1. Introduction

1.1. Just Show Me How It Works

If you already have an idea of what Bakefile does, please feel free to skip directly to the Tutorial.

1.2. Motivation

Almost any introductory C or C++ book starts with presenting a version of “Hello, world” program. Some of them also show how to compile the program, although often enough the reader is advised to refer to the documentation of the compiler to learn how to do it. And almost none of the books or tutorials address the issue of how can the program be compiled not in a single environment and with a single compiler but on several different platforms or, perhaps, with different compilers on the same platform. And there is a good reason for avoiding discussing this: surprisingly, 40 years after the invention of C programming language, there is still no satisfactory solution to this problem.

Before discussing how Bakefile helps to address it, let’s briefly mention the two usual anti-solutions. The first one of them is to naively separately write build scripts, make files or projects for each of the environments used. While there is no problem with this approach as long as a single such environment is used, accurately propagating changes to one of the files to all the other ones becomes bothersome even when there are only two of them and, in practice, the divergences almost inevitably appear. For a cross-platform project, targeting many different platform, this quickly becomes a serious maintenance burden. But even for projects used under a single platform, keeping different versions of the project files can be annoying (a typical example is that of Microsoft Visual C++ compiler which has changed its project file format with each and every one of its last 5 releases).

The problems of this naive approach have resulted in creation of a huge number of cross-platform build tools. This manual is too short to discuss the cons and pros of each of them, but they all share one fundamental weakness that makes us classify them all as an anti-solution: the use of such tool replaces the use of the normal tools used for software development under any given platform. As anybody who has tried to convince a seasoned Unix programmer to switch to using Xcode instead of make, a Windows developer to use make instead of Microsoft Visual Studio or someone used to work with Xcode to live without it can attest, this can be a bad idea with effects ranging from the drop of participation in an Open Source project to poisoning the atmosphere in the office in a company one.

1.3. The Bakefile Solution

The solution proposed by Bakefile allows to combine the use of native development tools with the lack of maintenance headaches due to having to modify the files for each of the tool chains manually. Bakefile is a meta-make tool which does not replace the normal make program or IDE used for building the project but simply generates the input files for it from a unique meta-makefile which we call a “bakefile”.

It is important to notice that the make and project files created by bakefile [*] are as similar to the files with the same functionality created by hand as possible, i.e. are easy to understand for anybody familiar with the underlying tool. These files still should not be modified directly but, in a pinch, this can be done – and is as easy to do as with manually crafted versions.

This need to restrict modifications to the bakefiles themselves and avoid modifying the files generated from them does require some discipline but this is the smallest possible price to pay for solving the problem of how to let developers use their favourite tool chain under all platforms without having to manually ensure the synchronization between all of them.

[*]This process is, inevitably, called “baking”.