Cross Compiling With CMake

Cross-compiling a piece of software means that the software is built on one system, but is intended to run on a different system. The system used to build the software will be called the “build host,” and the system for which the software is built will be called the “target system” or “target platform.” The target system usually runs a different operating system (or none at all) and/or runs on different hardware. A typical use case is in software development for embedded devices like network switches, mobile phones, or engine control units. In these cases, the target platform doesn’t have or is not able to run the required software development environment.

Cross-compiling is fully supported by CMake, ranging from cross-compiling from Linux to Windows; cross-compiling for supercomputers, through to cross-compiling for small embedded devices without an operating system (OS).

Cross-compiling has several consequences for CMake:

  • CMake cannot automatically detect the target platform.

  • CMake cannot find libraries and headers in the default system directories.

  • Executables built during cross compiling cannot be executed.

Cross-compiling support doesn’t mean that all CMake-based projects can be magically cross-compiled out-of-the-box (some are), but that CMake separates between information about the build platform and target platform and gives the user mechanisms to solve cross-compiling issues without additional requirements such as running virtual machines, etc.

To support cross-compiling for a specific software project, CMake must to be told about the target platform via a toolchain file. The CMakeLists.txt may have to be adjusted it is are aware that the build platform may have different properties than the target platform, and it has to deal with the instances where a compiled executable tries to execute on the build host.

Toolchain Files

In order to use CMake for cross-compiling, a CMake file that describes the target platform has to be created, called the “toolchain file,” This file tells CMake everything it needs to know about the target platform. Here is an example that uses the MinGW cross-compiler for Windows under Linux; the contents will be explained line-by-line afterwards.

# the name of the target operating system

# which compilers to use for C and C++
set(CMAKE_C_COMPILER   i586-mingw32msvc-gcc)
set(CMAKE_CXX_COMPILER i586-mingw32msvc-g++)

# where is the target environment located
set(CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH  /usr/i586-mingw32msvc

# adjust the default behavior of the FIND_XXX() commands:
# search programs in the host environment

# search headers and libraries in the target environment

Assuming that this file is saved with the name TC-mingw.cmake in your home directory, you instruct CMake to use this file by setting the CMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE variable:

~/src$ cd build
~/src/build$ cmake -DCMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=~/TC-mingw.cmake ..

CMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE has to be specified only on the initial CMake run; after that, the results are reused from the CMake cache. You don’t need to write a separate toolchain file for every piece of software you want to build. The toolchain files are per target platform; i.e. if you are building several software packages for the same target platform, you only have to write one toolchain file that can be used for all packages.

What do the settings in the toolchain file mean? We will examine them one-by-one. Since CMake cannot guess the target operating system or hardware, you have to set the following CMake variables:


This variable is mandatory; it sets the name of the target system, i.e. to the same value as CMAKE_SYSTEM_NAME would have if CMake were run on the target system. Typical examples are “Linux” and “Windows.” It is used for constructing the file names of the platform files like Linux.cmake or Windows-gcc.cmake. If your target is an embedded system without an OS, set CMAKE_SYSTEM_NAME to “Generic.” Presetting CMAKE_SYSTEM_NAME this way instead of being detected, automatically causes CMake to consider the build a cross-compiling build and the CMake variable CMAKE_CROSSCOMPILING will be set to TRUE. CMAKE_CROSSCOMPILING is the variable that should be tested in CMake files to determine whether the current build is a cross-compiled build or not.


Sets the version of your target system.


This variable is optional; it sets the processor or hardware name of the target system. It is used in CMake for one purpose, to load the ${CMAKE_SYSTEM_NAME}-COMPILER_ID-${CMAKE_SYSTEM_PROCESSOR}.cmake file. This file can be used to modify settings such as compiler flags for the target. You should only have to set this variable if you are using a cross-compiler where each target needs special build settings. The value can be chosen freely, so it could be, for example, i386, IntelPXA255, or MyControlBoardRev42.

