Sbt plugin to allow native compilation of C and C++
Scala C++ Shell Other
Latest commit 6524cf2 May 27, 2014 1 Paul Davies Released sbt-cpp version 0.1.1


A plugin for sbt to enable cross-platform native (c/c++) builds.

Build Status


  • Sbt-cpp is a cross-platform native build system, constructed on top of sbt: an existing and mature build system for Scala and Java. Sbt implements core build-system concepts in a way that is sufficiently generic that a large proportion of its functionality can be re-used in the context of native builds.
  • Sbt itself is extremely thoughtfully designed, and uses the Scala language in all build directive files. As a result you have the power (and libraries) of an extensible build system backed by a mature multi-paradigm programming language (in common, for instance, with Scons which uses python for build directive files).
  • Scala is statically typed, which means that sbt compiles your build directive files before running a build. This allows the tool to catch considerably more errors than is possible with a build tool based around a dynamically typed language (e.g. Python). This also means that a large class of problems with infrequently used targets are caught without the target having to be built/run.
  • Scala runs on the Java virtual machine, defering many platform-specific problems in build construction (filesystem paths, running external processes etc) to the Java runtime.
  • Sbt-cpp aims to stick as closely as possible to the principles and conventions of sbt, to make as much use of existing sbt infrastructure and documentation - hopefully benefiting both developers and users of the system and providing a more coherent experience.

Before getting started with sbt-cpp, it is worthwhile getting to grips with the basic concepts of sbt itself, outlined in some detail in the getting started section of the sbt website here.


  • Sbt-cpp is a very new project, started around March 2013.
  • Whilst having the ambitions to match the functionality of an established contender such as CMake (and providing a much more powerful scripting language), it currently has one main developer.
  • The aforementioned developer currently only has access to a limited number of platforms and compilers at the moment, being:
    1. Various Linux variants (on ARM and x86) with Gcc and Clang. Both native and cross-compiling.
    2. Windows 7 with Visual Studio Cygwin and Mingw.
  • Currently sbt-cpp is auto-built using Travis CI, which whilst wonderful, only currently supports Linux builds for open-source projects.

Having said the above, sbt-cpp is currently in deployment in at least one commercial environment with a reasonably complex multi-platform codebase. Any work to extend the tool, or offers of more rich environments for autobuild would be very gratefully accepted.

Sbt-cpp quickstart

Out of the box, at the moment, sbt-cpp supports Gcc, Clang and Visual studio for Linux and Windows (although adding support for other platforms and compilers is straightforward).

Hello world

The 'hello world' of sbt-cpp can be found in samples/helloworld. This contains:

source/main.cpp, containing the standard C++ hello world example:

#include <iostream>

int main( int argc, char** argv )
    std::cout << "Hello world from: " << argv[1] << std::endl;

    return 0;

project/build.scala, containing the directives for a single executable project (clearly there are currently too many imports required and there should be consolidation):

import sbt._
import Keys._
import NativeProject._

object TestBuild extends NativeDefaultBuild
    lazy val check = NativeProject( "helloworld", file("./"), settings=nativeExeSettings )
  • To build a debug executable for Linux using Gcc, you would complete the following simple steps (from the root directory of the project):

    1. Execute sbt from the command prompt to enter the build system shell.
    2. Execute native-build-configuration Gcc_LinuxPC_Debug in the sbt shell to choose the appropriate target.
    3. Execute compile from the shell to build.
    4. Execute run Bob from the shell to run the program and see the line:

      Hello world from Bob

      appear on the console.

Adding tests

An example of a static library and a simple test for that library can be found in samples/simpletest. The main files are shown below

project/build.scala. Notice that this is essentially the same as for the helloworld project, with the exception that settings are set to staticLibrarySettings.

import sbt._
import Keys._

object TestBuild extends NativeDefaultBuild
    lazy val check = NativeProject( "simpletest", file("./"), NativeProject.staticLibrarySettings )

source/library.cpp. A simple and pointless implementation of multiplication.

