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QMake-unity is a standalone tool to speed up the compilation of qmake based C++ projects.
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README.md

QMake-unity

QMake-unity is a standalone tool to speed up the compilation of qmake based C++ projects.

General concepts

Unity build, jumbo builds and single compilation unit (SCU) are a technique to speed up C++ compilation process.
It consists of grouping/merging several CPP files before compilation.
QMake-unity automates the process of grouping files and may speed up the compilation by 40% to 90%.

It can act at two levels :

  • group CPP files before CL is called
  • group header files before MOC is called

There are two optimization levels for moc objects :

  • call MOC on every QObject classes (headers), then group the cpp files generated by moc to build them in a single pass with CL. (MOC_LVL_1)
  • group every QObject classes (headers) into a single header, then call moc on this file. (MOC_LVL_2, even faster)

QMake-unity provides good integration with Qt 5 tooling system (qmake, moc, qt-creator) and with MSBuild.
It is compatible with precompiled headers (PCH).

Here are general articles if you want to understand how it works :

Requirements

You must install Python 3, and add it to the PATH environment variable. You must have a qmake project, built either from QtCreator or command line.

Installation

First build

Copy paste qmake-unity somewhere near your project(s) directory and add the following content at the end of your project file :

UNITY_BUILD = 1
UNITY_MOC_MODE = MOC_LVL_0
include(path/to/qmakeUnity/qmake_unity.pri)

You're done !
Run qmake and build, you'll probably have to tune your cpp and headers files (see code restriction and troubleshouting).
Some cpp/header files are not compatible with unity build, for example headers that rely on inclusion order.
You can remove them from unity by adding the following comment in the source : //@NO_UNITY, then call qmake again.

Speedup your build

Once your project compiles fine with MOC_LVL_0, you can give a try to MOC_LVL_1.
You'll get a few new errors to fix, but also a faster build.

Speedup your build again

Once your project compiles fine with MOC_LVL_1, you could give a try to MOC_LVL_2.
MOC_LVL_2 requires your project to use #pragma once.

If you are currently using include guards, you can easily replace them with pragma once, by typing in a terminal :

sudo pip3 install guardonce
guard2once.exe -r src

Configuration

You might want to adjust the following variables in your .pro file before including qmake_unity.pri :

  • UNITY_DIR : Choose a path where temporary cpp/h/pri files generated by qmake-unity will be stored.
    Default value : BuildPwd/unity/
    Please read qmake_unity.pri contents if you want to put move generated/object files out of source.

  • UNITY_STRATEGY : There are 3 possible strategies to group cpp files together :

    • incremental is the default mode. The group size depends on the project's number of cpp files. This option is recommended for big projects.
    • per-processor generates one CPP per processor. You can set your number of processors in unity_config.py.
    • single-compilation-unit : generated a single CPP file for your entire project.
  • UNITY_MOC_MODE :

    • MOC_LVL_0 : don't optimize MOC process.
    • MOC_LVL_1 : group the compilation of moc_file1.cpp and moc_file2.cpp
    • MOC_LVL_2 : group MOC call for file1.h and file2.h, then build the resulting cpp file
      Please note that MOC_LVL_2 requires "#pragma once" to work instead of classic include guards

There are also a few options in unity_config.py :

  • SAFE_MODE : By default, qmake-unity will be run in "safe mode" which means that it won't delete a file on your disk.
    When it should normally delete a temp file, it will just print a debug message.
    This protection has been created to avoid deleting wrong files when configuring qmake-unity for the first time.
    After checking that the files that qmake-unity tries to delete are in a tmp directory, you should disable "safe mode".

  • LOG_DEBUG : By default, qmake-unity will print debug logs to help you understand which files are not supported (not grouped). When your project is ready, you should disable debug logs.

  • NAMESPACE_WHITELIST : List of namespace names that are allowed appear in a using namespace XXX expression in a group
    ex : NAMESPACE_WHITELIST = ["good::namespace"]

  • NB_PROCESSORS

  • MOC_GROUPSIZE : Number of files that will be mocced together (MOC_LVL_1 or MOC_LVL_2)

Code restrictions

  • With unity builds, using namespace XXX can trigger errors when building multiple CPP files together. The most recurrent error is symbol name conflicts among unrelated namespaces. That is why, by default, a class that contains using namespace will not be grouped by qmake-unity (slower, but safe build). However, you might want to whitelist a few safe namespaces (especially your owns) to get a faster build. This is right as long as the class/function/static variables names remain unique. To whitelist namespaces, please edit the NAMESPACE_WHITELIST variable in unity_config.py.

  • #include "moc_XXX.cpp" and #include "XXX.moc" are not supported. You should add the //@NO_UNITY comment on top of these files.

  • #pragma once should be used instead of include guards to enable MOC_LVL_2 optimization. If MOC_LVL_2 is enabled and #pragma once is not found in a header, it will not be grouped by qmake-unity (slower, but safe build)

  • PIMPL modules are not supported. However, if your PIMPL modules does not have the #include "moc_XXX" directive at the end of the CPP file, you might try to disable this restriction.

Troubleshouting

I encounter many build errors with your scripts ; what should I do ?

Please add your files step by step. You should start with UNITY_MOC_MODE = MOC_LVL_0
You will meet the following error situations that you should fix one by one :

  • duplicated include guards (copy paste). I suggest dropping include guards in favor of pragma once, to enjoy the full power of this tool.
  • name conflicts on static variables and local functions.
  • cpp files declared in the HEADERS variable in qmake.