In CMake code, the CMAKE_SYSTEM_XXX variables always describe the target platform. The same is true for the short WIN32, UNIX, APPLE variables. These variables can be used to test the properties of the target. If it is necessary to test the build host system, there is a corresponding set of variables: CMAKE_HOST_SYSTEM, CMAKE_HOST_SYSTEM_NAME, CMAKE_HOST_SYSTEM_VERSION, CMAKE_HOST_SYSTEM_PROCESSOR; and also the short forms: CMAKE_HOST_WIN32, CMAKE_HOST_UNIX and CMAKE_HOST_APPLE.

Since CMake cannot guess the target system, it cannot guess which compiler it should use. Setting the following variables defines what compilers to use for the target system.


This specifies the C compiler executable as either a full path or just the filename. If it is specified with full path, then this path will be preferred when searching for the C++ compiler and the other tools (binutils, linker, etc.). If the compiler is a GNU cross-compiler with a prefixed name (e.g. “arm-elf-gcc”), CMake will detect this and automatically find the corresponding C++ compiler (i.e. “arm-elf-c++”). The compiler can also be set via the CC environment variable. Setting CMAKE_C_COMPILER directly in a toolchain file has the advantage that the information about the target system is completely contained in this file, and it does not depend on environment variables.


This specifies the C++ compiler executable as either a full path or just the filename. It is handled the same way as CMAKE_C_COMPILER. If the toolchain is a GNU toolchain, it should suffice to set only CMAKE_C_COMPILER; CMake should find the corresponding C++ compiler automatically. As for CMAKE_C_COMPILER, also for C++ the compiler can be set via the CXX environment variable.

Finding External Libraries, Programs and Other Files

Most non-trivial projects make use of external libraries or tools. CMake offers the find_program, find_library, find_file, find_path, and find_package commands for this purpose. They search the file system in common places for these files and return the results. find_package is a bit different in that it does not actually search itself, but executes Find<*>.cmake modules, which in turn call the find_program, find_library, find_file, and find_path commands.

When cross-compiling, these commands become more complicated. For example, when cross-compiling to Windows on a Linux system, getting /usr/lib/` as the result of the command find_package(JPEG) would be useless, since this would be the JPEG library for the host system and not the target system. In some cases, you want to find files that are meant for the target platform; in other cases you will want to find files for the build host. The following variables are designed to give you the flexibility to change how the typical find commands in CMake work, so that you can find both build host and target files as necessary.

The toolchain will come with its own set of libraries and headers for the target platform, which are usually installed under a common prefix. It is a good idea to set up a directory where all the software that is built for the target platform will be installed, so that the software packages don’t get mixed up with the libraries that come with the toolchain.

The find_program command is typically used to find a program that will be executed during the build, so this should still search in the host file system, and not in the environment of the target platform. find_library is normally used to find a library that is then used for linking purposes, so this command should only search in the target environment. For find_path and find_file, it is not so obvious; in many cases, they are used to search for headers, so by default they should only search in the target environment. The following CMake variables can be set to adjust the behavior of the find commands for cross-compiling.


This is a list of the directories that contain the target environment. Each of the directories listed here will be prepended to each of the search directories of every find command. Assuming your target environment is installed under /opt/eldk/ppc_74xx and your installation for that target platform goes to ~/install-eldk-ppc74xx, set CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH to these two directories. Then find_library(JPEG_LIB jpeg) will search in /opt/eldk/ppc_74xx/lib, /opt/eldk/ppc_74xx/usr/lib, ~/install-eldk-ppc74xx/lib, ~/install-eldk-ppc74xx/usr/lib, and should result in /opt/eldk/ppc_74xx/usr/lib/

By default, CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH is empty. If set, first the directories prefixed with the path given in CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH will be searched, and then the unprefixed versions of the same directories will be searched.

By setting this variable, you are basically adding a new set of search prefixes to all of the find commands in CMake, but for some find commands you may not want to search the target or host directories. You can control how each find command invocation works by passing in one of the three following options NO_CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH, ONLY_CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH, or CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH_BOTH when you call it. You can also control how the find commands work using the following three variables.


This sets the default behavior for the find_program command. It can be set to NEVER, ONLY, or BOTH. When set to NEVER, CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH will not be used for find_program calls except where it is enabled explicitly. If set to ONLY, only the search directories with the prefixes coming from CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH will be used by find_program. The default is BOTH, which means that first the prefixed directories and then the unprefixed directories, will be searched.

