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C++ Package Managers: The Ultimate Roundup

· 11 min read
Christopher McArthur

C++'s journey with dependency management has seen numerous transformations. Early years were marked by manual library integration and complex build scripts, presenting significant challenges. However, the landscape has since evolved, offering an array of sophisticated package managers designed to streamline workflows but most of all reduce the burden on developers.

Join in and delve into the strengths and weaknesses of these diverse solutions, empowering you to make informed choices and conquer the challenge of dependency management in your C++ endeavors.

Comprehensive List of C++ Package Managers: Strengths and Weaknesses

To help you navigate this diverse landscape, let's explore a consolidated overview of popular tools used as C++ package managers, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses along the way. This list is in relevance order, based on factors like how well it works as a package manager and how prominent is it in the ecosystem.

This list provides a snapshot of the evolving C++ package management landscape, but the journey doesn't end here! More feedback is needed. Have you tried any of these solutions? Are there hidden gems missing? Feel like the order is wrong? Share your experiences and recommendations in the comments on social media.

1. vcpkg

Vcpkg is a cross-platform package manager for C and C++ libraries, simplifying dependency acquisition and management on Windows, Linux, and macOS. Developed by Microsoft, it offers a comprehensive catalog of libraries which can be built locally, seamless integration with popular development environments, and straightforward command-line usage.

Tutorial Video: link

  • Strengths:
    • Large and growing repository of libraries
    • Easy to use
    • Integrates well with Visual Studio
    • Good support for Windows development
  • Weaknesses:
    • Primarily focused on open-source libraries
    • Limited support for custom build configurations
    • Requires rebuild all dependencies are every machine

2. Conan

Conan is a powerful and flexible C and C++ package manager designed to simplify dependency management across different platforms and build systems. With Conan, developers can easily declare, install, and manage dependencies for their projects, ensuring seamless integration of third-party libraries without the hassle of manual configuration. Offering support for both public and private package repositories, Conan facilitates efficient dependency resolution, versioning, and package reuse, empowering developers to streamline their C and C++ development workflows with ease.

Tutorial Video: link

  • Strengths:
    • Large and growing repository of libraries
    • Flexible and powerful enterprise features
    • Supports both binary and source-based packages
    • Can manage custom build configurations
  • Weaknesses:
    • Steeper learning curve than others for medium sized projects
    • Requires more explicit package information

3. Xrepo

Xmake/Xrepo, is a modern and cross-platform build system designed for efficiently compiling and managing C, C++, and other programming language projects. With a focus on simplicity, flexibility, and speed, xmake simplifies the build process by providing an intuitive Lua-based configuration file that allows developers to describe their project's build requirements and dependencies concisely.

  • Strengths:
    • Designed for cross-platform development
    • Supports add-ons for more build systems
    • Can manage build configurations
  • Weaknesses:
    • Relatively new and less mature than some other options
    • Smaller community and ecosystem

4. Spack

Spack is a package manager for scientific computing and HPC environments, enabling software installation and management across various architectures and compilers, enabling reproducibility and efficient collaboration in research and computational workflows.

  • Strengths:
    • Excellent for scientific computing and high-performance computing (HPC)
    • Supports a wide range of compilers and build systems
    • Can manage complex dependencies
  • Weaknesses:
    • Can be challenging to set up and use
    • Not as well-suited for general-purpose development

5. Hunter

Hunter is a CMake-driven package manager for C and C++ projects, providing a simplified way to manage dependencies and integrate them into the build process, facilitating efficient development and collaboration in C++ projects.

  • Strengths:
    • Simple and easy to use
    • Good for finding and installing specific libraries
    • Integrates well with CMake
  • Weaknesses:
    • Requires heavily modifying build scripts to add support
    • Smaller repository of libraries
    • Not as flexible for managing complex dependencies

6. Buckaroo

Buckaroo is a package manager designed for C++ developers using the Buck build system, streamlining dependency management and integration into projects for efficient development workflows.

  • Strengths:
    • Designed for large-scale projects with many dependencies
    • Can manage complex build systems
    • Integrates well with other Buckaroo tools
  • Weaknesses:

7. CPM

CPM (CMake Package Manager) is a lightweight package manager integrated withing your project's CMakeLists.txt, enabling simplified dependency management and seamless integration of external libraries into C++ projects.

  • Strengths:
    • Designed for simplicity and ease of use
    • Good for managing dependencies in small to medium-sized projects
    • Integrates well with CMake
  • Weaknesses:
    • Smaller repository of libraries
    • Requires heavily modifying build scripts
    • Not as flexible as Conan for managing complex dependencies
    • Very little active or development taking place

Build Systems and Environment Managers

These tools are doing double duty.

8. Meson

Meson is a fast and user-friendly build system designed for efficiently compiling and managing C, C++, and other programming language projects, offering simplicity, speed, and cross-platform support for streamlined development workflows.

  • Strengths:
  • Weaknesses:
    • Not primarily a package manager, but rather a build system
    • Requires more configuration than some other options

9. Bazel

Bazel can be a powerful and scalable build system developed by Google, supporting multiple programming languages including C++ and providing correctness, reproducibility, and speed for large-scale software projects.

  • Strengths:
    • Very powerful and flexible
    • Can manage large and complex projects
    • Good for distributed builds
  • Weaknesses:

10. Build2

Build2 is a modern and efficient build system designed for C and C++ projects, offering simplicity, scalability, and reliability for managing dependencies and building software.

  • Strengths:
    • Covers the entire project lifecycle: creation, development, testing, and delivery.
    • Aims to rebuild the C++ ecosystem with modern build principles.
    • Uniform and consistent interface across platforms and compilers.
  • weaknesses:
    • Relatively new feature for dependency management
    • Smaller community and ecosystem compared to established tools.
    • Might require more configuration and scripting knowledge to fully utilize.

