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intelligent and automatic build system for C
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RcB2 - rofl0r's C builder 2nd generation

rcb2 is the successor to RcB. It's a build system for C, where dependencies between files are documented with the use of a special pragma inside the sourcefiles and headers. So the code itself is the documentation how the program needs to be built.

When you run rcb2, you simply pass it the name of the sourcefile containing the main() function, and rcb2 figures out which other files are needed.

Cross-compilation is as simple as using an appropriate CC environment variable.

A small example:

You have a file main.c which, depending on some macros, shall use either foo.h and foo.c, or bar.h and bar.c.


#include <stdio.h>

#ifdef FOO
#include "foo.h"
#define func foo
#include "bar.h"
#define func bar

int main() { printf("%s\n", func()); }


const char *foo(void);
#pragma RcB2 DEP "foo.c"


const char *foo(void) { return "foo"; }


const char *bar(void);
#pragma RcB2 DEP "bar.c"


const char *bar(void) { return "bar"; }

now you can run CFLAGS=-DFOO rcb2 main.c and it will produce an executable named main which will print foo when run. if you execute rcb2 main.c, the build executable will print bar.

you can find the example in tests/1.

How to use

If a file (typically a header) requires some other files, you add a #pragma RcB2 DEP "../src/file1.c" "lib/file2.c". Globs are supported too. All path components need to be relative to the file containing the pragma.

If a .c file requires certain CFLAGS for compilation, e.g. -std=c99, you can add #pragma RcB2 CFLAGS "-std=c99".

Likewise, if a certain library is needed, e.g. -lncurses and -lm, you declare it like so: #pragma RcB2 LINK "-lncurses" "-lm".

note that you could stuff both -l directives into the same set of double quotes, and it would work, but it is advised to specify each library separately. RcB2 drops duplicates to keep the compiler command line as short as possible. The LINK directive is an alias for LDFLAGS.

The pragmas can be put between preprocessor #ifs and #ifdefs. Only those that survive the preprocessor pass are being picked up.

After all headers have the dependencies on the .c files they depend on properly documented, it's sufficient to simply include a header, and run rcb2 on the file, and it will pick up all files required instantly.

By default, rcb2 throws all .c files onto the compiler in a single pass. This allows to use CFLAGS like -fwhole-program which can very efficiently optimize the binary.

Implementation & Design

rcb2 simply runs the C preprocessor on the file passed on the command line, using the supplied C/CPPFLAGS, and then parses the #pragma RcB2 directives that survived. All referenced files are then recursively processed in the exact same manner, until the complete list is created. As a C preprocessor is a pretty simple program, this is a very quick process. Currently it is done sequentially, but it could be parallelized relatively easily (instead of recursing, one could simply spawn a new thread when a new dependency that wasn't processed yet is found).

After the complete list of dependencies is known, they are passed to the compiler. That's it.

Even though the current version of rcb2 is written in python, it is really quick, and the concept is so simple that it could easily be rewritten in a more performant language.

rcb2 currently supports a -j N parameter. if used, instead of compiling the required files directly, it writes a GNU make compatible makefile, and executes it with -j N, speeding up the build.

At this point, all command line parameters are experimental. Run rcb2 --help to get a full list of options.


RcB, the previous version, used comments for the same purpose, which resulted in a number of issues, especially in regard to conditional compilation. while experimenting with OMP, it occured to me that using a #pragma directive would be the solution to those issues, as it survives a preprocessor pass. therefore the existing conditional compilation the preprocessor offers can be leveraged.

RcB was also written in perl, a very ugly language, which is very hard to read once a program has been written. Everytime a new cornercase required modifying the code, it took a substantial amount of time to make sense of the almost random looking pile of dollar signs and curly braces.

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