#include "library.hpp"

unsigned int multiply( unsigned int a, unsigned int b )
    unsigned int acc = 0;
    unsigned int multiplier = a;
    for ( int i = 0; i < (sizeof(unsigned int) / sizeof(char))*8; ++i )
        if ( (b & 1) ) acc += multiplier;
        b >>= 1;
        multiplier <<= 1;

    return acc;

test/source/test.cpp. A test for the above, containing a deliberate mistake.

#include "library.hpp"
#include "check.hpp"

int main( int argc, char** argv )
        CHECK_EQUAL( multiply( 3, 4 ), 12 );
        CHECK_EQUAL( multiply( 7, 9 ), 64 );
        CHECK_EQUAL( multiply( 1024, 1024 ), 1048576 );
    catch ( std::exception& e )
        std::cerr << "Test failed: " << e.what() << std::endl;
        return -1;

    std::cerr << "All tests passed" << std::endl;
    return 0;
  • To build a debug executable for Linux using Gcc, you would complete the following simple steps (from the root directory of the project):

    1. Execute sbt from the command prompt to enter the build system shell.
    2. Execute native-build-configuration Gcc_LinuxPC_Debug in the sbt shell to choose the appropriate target.
    3. Execute test from the shell to build the project and run the tests.
    4. Spot the deliberate mistake in the tests. You should see the following:

      [error] Test failed: simpletest
      [info] Test check failure: (/home/alex.wilson/Devel/AW/sbt-cpp/samples/simpletest/test/source/test.cpp, 9): 63 != 64
      [info] Test failed: Test check failure: (/home/alex.wilson/Devel/AW/sbt-cpp/samples/simpletest/test/source/test.cpp, 9): 63 != 64
      [error] (simpletest/test:test) Non-zero exit code: 255
    5. Correct the test (replace '64' with '63' on line 9). Then you should see the following:

      [info] Running test: /home/alex.wilson/Devel/AW/sbt-cpp/samples/simpletest/target/native/Gcc/LinuxPC/Release/simpletest/simpletest_test
      [success] Total time: 0 s, completed 20-May-2013 09:57:26

Multi-project builds

  • TODO
  • For now see here for a more detailed example project.


  • As well as support for building simple single-project executables (settings=nativeExeSettings), sbt-cpp currently has support for (at varying stages of development):

    • Static and shared libraries.
    • C and C++.
    • Explicit dependencies between projects.
    • Unit testing.
    • Out-of-source builds.
    • Per-platform configuration of libraries and tool chains (similar to CMake platform checks).
    • Caching of configuration data (including via auto-generated header files).
    • Parallel builds.
    • Incremental builds.
    • Cross-compilation.
  • Support is intended for the following, as time and/or relevant hardware become available:

    • Additional platforms: Mac OSX, Android and iOS for starters.
    • Additional compilers: Intel compiler, Oracle Solaris studio etc.
    • IDE support (Visual studio, Eclipse CDT).
    • External build system support (Make etc).
    • Auto-detection of compilers and build environments.
    • Auto-detection and configuration of libraries (e.g. Boost) and tools (e.g. Python).
    • Documentation builds (e.g. Doxygen).
    • Installer/package generation.

Detailed documentation

  • TODO.
  • For now see here for a more detailed example project showing some of the currently existing functionality.

Per user/machine config overrides

  • In addition to directives in scala for describing the build, sbt-cpp allows additional per-user overrides of standard configuration using the Typesafe config library.
  • Per-build overrides can be placed in build.conf and checked in to a particular project repo. Per-user/machine overrides can be placed in user.conf, overriding all other config.
  • An example config for the simple default build can be found here with an extract for Gcc on Linux below:
    compilerCommon =
        toolPaths           = ["/usr/bin"]
        includePaths        = []
        libraryPaths        = []
        ccExe               = "gcc"
        cxxExe              = "g++"
        archiver            = "ar"
        linker              = "g++"

        ccFlags             = ["-DLINUX", "-DGCC"]
        cxxFlags            = ["-DLINUX", "-DGCC"]
        linkFlags           = []