In most cases, find_program is used to search for an executable which will then be executed, e.g. using execute_process or add_custom_command. So in most cases an executable from the build host is required, so setting CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH_MODE_PROGRAM to NEVER is normally preferred.


This is the same as above, but for the find_library command. In most cases this is used to find a library which will then be used for linking, so a library for the target is required. In most cases, it should be set to ONLY.


This is the same as above and used for both find_path and find_file. In most cases, this is used for finding include directories, so the target environment should be searched. In most cases, it should be set to ONLY. If you also need to find files in the file system of the build host (e.g. some data files that will be processed during the build); you may need to adjust the behavior for those find_path or find_file calls using the NO_CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH, ONLY_CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH and CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH_BOTH options.

With a toolchain file set up as described, CMake now knows how to handle the target platform and the cross-compiler. We should now able to build software for the target platform. For complex projects, there are more issues that must to be taken care of.

System Inspection

Most portable software projects have a set of system inspection tests for determining the properties of the (target) system. The simplest way to check for a system feature with CMake is by testing variables. For this purpose, CMake provides the variables UNIX, WIN32, and APPLE. When cross-compiling, these variables apply to the target platform, for testing the build host platform there are corresponding variables CMAKE_HOST_UNIX, CMAKE_HOST_WIN32, and CMAKE_HOST_APPLE.

If this granularity is too coarse, the variables CMAKE_SYSTEM_NAME, CMAKE_SYSTEM, CMAKE_SYSTEM_VERSION, and CMAKE_SYSTEM_PROCESSOR can be tested, along with their counterparts CMAKE_HOST_SYSTEM_NAME, CMAKE_HOST_SYSTEM, CMAKE_HOST_SYSTEM_VERSION, and CMAKE_HOST_SYSTEM_PROCESSOR, which contain the same information, but for the build host and not for the target system.

   message(STATUS "Target system is Windows")

   message(STATUS "Build host runs Linux")

Using Compile Checks

In CMake, there are macros such as check_include_files and check_c_source_runs that are used to test the properties of the platform. Most of these macros internally use either the try_compile or the try_run commands. The try_compile command works as expected when cross-compiling; it tries to compile the piece of code with the cross-compiling toolchain, which will give the expected result.

All tests using try_run will not work since the created executables cannot normally run on the build host. In some cases, this might be possible (e.g. using virtual machines, emulation layers like Wine or interfaces to the actual target) as CMake does not depend on such mechanisms. Depending on emulators during the build process would introduce a new set of potential problems; they may have a different view on the file system, use other line endings, require special hardware or software, etc.

If try_run is invoked when cross-compiling, it will first try to compile the software, which will work the same way as when not cross compiling. If this succeeds, it will check the variable CMAKE_CROSSCOMPILING to determine whether the resulting executable can be executed or not. If it cannot, it will create two cache variables, which then have to be set by the user or via the CMake cache. Assume the command looks like this:

        ARGS "LDPATH"

In this example, the source file SharedLibraryPathInfo.cxx will be compiled and if that succeeds, the resulting executable should be executed. The variable SHARED_LIBRARY_PATH_INFO_COMPILED will be set to the result of the build, i.e. TRUE or FALSE. CMake will create a cache variable SHARED_LIBRARY_PATH_TYPE and preset it to PLEASE_FILL_OUT-FAILED_TO_RUN. This variable must be set to what the exit code of the executable would have been if it had been executed on the target. Additionally, CMake will create a cache variable SHARED_LIBRARY_PATH_TYPE__TRYRUN_OUTPUT and preset it to PLEASE_FILL_OUT-NOTFOUND. This variable should be set to the output that the executable prints to stdout and stderr if it were executed on the target. This variable is only created if the try_run command was used with the RUN_OUTPUT_VARIABLE or the OUTPUT_VARIABLE argument. You have to fill in the appropriate values for these variables. To help you with this CMake tries its best to give you useful information. To accomplish this CMake creates a file ${CMAKE_BINARY_DIR}/TryRunResults.cmake, which you can see an example of here:

