Getting Started with CMake: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

Getting Started with CMake: A Step-by-Step Tutorial
Getting Started with CMake: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

CMake, also known as the cross-platform make, is a powerful tool that helps in automating the build process for different platforms and programming languages. It provides a simple and efficient way to manage the build configuration for a project, making it easier for developers to build, test, and deploy their software.

In this step-by-step tutorial, we will walk through the process of getting started with CMake and building a simple C++ project. So, let’s dive in!

Step 1: Installing CMake
Before getting started, you need to have CMake installed on your system. CMake is available for different platforms and can be downloaded from the official CMake website ( Follow the installation instructions specific to your operating system and ensure that CMake is accessible from the command line.

Step 2: Creating a Project Directory
Start by creating a directory for your project. This directory will contain all the necessary files required for building your project using CMake.

Step 3: Creating a CMakeLists.txt File
Inside your project directory, create a file called CMakeLists.txt. This file is the heart of your CMake configuration and specifies how your project should be built. Open the file in a text editor and let’s start adding some basic configuration.

Step 4: Setting the Minimum CMake Version
Add the following line at the beginning of your CMakeLists.txt file to specify the minimum version of CMake required for building your project.

cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 3.0)

Step 5: Naming and Setting Project
Next, you need to specify the name of your project and set some project-specific variables. Add the following lines to your CMakeLists.txt file:


You can replace “MyProject” with the desired name for your project. This command sets the project name, and other project-specific settings can be added later.

Step 6: Adding Source Files
Now, it’s time to add the source files to your project. If you have a single source file, you can simply add it by using the following command:

add_executable(MyProject main.cpp)

Replace “main.cpp” with the actual name of your source file. If you have multiple source files, you can list them all in this command.

Step 7: Configuring Build Options
CMake allows you to configure different build options for your project. For example, you can set compiler flags, define preprocessor macros, or specify include directories. To configure these options, you can use the `target_compile_options()` and `target_include_directories()` commands. Here’s an example:

target_compile_options(MyProject PRIVATE -Wall -Wextra)
target_include_directories(MyProject PRIVATE include/)

This example sets the compiler flags `-Wall` and `-Wextra`, which enable extra warning messages, and adds the “include” directory to the include search path.

Step 8: Building Your Project
Once you have configured your project, it’s time to build it using CMake and your preferred build tool (e.g., Make, Visual Studio, Ninja). Open a terminal or command prompt, navigate to your project directory, and run the following commands:

cmake .

This command generates the build files based on your CMake configuration.

cmake –build .

This command builds your project using the generated build files. You can specify the build configuration (e.g., Debug, Release), as well as specify the build tool (e.g., make, ninja) if you want to override the default build tool.

Step 9: Running Your Project
After a successful build, you can run your project by simply executing the generated executable file. For example, if you are on a Unix-like system, you can run:


That’s it! You have successfully built and run your project using CMake.

CMake offers many more advanced features and options, such as adding external dependencies, generating installer packages, and creating custom build targets. This tutorial provides a basic overview of setting up a project using CMake. You can explore the official CMake documentation ( to learn more about these advanced features.

In conclusion, CMake is a versatile and powerful tool that simplifies the build process for projects of all sizes. It provides a unified way to manage the build configuration for different platforms and compilers, making it an invaluable tool for developers. By following this step-by-step tutorial, you should now have a good understanding of how to get started with CMake and build your own projects. Happy coding!
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