Meson (software)

Meson (/ˈmɛ.sɒn/)[2] is a software tool for automating the building (compiling) of software. The overall goal for Meson is to promote programmer productivity.[3] Meson is free and open-source software written in Python, under the Apache License 2.0.[4]

Developer(s)Jussi Pakkanen
Initial release2 March 2013; 10 years ago (2013-03-02)
Stable release
1.0.1[1] Edit this on Wikidata / 23 February 2023; 26 days ago (23 February 2023)
Written inPython
Operating systemCross-platform
TypeSoftware development tools
LicenseApache License 2.0 Edit this on Wikidata


Being written in Python, Meson runs on Unix-like operating systems, including macOS, as well as Microsoft Windows and on other operating systems.

Meson supports the C, C++, CUDA, D, Objective-C, Fortran, Java, C#, Rust, and Vala languages,[5] and has a mechanism for handling dependencies called Wrap.

Meson supports GNU Compiler Collection, Clang, Microsoft Visual C++ and other compilers, including non-traditional compilers such as Emscripten and Cython.[6] The project uses ninja as the primary backend buildsystem, but can also use Microsoft Visual Studio or Xcode backends.


The syntax of Meson's build description files (the Meson language) borrows from Python, but is not Python: It is designed such that it can be reimplemented in any other language;[7] for example, muon[8] is a C implementation and Meson++[9] is a C++ implementation – the dependency on Python is an implementation detail.

The Meson language is intentionally not Turing complete, and can therefore not express an arbitrary program.[7] Instead, arbitrary build steps beyond compiling supported languages can be represented as custom targets.

The Meson language is strongly typed, such that builtin types like library, executable, string, and lists thereof, are non-interchangeable.[10] In particular, unlike Make, the list type does not split strings on whitespace.[7] Thus, whitespace and other characters in filenames and program arguments are handled cleanly.

Meson CMake Make
Datatypes Yes No No
List datatype Yes semicolon delimited string whitespace delimited string
Dictionary datatype since 0.47.0 No No
File globbing No Yes Yes
Extensible via custom functions No Yes Yes
Can read output of arbitrary commands (at configure time) run_command Yes Yes
Can run arbitrary commands at build time as recipes of custom targets Yes Yes Yes

Speed and correctnessEdit

As with any typical buildsystem, correct incremental builds is the most significant speed feature (because all incremental progress is discarded whenever the user is forced to do a clean build).

Unlike bare Make, the separate configure step ensures that changes to arguments, environment variables and command output are not partially applied in subsequent builds, which would lead to a stale build.

Like Ninja, Meson does not support globbing of source files.[7] By requiring all source files to be listed in the build definition files, the build definition file timestamps are sufficient to determine if the set of source files has changed, thereby ensuring that removed source files are detected. CMake supports globbing, but recommends against it for the same reason.[11]

Meson uses ccache automatically if installed. It also detects changes to symbol tables of shared libraries to skip relinking executables against the library when there are no ABI changes. Precompiled headers are supported, but requires configuration. Debug builds are without optimization by default.

speed feature Meson CMake Make
Prohibits stale builds (partial rebuild against input change) Yes (unless there are bugs) If not globbing source files Recursive Make (an idiomatic pattern) is broken in this respect[12]
The target that runs tests depends on the tests being built (e.g. test depends on all) Yes No, and add_dependencies(test all) is forbidden, because the test target is reserved.[13] Trivial to add
Ccache Automatic Trivial to add Trivial to add
Distcc Trivial to add Trivial to add Trivial to add
Symbol table aware relinking Yes Do it yourself Do it yourself
Precompiled headers Optional CMake ≥ 3.16[14][2] Do it yourself


A stated goal of Meson is to facilitate modern development practices. As such, Meson knows how to do unity builds, build with test coverage, link time optimization etc without the programmer having to write support for this.