#   indicates whether the executable would have been able to run
#   on its target platform. If so, set SHARED_LIBRARY_PATH_TYPE
#   to the exit code (in many cases 0 for success), otherwise
#   enter "FAILED_TO_RUN".
#   contains the text the executable would have printed on
#   stdout and stderr. If the executable would not have been
#   empty. Otherwise check if the output is evaluated by the
#   calling CMake code. If so, check what the source file would
#   have printed when called with the given arguments.
# The SHARED_LIBRARY_PATH_INFO_COMPILED variable holds the build
# result for this TRY_RUN().
# Source file: ~/src/SharedLibraryPathInfo.cxx
# Executable : ~/build/cmTryCompileExec-SHARED_LIBRARY_PATH_TYPE
# Run arguments:  LDPATH
#    Called from: [1]   ~/src/CMakeLists.cmake



You can find all of the variables that CMake could not determine, from which CMake file they were called, the source file, the arguments for the executable, and the path to the executable. CMake will also copy the executables to the build directory; they have the names cmTryCompileExec-<name of the variable>, e.g. in this case cmTryCompileExec-SHARED_LIBRARY_PATH_TYPE. You can then try to run this executable manually on the actual target platform and check the results.

Once you have these results, they have to be put into the CMake cache. This can be done by using ccmake or cmake-gui. and editing the variables directly in the cache. It is not possible to reuse these changes in another build directory or if CMakeCache.txt is removed.

The recommended approach is to use the TryRunResults.cmake file created by CMake. You should copy it to a safe location (i.e. where it will not be removed if the build directory is deleted) and give it a useful name, e.g. TryRunResults-MyProject-eldk-ppc.cmake. The contents of this file have to be edited so that the set commands set the required variables to the appropriate values for the target system. This file can then be used to preload the CMake cache by using the -C option of cmake:

src/build/ $ cmake -C ~/TryRunResults-MyProject-eldk-ppc.cmake .

You do not have to use the other CMake options again as they are now in the cache. This way you can use MyProjectTryRunResults-eldk-ppc.cmake in multiple build trees, and it can be distributed with your project so that it is easier for other users to cross compile it.

Running Executables Built in the Project

In some cases it is necessary that during a build, an executable is invoked that was built earlier in the same build; this is usually the case for code generators and similar tools. This does not work when cross compiling, as the executables are built for the target platform and cannot run on the build host (without the use of virtual machines, compatibility layers, emulators, etc.). With CMake, these programs are created using add_executable, and executed with add_custom_command or add_custom_target. The following three options can be used to support these executables with CMake. The old version of the CMake code could look something like this

add_executable(mygen gen.c)
get_target_property(mygenLocation mygen LOCATION)
  COMMAND ${mygenLocation}
       -o "${CMAKE_CURRENT_BINARY_DIR}/generated.h" )

Now we will show how this file can be modified so that it works when cross-compiling. The basic idea is that the executable is built only when doing a native build for the build host, and is then exported as an executable target to a CMake script file. This file is then included when cross-compiling, and the executable target for the executable mygen will be loaded. An imported target with the same name as the original target will be created. add_custom_command recognizes target names as executables, so for the command in add_custom_command, simply the target name can be used; it is not necessary to use the LOCATION property to obtain the path of the executable:

   add_executable(mygen gen.c)
   export(TARGETS mygen FILE

  COMMAND mygen -o "${CMAKE_CURRENT_BINARY_DIR}/generated.h"

With the CMakeLists.txt modified like this, the project can be cross-compiled. First, a native build has to be done in order to create the necessary mygen executable. After that, the cross-compiling build can begin. The build directory of the native build has to be given to the cross-compiling build as the location of the MyGen package, so that find_package(MyGen) can find it:

mkdir build-native; cd build-native
cmake ..
cd ..
mkdir build-cross; cd build-cross
cmake -DCMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=MyToolchain.cmake \
      -DMyGen_DIR=~/src/build-native/ ..

Cross-Compiling Hello World

Now let’s actually start with the cross-compiling. The first step is to install a cross-compiling toolchain. If this is already installed, you can skip the next paragraph.