11. SCons

SCons is a software construction tool written in Python, providing a flexible and customizable build system for C and C++ projects, emphasizing simplicity and ease of use for managing project builds effectively.

  • Strengths:
    • Good for managing build systems
    • Can be used with other package managers like Conan
  • Weaknesses:
    • Not primarily a package manager, but rather a build system
    • Requires more configuration than some other options
    • Dependency management is an add-on wrapper

12. Tipi.Build

Tipi.build is a versatile and customizable build system for C++ projects, designed with simplicity and flexibility in mind, offering efficient cloud based workflows.

Tutorial Video: link

  • Strengths:
    • Cloud based build distribution with caching
    • Aims to rebuild the C++ ecosystem with modern build principles.
    • Supports re-using pre compiled binaries
  • weaknesses:
    • Relatively new and less mature compared to some options.
    • Smaller community and ecosystem compared to established tools.
    • Might require more configuration and scripting knowledge to fully utilize.

13. SoupBuild

SoupBuild is a distributed build system with an almost no compatibility definition. This is similar to Bazel land Vcpkg respectively - both combined into a cargo inspired build tool chain.

  • Strengths:
    • Defines to ABI compatibility
    • Rebuilds from source and distributes builds
  • Weaknesses:
    • Limit support for different toolchains
    • Very opinionated
    • Only in Alpha preview

14. Pixi (prefix-dev)

  • Strengths:
    • Simplified experience with a Cargo-like CLI.
    • Multi-language support within projects.
    • Project-specific environments and automatic lockfiles.
    • Built on conda's package ecosystem.
  • Weaknesses:
    • Newer and less mature with a smaller community and ecosystem.
    • Limited C++ package selection compared to dedicated managers.
    • Potential complexity due to multi-language management.

15. Mamba

  • Strengths:
    • Reimplementation of conda optimized for speed
    • Built-on existing dependency resolver implementation
    • Lightweight client with a core subset of features for ease-of-use
    • Built on conda's package ecosystem
  • Weaknesses:
    • Newer and less mature with a smaller community and ecosystem
    • Limited C++ package selection compared to dedicated managers
    • Might introduce challenges with standard C++ build systems and tools

16. Gradle

Gradle is a build automation tool known for its flexibility and scalability, primarily used for Java projects but also supporting other languages like C++ through plugins. It handles dependency management, compilation, testing, and packaging of software.

  • Strengths:
    • Proven at managing complex build systems with a variety of dependencies, including C++.
    • Designed for cross-platform development
    • Integration with Java and other ecosystems
  • Weaknesses:
    • Not primarily a C++ package manager
    • Limited package repository limited. While plugins like Gradle CppPlugin and CMakePlugin exist, the C++ package repository is not as extensive as dedicated managers.
    • Steeper learning curve compared to some C++-specific tools.
    • Performance overhead for simple C++ projects

17. Conda

Conda is a versatile package manager and environment management system primarily used for Python, but it also supports other languages like C++ and R. It simplifies dependency management and enables easy creation, sharing, and reproduction of software environments across different platforms.

  • Strengths:
    • Mature and established with a vast package ecosystem across various languages.
    • Cross-platform compatibility.
    • Flexible environment management for projects or systems.
    • Powerful dependency management for complex scenarios.
  • Weaknesses:
    • Steeper learning curve compared to simpler tools like Hunter or CPM.
    • Not primarily designed for C++ development, requiring additional setup for C++ packages.
    • C++ package selection might be smaller than dedicated C++ package managers.

18. NixOS

The Nix package manager is a powerful and purely functional package manager used in NixOS and other Linux distributions. It enables users to manage software packages and configurations in a reproducible and isolated manner, facilitating atomic upgrades and rollbacks.

  • Strengths:
    • Purely functional package management with atomic upgrades.
    • Reproducible builds across environments.
    • Declarative system configuration and package management.
    • Security focus with isolated package environments.
  • Weaknesses:
    • Steep learning curve due to functional paradigm.
    • Less mainstream with smaller community and ecosystem.
    • C++ package selection might be smaller than dedicated managers.

19. CMake's FetchContent

  • Strengths:
    • Seamless integration avoids external tools and complexity.
    • Supports various download methods (git, archives, etc.) and allows customization.
    • Enables consuming content (like headers) during configuration step.
  • Weaknesses:
    • Primarily for downloading, not advanced dependency management.
    • Scripting knowledge needed for complex setups.
    • Lacks features like a repository and versioning.

Tools that Laid the Foundation

This is a bonus shout out. You should not be considering these but they deserve credit.

20. Biicode

  • Strengths:
    • Easy to use with a focus on dependency management
  • Weaknesses:
    • No longer Maintained

21. C++ Archive Network

  • Strengths:
    • Supports the Waf build system
  • Weaknesses:
    • Not primarily designed for C++ development anymore

Choosing the Right Package Manager

The best C++ package manager for you will depend on your specific needs and preferences. Consider factors such as:

  • The size and scope of your project: For small projects, a simple manager like CPM or Hunter may be sufficient. For larger projects, a more powerful manager like Conan may be necessary.
  • The types of libraries you need: If you need mostly open-source libraries, vcpkg is a good option. If you need more specialized or industry specific, Spack may be a better choice.
  • Your experience level: If you are new to C++ package managers, vcpkg or Conan are excellent choices which can very quickly get you up and running.

Ultimately, the best way to choose a C++ package manager is to try out a few different options and see which one you like best.

Changelog

2024-02-13: Added Mamba suggested by u/mjklaim 2024-02-20: Added SoupBuild suggested by u/mwasplund