Meson CMake Autotools
Generate a configure script No No make dist
Set correct library installation directory on x86_64 Unix Automatic Not standardized ./configure --libdir=/usr/lib64


Meson can automatically find and use external dependencies via pkg-config, CMake, and project-specific lookups,[15] but this only finds installed dependencies, which Meson can not do anything about. Alternatively, or as a fallback, a dependency can be provided as a subproject – a Meson project within another, either contained or as a download link, possibly with patches.[16] This lets Meson resolve dependency hell for the convenience of casual users who want to compile the project, but may contribute to software bloat if a common installed dependency could have been used instead. The mode favored by Linux packagers is therefore fallback.[17]

Meson supports Meson and CMake subprojects. A Meson build file may also refer to the WrapDB service.[16]

Comparison of dependency resolution use cases in different build systems
use case Meson CMake Cargo
Finding installed dependencies pkg-config, CMake packages CMake module, pkg-config ?
Downloading dependencies automatically subproject FetchContent[18] Cargo dependency
Finding installed dependencies, with download fallback pkg-config + subproject CMake module/pkg-config + FetchContent ?
pkg-config file generator Yes No No
Facilitate use as an auto-downloadable dependency Can be used as a Meson subproject No With registration to

Cross compilationEdit

Cross compilation requires extra configuration, which Meson supports in the form of a separate cross file, which can be external to the Meson project.[19]


GNOME has made it a goal to port its projects to Meson.[20] As of late 2017, GNOME Shell itself exclusively requires Meson after abandoning Autotools,[21] and central components like GTK+, Clutter-GTK, GLib and GStreamer can be built with Meson.[20]

Many projects have switched to Meson. Systemd relies on Meson since dropping Autotools in version 234,[22] and also X.Org[23] and Mesa[24] were ported to Meson.

Meson's support for Fortran and Cython was improved to help various scientific projects in their switch from setuptools to Meson, for example SciPy.[25] Meson can also be used as a PEP517 backend to build Python wheels, via the meson-python package.[26]

Other notable projects using Meson include QEMU and Libvirt; the Meson homepage lists further projects using Meson.[27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Release 1.0.1". 23 February 2023. Retrieved 19 March 2023.
  2. ^ a b "Making build systems not suck ( video)". YouTube.
  3. ^ "High productivity build system". Meson aims to optimize programmer productivity by providing simple, out-of-the-box support for modern software development tools and practices, such as unit tests, coverage reports, Valgrind, CCache and the like.
  4. ^ "mesonbuild/meson: The Meson Build System". GitHub. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  5. ^ "Reference manual".
  6. ^ "Compiler IDs".
  7. ^ a b c d "Meson Frequently Asked Questions".
  8. ^, retrieved 27 January 2023
  9. ^ Baker, Dylan (28 May 2021), dcbaker/meson-plus-plus, retrieved 28 May 2021
  10. ^ "Meson Syntax".
  11. ^ "CMake FILE command". Note: We do not recommend using GLOB to collect a list of source files from your source tree. If no CMakeLists.txt file changes when a source is added or removed, the generated build system cannot know when to ask CMake to regenerate.
  12. ^ "Non-recursive Make Considered Harmful" (PDF). Microsoft. Recursive Make is considered harmful for very good reasons (Miller 1998); it is not possible to accurately track dependencies when the build system is constructed of separate components that invoke each other.
  13. ^ "Make test does not depend on make all". Kitware issue tracker. 23 June 2016. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  14. ^ "CMake support for precompiled headers". Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  15. ^ "Dependencies with custom lookup functionality — Meson documentation".
  16. ^ a b "Wrap dependency system manual".
  17. ^ "Meson and 3rd party dependencies. Only one correct way".
  18. ^ "FetchContent — CMake 3.15.7 Documentation".
  19. ^ "Cross compilation".
  20. ^ a b "GNOME Goal: Port modules to use Meson build system".
  21. ^ "GNOME 3.26 Beta Debuts: More Meson Porting, Wayland Action".
  22. ^ "Drop support for autotools". GitHub.
  23. ^ "Meson Support Has Landed In The X.Org Server".
  24. ^ "Mesa Developers Move Closer To Dropping Autotools Build System In Favor Of Meson".
  25. ^ "How to build SciPy with Meson".
  26. ^ "meson-python package on PyPI".
  27. ^ "List of projects using Meson".

External linksEdit