G "Ninja" -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release ../llvm-6.0.0.src

For caching the CMake checks you should run CMake like this:

$ cmake -G "Ninja" -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release ../llvm-6.0.0.src -DCMAKE_MODULE_PATH=c:/Projects/CMakeChecksCache

The files that you need to keep would be:

├── cmake_checks_cache.txt
└── CMakeFiles
    └── 3.11.0
        ├── CMakeASMCompiler.cmake
        ├── CMakeCCompiler.cmake
        ├── CMakeCXXCompiler.cmake
        ├── CMakeRCCompiler.cmake
        └── CMakeSystem.cmake

For using the CMake checks in a an empty folder (with the above files copied) you should run CMake like this:

$ cmake -G "Ninja" -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release -C cmake_checks_cache.txt ../llvm-6.0.0.src

CMake documentation describes -C command line parameter like this:

-C <initial-cache>

Pre-load a script to populate the cache.

When cmake is first run in an empty build tree, it creates a CMakeCache.txt file and populates it with customizable settings for the project. This option may be used to specify a file from which to load cache entries before the first pass through the project’s cmake listfiles. The loaded entries take priority over the project’s default values. The given file should be a CMake script containing SET commands that use the CACHE option, not a cache-format file.


I have ran the benchmarks on Windows 10 on a Lenovo W510 Laptop in a Visual C++ 2017 x64 command prompt.

LLVM + Clang 6.0.0 Ninja MSBuild
CMake first run (empty folder) 74.085 s 158.683 s
CMake second run (already configured) 26.196 s 45.564 s
CMake generating cmake_checks_cache.txt 71.098 s 149.46 s
CMake using cmake_check_cache.txt 26.792 s 45.01 s

For the Ninja benchmarks I have used the above given CMake calls. For MSBuild I simply omitted -G "Ninja" from the command lines, letting CMake use the default introspection for the Visual C++ 2017 x64 command prompt.

The reason that MSBuild is slower is that for every Check there is a small Visual Studio (MSBuild) solution created and then msbuild is ran for it. msbuild is written in C# and it has to use the .NET platform.

MSBuild generation is slower because it generates multiple variants x86, x64, Debug, and Release. See the CMake's Visual Studio 15 2017, respectively CMAKE_CONFIGURATION_TYPES, documentation for additional tweaks. I just wanted to keep things simple and use the defaults.

The generation of the cmake_checks_cache.txt is faster than the first CMake run because the operating system has done some resource caching of itself.

Blog entry

For more rationale and benchmarks have a look at my Speeding up CMake blog article.

Since I wrote the blog article I have comitted a few bugfixes to CMake, hence the need of CMake version 3.11.


CMake checks cache helper modules – for fast CI CMake builds!




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