There are many different approaches and projects that deal with cross-compiling for Linux, ranging from free software projects working on Linux-based PDAs to commercial embedded Linux vendors. Most of these projects come with their own way to build and use the respective toolchain. Any of these toolchains can be used with CMake; the only requirement is that it works in the normal file system and does not expect a “sandboxed” environment, like for example the Scratchbox project.

An easy-to-use toolchain with a relatively complete target environment is the Embedded Linux Development Toolkit ( It supports ARM, PowerPC, and MIPS as target platforms. ELDK can be downloaded from The easiest way is to download the ISOs, mount them, and then install them:

mkdir mount-iso/
sudo mount -tiso9660 mips-2007-01-21.iso mount-iso/ -o loop
cd mount-iso/
./install -d /home/alex/eldk-mips/
Preparing...           ########################################### [100%]
   1:appWeb-mips_4KCle ########################################### [100%]
ls /opt/eldk-mips/
bin  eldk_init  etc  mips_4KC  mips_4KCle  usr  var  version

ELDK (and other toolchains) can be installed anywhere, either in the home directory or system-wide if there are more users working with them. In this example, the toolchain will now be located in /home/alex/eldk-mips/usr/bin/ and the target environment is in /home/alex/eldk-mips/mips_4KC/.

Now that a cross-compiling toolchain is installed, CMake has to be set up to use it. As already described, this is done by creating a toolchain file for CMake. In this example, the toolchain file looks like this:

# the name of the target operating system

# which C and C++ compiler to use
set(CMAKE_C_COMPILER /home/alex/eldk-mips/usr/bin/mips_4KC-gcc)

# location of the target environment
set(CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH /home/alex/eldk-mips/mips_4KC
                          /home/alex/eldk-mips-extra-install )

# adjust the default behavior of the FIND_XXX() commands:
# search for headers and libraries in the target environment,
# search for programs in the host environment

The toolchain files can be located anywhere, but it is a good idea to put them in a central place so that they can be reused in multiple projects. We will save this file as ~/Toolchains/Toolchain-eldk-mips4K.cmake. The variables mentioned above are set here: CMAKE_SYSTEM_NAME, the C/C++ compilers, and CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH to specify where libraries and headers for the target environment are located. The find modes are also set up so that libraries and headers are searched for in the target environment only, whereas programs are searched for in the host environment only. Now we will cross-compile the hello world project from Chapter 2

add_executable(Hello Hello.c)

Run CMake, this time telling it to use the toolchain file from above:

mkdir Hello-eldk-mips
cd Hello-eldk-mips
cmake -DCMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=~/Toolchains/Toolchain-eldk-mips4K.cmake ..
make VERBOSE=1

This should give you an executable that can run on the target platform. Thanks to the VERBOSE=1 option, you should see that the cross-compiler is used. Now we will make the example a bit more sophisticated by adding system inspection and install rules. We will build and install a shared library named Tools, and then build the Hello application which links to the Tools library.

check_include_files(stdio.h HAVE_STDIO_H)


configure_file( ${CMAKE_BINARY_DIR}/config.h)

add_library(Tools SHARED tools.cxx)
set_target_properties(Tools PROPERTIES

install(FILES tools.h DESTINATION include)
install(TARGETS Tools DESTINATION lib)

There is no difference in a normal CMakeLists.txt; no special prerequisites are required for cross-compiling. The CMakeLists.txt checks that the header stdio.h is available and sets the version number for the Tools library. These are configured into config.h, which is then used in tools.cxx. The version number is also used to set the version number of the Tools library. The library and headers are installed to ${CMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX}/lib and ${CMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX}/include respectively. Running CMake gives this result:

