Ninja Multi-Config

New in version 3.17.

Generates multiple build-<Config>.ninja files.

This generator is very much like the Ninja generator, but with some key differences. Only these differences will be discussed in this document.

Unlike the Ninja generator, Ninja Multi-Config generates multiple configurations at once with CMAKE_CONFIGURATION_TYPES instead of only one configuration with CMAKE_BUILD_TYPE. One build-<Config>.ninja file will be generated for each of these configurations (with <Config> being the configuration name.) These files are intended to be run with ninja -f build-<Config>.ninja. A file is also generated, using the configuration from either CMAKE_DEFAULT_BUILD_TYPE or the first item from CMAKE_CONFIGURATION_TYPES.

cmake --build . --config <Config> will always use build-<Config>.ninja to build. If no --config argument is specified, cmake --build . will use

Each build-<Config>.ninja file contains <target> targets as well as <target>:<Config> targets, where <Config> is the same as the configuration specified in build-<Config>.ninja Additionally, if cross-config mode is enabled, build-<Config>.ninja may contain <target>:<OtherConfig> targets, where <OtherConfig> is a cross-config, as well as <target>:all, which builds the target in all cross-configs. See below for how to enable cross-config mode.

The Ninja Multi-Config generator recognizes the following variables:


Specifies the total set of configurations to build. Unlike with other multi-config generators, this variable has a value of Debug;Release;RelWithDebInfo by default.


Specifies a semicolon-separated list of configurations available from all build-<Config>.ninja files.


Specifies the configuration to use by default in a file.


Specifies a semicolon-separated list of configurations to build for a target in if no :<Config> suffix is specified.

Consider the following example:

cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 3.16)
project(MultiConfigNinja C)

add_executable(generator generator.c)
add_custom_command(OUTPUT generated.c COMMAND generator generated.c)
add_library(generated ${CMAKE_BINARY_DIR}/generated.c)

Now assume you configure the project with Ninja Multi-Config and run one of the following commands:

ninja -f generated
# OR
cmake --build . --config Debug --target generated

This would build the Debug configuration of generator, which would be used to generate generated.c, which would be used to build the Debug configuration of generated.

But if CMAKE_CROSS_CONFIGS is set to all, and you run the following instead:

ninja -f generated:Debug
# OR
cmake --build . --config Release --target generated:Debug

This would build the Release configuration of generator, which would be used to generate generated.c, which would be used to build the Debug configuration of generated. This is useful for running a release-optimized version of a generator utility while still building the debug version of the targets built with the generated code.

Custom Commands

New in version 3.20.

The Ninja Multi-Config generator adds extra capabilities to add_custom_command() and add_custom_target() through its cross-config mode. The COMMAND, DEPENDS, and WORKING_DIRECTORY arguments can be evaluated in the context of either the "command config" (the "native" configuration of the build-<Config>.ninja file in use) or the "output config" (the configuration used to evaluate the OUTPUT and BYPRODUCTS).

If either OUTPUT or BYPRODUCTS names a path that is common to more than one configuration (e.g. it does not use any generator expressions), all arguments are evaluated in the command config by default. If all OUTPUT and BYPRODUCTS paths are unique to each configuration (e.g. by using the $<CONFIG> generator expression), the first argument of COMMAND is still evaluated in the command config by default, while all subsequent arguments, as well as the arguments to DEPENDS and WORKING_DIRECTORY, are evaluated in the output config. These defaults can be overridden with the $<OUTPUT_CONFIG:...> and $<COMMAND_CONFIG:...> generator-expressions. Note that if a target is specified by its name in DEPENDS, or as the first argument of COMMAND, it is always evaluated in the command config, even if it is wrapped in $<OUTPUT_CONFIG:...> (because its plain name is not a generator expression).

As an example, consider the following:

  OUTPUT "$<CONFIG>.txt"
    generator "$<CONFIG>.txt"

Assume that generator, tgt1, tgt2, tgt3, and tgt4 are all executable targets, and assume that $<CONFIG>.txt is built in the Debug output config using the Release command config. The Release build of the generator target is called with Debug.txt Debug Release as arguments. The command depends on the Release builds of tgt1 and tgt4, and the Debug builds of tgt2 and tgt3.

PRE_BUILD, PRE_LINK, and POST_BUILD custom commands for targets only get run in their "native" configuration (the Release configuration in the file) unless they have no BYPRODUCTS or their BYPRODUCTS are unique per config. Consider the following example:

add_executable(exe main.c)
  TARGET exe
    ${CMAKE_COMMAND} -E echo "Running no-byproduct command"
  TARGET exe
    ${CMAKE_COMMAND} -E echo
    "Running separate-byproduct command for $<CONFIG>"
  TARGET exe
    ${CMAKE_COMMAND} -E echo
    "Running common-byproduct command for $<CONFIG>"
  BYPRODUCTS exe.txt

In this example, if you build exe:Debug in, the first and second custom commands get run, since their byproducts are unique per-config, but the last custom command does not. However, if you build exe:Release in, all three custom commands get run.