    Debug   = ${Gcc.LinuxPC.compilerCommon}
    Release = ${Gcc.LinuxPC.compilerCommon}

        ccFlags     = ${Gcc.LinuxPC.compilerCommon.ccFlags} ["-g", "-DDEBUG"]
        cxxFlags    = ${Gcc.LinuxPC.compilerCommon.cxxFlags} ["-g", "-DDEBUG"]

        ccFlags     = ${Gcc.LinuxPC.compilerCommon.ccFlags} ["-O2", "-DRELEASE"]
        cxxFlags    = ${Gcc.LinuxPC.compilerCommon.cxxFlags} ["-O2", "-DRELEASE"]

Native-specific keys

A list of the keys specific to sbt-cpp (for sbt aficionados) and their uses (some of which should probably be folded in to their sbt equivalents):

val exportedLibs = TaskKey[Seq[File]]("native-exported-libs", "All libraries exported by this project" )
val exportedLibDirectories = TaskKey[Seq[File]]("native-exported-lib-directories", "All library directories exported by this project" )
val exportedIncludeDirectories = TaskKey[Seq[File]]("native-exported-include-directories", "All include directories exported by this project" )

val rootBuildDirectory = TaskKey[File]("native-root-build-dir", "Build root directory (for the config, not the project)")
val projectBuildDirectory = TaskKey[File]("native-project-build-dir", "Build directory for this config and project")
val stateCacheDirectory = TaskKey[File]("native-state-cache-dir", "Build state cache directory")
val projectDirectory = TaskKey[File]("native-project-dir", "Project directory")
val sourceDirectories = TaskKey[Seq[File]]("native-source-dirs", "Source directories")
val includeDirectories = TaskKey[Seq[File]]("native-include-dirs", "Include directories")
val systemIncludeDirectories = TaskKey[Seq[File]]("native-system-include-dirs", "System include directories")
val linkDirectories = TaskKey[Seq[File]]("native-link-dirs", "Link directories")
val nativeLibraries = TaskKey[Seq[String]]("native-libraries", "All native library dependencies for this project")
val ccSourceFiles = TaskKey[Seq[File]]("native-cc-source-files", "All C source files for this project")
val cxxSourceFiles = TaskKey[Seq[File]]("native-cxx-source-files", "All C++ source files for this project")
val ccSourceFilesWithDeps = TaskKey[Seq[(File, Seq[File])]]("native-cc-source-files-with-deps", "All C source files with dependencies for this project")
val cxxSourceFilesWithDeps = TaskKey[Seq[(File, Seq[File])]]("native-cxx-source-files-with-deps", "All C++ source files with dependencies for this project")
val objectFiles = TaskKey[Seq[File]]("native-object-files", "All object files for this project" )
val archiveFiles = TaskKey[Seq[File]]("native-archive-files", "All archive files for this project, specified by full path" )
val nativeExe = TaskKey[File]("native-exe", "Executable built by this project (if appropriate)" )
val testExe = TaskKey[Option[File]]("native-test-exe", "Test executable built by this project (if appropriate)" )
val nativeRun = TaskKey[Unit]("native-run", "Perform a native run of this project" )
val testProject = TaskKey[Project]("native-test-project", "The test sub-project for this project")
val testExtraDependencies = TaskKey[Seq[File]]("native-test-extra-dependencies", "Extra file dependencies of the test (used to calculate when to re-run tests)")
val nativeTest = TaskKey[Option[(File, File)]]("native-test-run", "Run the native test, returning the files with stdout and stderr respectively")
val test = TaskKey[Unit]("test", "Run the test associated with this project")
val environmentVariables = TaskKey[Seq[(String, String)]]("native-env-vars", "Environment variables to be set for running programs and tests")
val cleanAll = TaskKey[Unit]("native-clean-all", "Clean the entire build directory")
val ccCompileFlags = TaskKey[Seq[String]]("native-cc-flags", "Native C compile flags")
val cxxCompileFlags = TaskKey[Seq[String]]("native-cxx-flags", "Native C++ compile flags")
val linkFlags = TaskKey[Seq[String]]("native-link-flags", "Native link flags")