mkdir build-eldk-mips
cd build-eldk-mips
cmake -DCMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=~/Toolchains/Toolchain-eldk-mips4K.cmake \
      -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX=~/eldk-mips-extra-install ..
-- The C compiler identification is GNU
-- The CXX compiler identification is GNU
-- Check for working C compiler: /home/alex/eldk-mips/usr/bin/mips_4KC-gcc
-- Check for working C compiler:
   /home/alex/eldk-mips/usr/bin/mips_4KC-gcc -- works
-- Check size of void*
-- Check size of void* - done
-- Check for working CXX compiler: /home/alex/eldk-mips/usr/bin/mips_4KC-g++
-- Check for working CXX compiler:
   /home/alex/eldk-mips/usr/bin/mips_4KC-g++ -- works
-- Looking for include files HAVE_STDIO_H
-- Looking for include files HAVE_STDIO_H - found
-- Configuring done
-- Generating done
-- Build files have been written to: /home/alex/src/tests/Tools/build-mips
make install
Scanning dependencies of target Tools
[100%] Building CXX object CMakeFiles/Tools.dir/tools.o
Linking CXX shared library
[100%] Built target Tools
Install the project...
-- Install configuration: ""
-- Installing /home/alex/eldk-mips-extra-install/include/tools.h
-- Installing /home/alex/eldk-mips-extra-install/lib/

As can be seen in the output above, CMake detected the correct compiler, found the stdio.h header for the target platform, and successfully generated the Makefiles. The make command was invoked, which then successfully built and installed the library in the specified installation directory. Now we can build an executable that uses the Tools library and does some system inspection


find_package(ZLIB REQUIRED)

find_library(TOOLS_LIBRARY Tools)
find_path(TOOLS_INCLUDE_DIR tools.h)

  message FATAL_ERROR "Tools library not found")


add_executable(HelloTools main.cpp)
target_link_libraries(HelloTools ${TOOLS_LIBRARY}
set_target_properties(HelloTools PROPERTIES
                      INSTALL_RPATH_USE_LINK_PATH TRUE)

install(TARGETS HelloTools DESTINATION bin)

Building works in the same way as with the library; the toolchain file has to be used and then it should just work:

cmake -DCMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=~/Toolchains/Toolchain-eldk-mips4K.cmake \
      -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX=~/eldk-mips-extra-install ..
-- The C compiler identification is GNU
-- The CXX compiler identification is GNU
-- Check for working C compiler: /home/alex/denx-mips/usr/bin/mips_4KC-gcc
-- Check for working C compiler:
   /home/alex/denx-mips/usr/bin/mips_4KC-gcc -- works
-- Check size of void*
-- Check size of void* - done
-- Check for working CXX compiler: /home/alex/denx-mips/usr/bin/mips_4KC-g++
-- Check for working CXX compiler:
   /home/alex/denx-mips/usr/bin/mips_4KC-g++ -- works
-- Found ZLIB: /home/alex/denx-mips/mips_4KC/usr/lib/
-- Found Tools library: /home/alex/denx-mips-extra-install/lib/
-- Configuring done
-- Generating done
-- Build files have been written to:
[100%] Building CXX object CMakeFiles/HelloTools.dir/main.o
Linking CXX executable HelloTools
[100%] Built target HelloTools

Obviously CMake found the correct zlib and also, which had been installed in the previous step.

Cross-Compiling for a Microcontroller

CMake can be used for more than cross-compiling to targets with operating systems, it is also possible to use it in development for deeply-embedded devices with small microcontrollers and no operating system at all. As an example, we will use the Small Devices C Compiler (, which runs under Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X, and supports 8 and 16 Bit microcontrollers. For driving the build, we will use MS NMake under Windows. As before, the first step is to write a toolchain file so that CMake knows about the target platform. For sdcc, it should look something like this

set(CMAKE_C_COMPILER "c:/Program Files/SDCC/bin/sdcc.exe")

The system name for targets that do not have an operating system, “Generic,” should be used as the CMAKE_SYSTEM_NAME. The CMake platform file for “Generic” doesn’t set up any specific features. All that it assumes is that the target platform does not support shared libraries, and so all properties will depend on the compiler and CMAKE_SYSTEM_PROCESSOR. The toolchain file above does not set the FIND-related variables. As long as none of the find commands is used in the CMake commands, this is fine. In many projects for small microcontrollers, this will be the case. The CMakeLists.txt should look like the following

project(Blink C)

add_library(blink blink.c)

add_executable(hello main.c)
target_link_libraries(hello blink)

There are no major differences in other CMakeLists.txt files. One important point is that the language “C” is enabled explicitly using the project command. If this is not done, CMake will also try to enable support for C++, which will fail as sdcc only has support for C. Running CMake and building the project should work as usual:

cmake -G"NMake Makefiles" \
      -DCMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=c:/Toolchains/Toolchain-sdcc.cmake ..
-- The C compiler identification is SDCC
-- Check for working C compiler: c:/program files/sdcc/bin/sdcc.exe
-- Check for working C compiler: c:/program files/sdcc/bin/sdcc.exe -- works
-- Check size of void*
-- Check size of void* - done
-- Configuring done
-- Generating done
-- Build files have been written to: C:/src/tests/blink/build

Microsoft (R) Program Maintenance Utility Version 7.10.3077
Copyright (C) Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.