Example of conflict with two unrelated files that now expose their local symbols to each other :

a.cpp
static QString status = "Ok";
b.cpp
QString status(const Screen &screen, const Display &display) { return display.status(screen); }

One macro has a side effect that triggers compile errors

a.h
#define Status(XXX, YYY) XXX+YYY-2

b.cpp (doesn't include a.h)
void displayStatus(const Screen &screen, const Display &display) {}

a.cpp may be grouped with b.cpp though they are not related. The macro Status has a very short and common name that will match displayStatus and replace it with something irrelevant. Please choose a longer and unique macro name

Header files that must be included in a certain order ; or that may cause conflicts.

That is not a good practice, but sometimes things are like that. For example, some windows SDK headers must be included in a certain order. In that case, you might remove the header from unity build by adding //@NO_UNITY to the including header.

There is an error related with unity builds, but I don't know which file causes it.

If you don't know which files causes an error, you can either :

  • Edit the tmp/unity/unity_[0123].cpp files and comment entries until the error disappears. Then you'll know which file raises the problem.
  • Edit your .pro file to include qmake_unity.pro when the SOURCES and HEADERS variables are just partially filled, then run qmake.

There is an error on my build server/my colleague's workstation but it builds fine on my computer. How can I fix it ?

The sources files are probably not be grouped identically on your computer and the other computer. For example, it happens when you add and remove files from a project. Procedure to reproduce :

  • build the project locally
  • copy and paste the contents of your colleague's tmp/unity/ directory in you own tmp directory
  • build the project without calling qmake (make only) ; the same error should happen.

I recently enabled/disabled shadow builds, or changed the temporary files directory. Now, jom complains about missing files/includes not found

Please remove all old temporary files and directories.
During qmake step, they would alter the Makefile generation resulting in an invalid Makefile... For example, there could be an old debug or release directory in your project sources...

The __FILE__ macro doesn't return the filename anymore, it return a relative path !

True !
We cannot resolve this as it is part of the compiler behavior, but there is a workaround. You can still extract the filename at runtime from the file path, using this code :

#define __QFILE_NAME__ unityExtractFileNameFromPath(__FILE__)

QString unityExtractFileNameFromPath(const char * iFilePath)
{
    QString aFile = iFilePath;
    int aIndex = qMax(aFilePath.lastIndexOf("/"), aFilePath.lastIndexOf("\\"));
    if (aIndex > 0) {
        aFile = aFile.right(aFile.length() - (aIndex+1));
    }
    return aFile;
}

I get this kind of debug messages : debug - SAFE MODE - simulate delete file "unity_5.cpp" (C:/dev/MyProject/tmp/debug/unity/unity_5.cpp)

Please disable SAFE_MODE. It was implemented to protect you against source file loss in case in the case of a badly configured qmake project.

Known issues

  • MOC_LVL_2 works only with pragma once; there is no workaround for now

  • Visual studio IDE is not supported : the source files are be displayed twice. Either build in QtCreator or from command line. Visual studio may be able to support it but it is not implemented yet in qmake-unity.

  • When running qmake, qmake-unity logs appear twice. This is because qmake processes every pro file 3 times, one for Makefile, one for Makefile.debug and another one for Makefile.release

  • QMake step takes more time when qmake-unity is enabled. This is normal.

Performances

Here is a benchmark where we build a few open source projects from scratch. It has been run on a Windows 10 laptop powered by an i5 8250u.

QupZilla built with MSVC

Project part QMake-unity PreCompiledHeader (PCH) Time
lib not enabled not enabled 3m14
lib MOC_LVL_1 not enabled 52s (73% faster)
lib MOC_LVL_2 not enabled 26s (87% faster)
lib not enabled enabled 59s (70% faster)
lib MOC_LVL_1 enabled 35s (82% faster)
lib MOC_LVL_2 enabled 15s (92% faster)
plugins not enabled not enabled 1m15
plugins MOC_LVL_1 not enabled 27s (64% faster)
plugins MOC_LVL_2 not enabled 22s (71% faster)

QtXlsxWriter built with MinGW

QMake-unity Time
not enabled 33s
MOC_LVL_1 13s (61% faster)
MOC_LVL_2 13s (61% faster)

Qt Game Engine (QGE)

Compiler Qmake-unity Time
MSVC not enabled 43s
MSVC MOC_LVL_1 20s (43% faster)
MSVC MOC_LVL_2 15s (65% faster)
MinGW not enabled 1m08s
MinGW MOC_LVL_1 38s (44% faster)
MinGW MOC_LVL_2 31s (54% faster)

What else can I do to speed up my build

Pure C++ techniques :

  • Use precompiled headers (PCH) : useful for big executables/libraries
  • Forward declare headers
  • Write less templates

QMake :

  • If you build in VisualStudio, install Qt Visual Studio Tools ≥ 2.2; which now supports parallel calls of moc.
  • If you use QMake and you have many projects to build, you can build them in parallel using a SUBDIRS project without the ORDERED directive.

Improve your build process :

  • Build CPP files and projects in parallel (ex qmake with subdirs, make -j8, vc++ /MP...)
  • Distribute your builds (ex distcc)
  • Install a compiler cache (ex ccache)
  • Build your project on linux instead of windows (big performance difference, even in a VM)

Tune your system :

  • On windows, whitelist your project directory in the antivirus
  • On windows, disable file indexation
  • Buy a RAMDisk, more CPU, etc.

Use better tools :

  • Zapcc is a fast alternative to Clang
  • Gold linker replaces ld (linux)
  • Replace Make with Ninja (best combo with CMake)
  • Add COTIRE to CMake to handle unity builds and precompiled headers
  • Install Incredybuild on Windows

The following links can also help you :

General advices :

Compile cache :

Build instructions of big projects :

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