Hardening consulting

Let's play with meson

After watching a video on meson, it made me want to play with this software to see how it was in practise. So I did a first shot on a OGON subproject that uses cmake as build system.

Lovely CMake

I often hear that everybody hates cmake, but lots of projects use it anyway. So most probably it's for bad reasons. I'm not an exception, and as soon as I have to touch these lovely CMakeFile.txt, I always feel dirty, or at least I never have the impression to have done some nice job. This happens even when everything goes as I wanted. Not even talking of when things go wrong, with epic debugging sessions. I must be missing the cmake pĥilosophy because everytime I suspect a behaviour, cmake does it the opposite way. So everytime there's some cmake involved I'm reticent to go in that work.

In most projects, you see the good cmake scripts that are copied from a project to another to perform the same tasks: for instance detecting Qt and creating some targets to run the MOC on files, dealing with Qt's resources, ...

Moreover as cmake existed for some years, build files have to deal with the version of cmake that is used to activate or workaround functionnalities that may be present or not.

This must be the cmake scripting language (or bad practises à la PHP), but often you can see projects that abuse of the evaluation capabilities (double ${):

add_library(${MODULE_NAME} ${${MODULE_PREFIX}_SRCS})

The macros aren't always that nice, you feel a lot of the PERL philosophy with lots of implicit rules and magic words:

    if(NOT ARGN)
        message(SEND_ERROR "Error: PROTOBUFC_GENERATE_C() called without any proto files")
    endif(NOT ARGN)

    foreach(FIL ${ARGN})
        get_filename_component(ABS_FIL ${FIL} ABSOLUTE)
        get_filename_component(FIL_WE ${FIL} NAME_WE)
        get_filename_component(FIL_PATH ${ABS_FIL} PATH)


            DEPENDS ${ABS_FIL}
            COMMENT "Running protobuf-c compiler on ${FIL}"
            VERBATIM )
    set_source_files_properties(${${SOURCES}} ${${HEADERS}} PROPERTIES GENERATED TRUE)

Others complain about the incomplete documentation.

I always have that impression of poor quality with cmake. At the point, that by far, I prefer autotools, at least with them you have plenty of projects that use them (so you can copy what is done in other projects). Even if they're slow and they don't work with windows.

Meson coming for help

To start, the migration to meson has been super fast: a few hours and I was just discovering meson.

With cmake there was that famous script copied from other projects ( FindQT5 ), and that not that nice build script:

set(MODULE_NAME "ogon-shadow")



add_executable(${MODULE_NAME} ${${MODULE_NAME}_SRCS})

target_link_libraries(${MODULE_NAME} ${QT_LIBRARIES} winpr)

With meson it's more compact, and nicer (my opinion):

qt5 = import('qt5')

moc_files = qt5.preprocess(moc_headers: ['mainwindow.h', 'sessionmodel.h', 'workerthread.h'])

shadow = executable('ogon-shadow',
       'workerthread.cpp', 'sessionmodel.cpp', 'mainwindow.cpp', 'main.cpp', moc_files,
       dependencies: [qt5_deps, winpr_deps]

Note that with cmake the MOC is applied to all files in our back, while with meson we say it explicitly.

At the end, the build scripts are 4 times smaller and they look nicer. And even better, without knowing meson you see what is going on.

So meson is the ideal build system ?

Yes of course meson is the five legged sheep of the build systems !

There's some (minor) drawbacks with meson compared to cmake:

  • meson is at a higher level that cmake, so things go very fast when you use the common way, but it becomes a little tricker when you want to do it your own style. For example, it's really fast to use the dependency system, but takes much more code if you wanna specify options for includes and libraries. Well, you have the same kind of things with cmake scripts but it's a little faster;
  • meson developpers took the choice to use a non-Turing complete language (yes you can use this to show off in geeks parties), that means that you don't have any kind of macros or functions, and loops are restricted to foreach. That can lead to code duplication, anyway once you've integrated that constraint you deal with it;
  • you can easily generate .pc files for pkgconfig using the pkgconfig module, anyway it is missing the same for cmake packages. Hopefully, I did a contribution to change that with that PR. That may help people to migrate projects that are basic blocks for other projects that depends on cmake.

Advantages of meson:

  • lots of projects are on the way to migrate to meson, so that make it a very dynamic project;
  • even if the project is quite young, it is really mature;
  • you can see what is done without beeing a meson expert;
  • the documentation is complete with lots of practical example, and real cases;

Bad tongs would claim that I did this post just to notify that I've contributed to meson, that would not be totally wrong. Anyway I hope it gave you some interest for that nice project.