Scanning dependencies of target blink
[ 50%] Building C object CMakeFiles/blink.dir/blink.rel
Linking C static library blink.lib
[ 50%] Built target blink
Scanning dependencies of target hello
[100%] Building C object CMakeFiles/hello.dir/main.rel
Linking C executable hello.ihx
[100%] Built target hello

This was a simple example using NMake with sdcc with the default settings of sdcc. Of course, more sophisticated project layouts are possible. For this kind of project, it is also a good idea to set up an install directory where reusable libraries can be installed, so it is easier to use them in multiple projects. It is normally necessary to choose the correct target platform for sdcc; not everybody uses i8051, which is the default for sdcc. The recommended way to do this is via setting CMAKE_SYSTEM_PROCESSOR.

This will cause CMake to search for and load the platform file Platform/Generic-SDCC-C-${CMAKE_SYSTEM_PROCESSOR}.cmake. As this happens, right before loading Platform/Generic-SDCC-C.cmake, it can be used to set up the compiler and linker flags for the specific target hardware and project. Therefore, a slightly more complex toolchain file is required

                       "${CMAKE_CURRENT_LIST_FILE}" PATH)
set(CMAKE_MODULE_PATH "${_ownDir}/Modules" ${CMAKE_MODULE_PATH})

set(CMAKE_C_COMPILER "c:/Program Files/SDCC/bin/sdcc.exe")

# here is the target environment located
set(CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH  "c:/Program Files/SDCC"
                          "c:/ds80c400-install" )

# adjust the default behavior of the FIND_XXX() commands:
# search for headers and libraries in the target environment
# search for programs in the host environment

This toolchain file contains a few new settings; it is also about the most complicated toolchain file you should ever need. CMAKE_SYSTEM_PROCESSOR is set to Test_DS80C400_Rev_1, an identifier for the specific target hardware. This has the effect that CMake will try to load Platform/Generic-SDCC-C-Test_DS80C400_Rev_1.cmake. As this file does not exist in the CMake system module directory, the CMake variable CMAKE_MODULE_PATH has to be adjusted so that this file can be found. If this toolchain file is saved to c:/Toolchains/sdcc-ds400.cmake, the hardware-specific file should be saved in c:/Toolchains/Modules/Platform/. An example of this is shown below:

set(CMAKE_C_FLAGS_INIT "-mds390 --use-accelerator")

This will select the DS80C390 as the target platform and add the –use-accelerator argument to the default compile flags. In this example the “NMake Makefiles” generator was used. In the same way e.g. the “MinGW Makefiles” generator could be used for a GNU make from MinGW, or another Windows version of GNU make, are available. At least version 3.78 is required, or the “Unix Makefiles” generator under UNIX. Also, any Makefile-based, IDE-project generators could be used; e.g. the Eclipse, CodeBlocks, or the KDevelop3 generator.

Cross-Compiling a Complex Project - VTK

Building a complex project is a multi-step process. Complex in this case means that the project uses tests that run executables, and that it builds executables which are used later in the build to generate code (or something similar). One such project is VTK, which uses several try_run tests and creates several code generators. When running CMake on the project, every try_run command will produce an error message; at the end there will be a TryRunResults.cmake file in the build directory. You need to go through all of the entries of this file and fill in the appropriate values. If you are uncertain about the correct result, you can also try to execute the test binaries on the real target platform, where they are saved in the binary directory.

