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CMakeRC - A Standalone CMake-Based C++ Resource Compiler

CMakeRC is a resource compiler provided in a single CMake script that can easily be included in another project.

What is a "Resource Compiler"?

For the purpose of this project, a resource compiler is a tool that will compile arbitrary data into a program. The program can then read this data from without needing to store that data on disk external to the program.

Examples use cases:

  • Storing a web page tree for serving over HTTP to clients. Compiling the web page into the executable means that the program is all that is required to run the HTTP server, without keeping the site files on disk separately.
  • Storing embedded scripts and/or shaders that support the program, rather than writing them in the code as string literals.
  • Storing images and graphics for GUIs.

These things are all about aiding in the ease of portability and distribution of the program, as it is no longer required to ship a plethora of support files with a binary to your users.

What is Special About CMakeRC?

CMakeRC is implemented as a single CMake module, CMakeRC.cmake. No additional libraries or headers are required.

This project was initially written as a "literate programming" experiment. The process for the pre-2.0 version can be read about here.

2.0.0+ is slightly different from what was written in the post, but a lot of it still applies.


Installing CMakeRC is designed to be as simple as possible. The only thing required is the CMakeRC.cmake script. You can copy it into your project directory (recommended) or install it as a package and get all the features you need.

For vcpkg users there is a cmakerc port that can be installed via vcpkg install cmakerc or by adding it to dependencies section of your vcpkg.json file.


  1. Once installed, simply import the CMakeRC.cmake script. If you placed the module in your project directory (recommended), simply use include(CMakeRC) to import the module. If you installed it as a package, use find_package(CMakeRC).

  2. Once included, create a new resource library using cmrc_add_resource_library, like this:

    cmrc_add_resource_library(foo-resources ...)

    Where ... is simply a list of files that you wish to compile into the resource library.

You can use the ALIAS argument to immediately generate an alias target for the resource library (recommended):

cmrc_add_resource_library(foo-resources ALIAS foo::rc ...)

Note: If the name of the library target is not a valid C++ namespace identifier, you will need to provide the NAMESPACE argument. Otherwise, the name of the library will be used as the resource library's namespace.

cmrc_add_resource_library(foo-resources ALIAS foo::rc NAMESPACE foo  ...)
  1. To use the resource library, link the resource library target into a binary using target_link_libraries():

    add_executable(my-program main.cpp)
    target_link_libraries(my-program PRIVATE foo::rc)
  2. Inside of the source files, any time you wish to use the library, include the cmrc/cmrc.hpp header, which will automatically become available to any target that links to a generated resource library target, as my-program does above:

    #include <cmrc/cmrc.hpp>
    int main() {
        // ...
  3. At global scope within the .cpp file, place the CMRC_DECLARE(<my-lib-ns>) macro using the namespace that was designated with cmrc_add_resource_library (or the library name if no namespace was specified):

    #include <cmrc/cmrc.hpp>
    int main() {
        // ...
  4. Obtain a handle to the embedded resource filesystem by calling the get_filesystem() function in the generated namespace. It will be generated at cmrc::<my-lib-ns>::get_filesystem().

    int main() {
        auto fs = cmrc::foo::get_filesystem();

    (This function was declared by the CMRC_DECLARE() macro from the previous step.)

    You're now ready to work with the files in your resource library! See the section on cmrc::embedded_filesystem.

The cmrc::embedded_filesystem API

All resource libraries have their own cmrc::embedded_filesystem that can be accessed with the get_filesystem() function declared by CMRC_DECLARE().

This class is trivially copyable and destructible, and acts as a handle to the statically allocated resource library data.

Methods on cmrc::embedded_filesystem

  • open(const std::string& path) -> cmrc::file - Opens and returns a non-directory file object at path, or throws std::system_error() on error.
  • is_file(const std::string& path) -> bool - Returns true if the given path names a regular file, false otherwise.
  • is_directory(const std::string& path) -> bool - Returns true if the given path names a directory. false otherwise.
  • exists(const std::string& path) -> bool returns true if the given path names an existing file or directory, false otherwise.
  • iterate_directory(const std::string& path) -> cmrc::directory_iterator returns a directory iterator for iterating the contents of a directory. Throws if the given path does not identify a directory.

Members of cmrc::file

  • typename iterator and typename const_iterator - Just const char*.
  • begin()/cbegin() -> iterator - Return an iterator to the beginning of the resource.
  • end()/cend() -> iterator - Return an iterator past the end of the resource.
  • file() - Default constructor, refers to no resource.

Members of cmrc::directory_iterator

  • typename value_type - cmrc::directory_entry
  • iterator_category - std::input_iterator_tag
  • directory_iterator() - Default construct.
  • begin() -> directory_iterator - Returns *this.
  • end() -> directory_iterator - Returns a past-the-end iterator corresponding to this iterator.
  • operator*() -> value_type - Returns the directory_entry for which the iterator corresponds.
  • operator==, operator!=, and operator++ - Implement iterator semantics.

Members of cmrc::directory_entry

  • filename() -> std::string - The filename of the entry.
  • is_file() -> bool - true if the entry is a file.
  • is_directory() -> bool - true if the entry is a directory.

Additional Options

After calling cmrc_add_resource_library, you can add additional resources to the library using cmrc_add_resources with the name of the library and the paths to any additional resources that you wish to compile in. This way you can lazily add resources to the library as your configure script runs.

Both cmrc_add_resource_library and cmrc_add_resources take two additional keyword parameters:

  • WHENCE tells CMakeRC how to rewrite the filepaths to the resource files. The default value for WHENCE is the CMAKE_CURRENT_SOURCE_DIR, which is the source directory where cmrc_add_resources or cmrc_add_resource_library is called. For example, if you say cmrc_add_resources(foo images/flower.jpg), the resource will be accessible via cmrc::open("images/flower.jpg"), but if you say cmrc_add_resources(foo WHENCE images images/flower.jpg), then the resource will be accessible only using cmrc::open("flower.jpg"), because the images directory is used as the root where the resource will be compiled from.

    Because of the file transformation limitations, WHENCE is required when adding resources which exist outside of the source directory, since CMakeRC will not be able to automatically rewrite the file paths.

  • PREFIX tells CMakeRC to prepend a directory-style path to the resource filepath in the resulting binary. For example, cmrc_add_resources(foo PREFIX resources images/flower.jpg) will make the resource accessible using cmrc::open("resources/images/flower.jpg"). This is useful to prevent resource libraries from having conflicting filenames. The default PREFIX is to have no prefix.

The two options can be used together to rewrite the paths to your heart's content:

    NAMESPACE flower
    WHENCE images
    PREFIX flowers
int foo() {
    auto fs = cmrc::flower::get_filesystem();
    auto rose ="flowers/rose.jpg");


A Resource Compiler in a Single CMake Script







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