VTK contains several code generators, one of which is ProcessShader. These code generators are added using add_executable; get_target_property(LOCATION) is used to get the locations of the resulting binaries, which are then used in add_custom_command or add_custom_target commands. Since the cross-compiled executables cannot be executed during the build, the add_executable calls are surrounded by if (NOT CMAKE_CROSSCOMPILING) commands and the executable targets are imported into the project using the add_executable command with the IMPORTED option. These import statements are in the file VTKCompileToolsConfig.cmake, which does not have to be created manually, but it is created by a native build of VTK.

In order to cross-compile VTK, you need to:

  • Install a toolchain and create a toolchain file for CMake.

  • Build VTK natively for the build host.

  • Run CMake for the target platform.

  • Complete TryRunResults.cmake.

  • Use the VTKCompileToolsConfig.cmake file from the native build.

  • Build.

So first, build a native VTK for the build host using the standard procedure.

cd VTK
mkdir build-native; cd build-native
ccmake ..

Ensure that all required options are enabled using ccmake; e.g. if you need Python wrapping for the target platform, you must enable Python wrapping in build-native/. Once this build has finished, there will be a VTKCompileToolsConfig.cmake file in build-native/. If this succeeded, we can continue to cross compiling the project, in this example for an IBM BlueGene supercomputer.

cd VTK
mkdir build-bgl-gcc
cd build-bgl-gcc
cmake -DCMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=~/Toolchains/Toolchain-BlueGeneL-gcc.cmake \
      -DVTKCompileTools_DIR=~/VTK/build-native/ ..

This will finish with an error message for each try_run and a TryRunResults.cmake file, that you have to complete as described above. You should save the file to a safe location, or it will be overwritten on the next CMake run.

cp TryRunResults.cmake ../TryRunResults-VTK-BlueGeneL-gcc.cmake
ccmake -C ../TryRunResults-VTK-BlueGeneL-gcc.cmake .

On the second run of ccmake, all the other arguments can be skipped as they are now in the cache. It is possible to point CMake to the build directory that contains a CMakeCache.txt, so CMake will figure out that this is the build directory.

Some Tips and Tricks

Dealing with try_run tests

In order to make cross compiling your project easier, try to avoid try_run tests and use other methods to test something instead. If you cannot avoid try_run tests, try to use only the exit code from the run and not the output of the process. That way it will not be necessary to set both the exit code and the stdout and stderr variables for the try_run test when cross-compiling. This allows the OUTPUT_VARIABLE or the RUN_OUTPUT_VARIABLE options for try_run to be omitted.

If you have done that, created and completed a correct TryRunResults.cmake file for the target platform, you might consider adding this file to the sources of the project, so that it can be reused by others. These files are per-target, per-toolchain.

Target platform and toolchain issues

If your toolchain is unable to build a simple program without special arguments, like e.g. a linker script file or a memory layout file, the tests CMake does initially will fail. To make it work the CMake module CMakeForceCompiler offers the following macros:

CMAKE_FORCE_SYSTEM(name version processor),
CMAKE_FORCE_C_COMPILER(compiler compiler_id sizeof_void_p)
CMAKE_FORCE_CXX_COMPILER(compiler compiler_id).

These macros can be used in a toolchain file so that the required variables will be preset and the CMake tests avoided.

RPATH handling under UNIX

For native builds, CMake builds executables and libraries by default with RPATH. In the build tree, the RPATH is set so that the executables can be run from the build tree; i.e. the RPATH points into the build tree. When installing the project, CMake links the executables again, this time with the RPATH for the install tree, which is empty by default.

When cross-compiling you probably want to set up RPATH handling differently. As the executable cannot run on the build host, it makes more sense to build it with the install RPATH right from the start. There are several CMake variables and target properties for adjusting RPATH handling.

set(CMAKE_INSTALL_RPATH "<whatever you need>")

With these two settings, the targets will be built with the install RPATH instead of the build RPATH, which avoids the need to link them again when installing. If you don’t need RPATH support in your project, you don’t need to set CMAKE_INSTALL_RPATH; it is empty by default.

Setting CMAKE_INSTALL_RPATH_USE_LINK_PATH to TRUE is useful for native builds, since it automatically collects the RPATH from all libraries against which a targets links. For cross-compiling it should be left at the default setting of FALSE, because on the target the automatically generated RPATH will be wrong in most cases; it will probably have a different file system layout than the build host.