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Bazel vs CMake: What are the differences?

Bazel and CMake are popular build systems used in software development. Here are the key differences between Bazel and CMake:

  1. Build Language and Configuration: Bazel uses a custom domain-specific language (DSL) called Starlark for defining build rules, while CMake relies on a script-based configuration language using CMakeLists.txt files. Bazel's declarative approach describes file relationships, dependencies, and targets, while CMake's script-based approach includes commands and directives to define the project's build process.

  2. Build System Efficiency: Bazel uses a content-based build approach where each build target is associated with a unique key based on its inputs. Bazel can skip the build process for targets that have not changed, resulting in faster builds. It also supports distributed caching and remote execution for scalable and parallel builds across multiple machines or a distributed build farm. CMake, on the other hand, typically relies on more traditional build systems, and the efficiency of the build process may depend on the underlying build tool (e.g., make, Ninja) used by CMake.

  3. Language Support and Ecosystem: Bazel is designed to be language-agnostic and supports various programming languages, including C++, Java, Python, and more. It provides built-in rules and toolchains for different languages, making it easier to set up and configure multi-language projects. Bazel also integrates well with other tools such as TensorFlow and Android, and has a growing community and ecosystem. CMake, while also supporting multiple programming languages, is more commonly associated with C and C++ projects. It has a mature ecosystem with wide adoption, especially in the C++ community, and supports integration with various build tools, libraries, and IDEs.

  4. Project Size and Complexity: Bazel is ideal for large-scale projects with complex dependencies and multiple targets, providing fine-grained control and efficient handling of codebases. CMake is versatile, suited for smaller to medium-sized projects, and adaptable to different project sizes and structures with its modular approach and support for external dependencies.

In summary, Bazel and CMake are both powerful build systems. Bazel offers an efficient and language-agnostic build system with advanced caching and remote execution capabilities, while CMake provides a script-based configuration language and a mature ecosystem, particularly for C and C++ projects.

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Pros of Bazel
Pros of CMake
  • 28
  • 20
    Deterministic incremental builds
  • 17
  • 16
  • 14
    Enforces declared inputs/outputs
  • 10
    High-level build language
  • 9
  • 5
    Multi-platform support
  • 5
  • 4
    Dependency management
  • 2
    Windows Support
  • 2
  • 1
    Android Studio integration
  • 1
    Has package registry

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Cons of Bazel
Cons of CMake
  • 3
    No Windows Support
  • 2
    Bad IntelliJ support
  • 1
    Poor windows support for some languages
  • 1
    Constant breaking changes
  • 1
    Learning Curve
  • 1
    Lack of Documentation
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    What is Bazel?

    Bazel is a build tool that builds code quickly and reliably. It is used to build the majority of Google's software, and thus it has been designed to handle build problems present in Google's development environment.

    What is CMake?

    It is used to control the software compilation process using simple platform and compiler independent configuration files, and generate native makefiles and workspaces that can be used in the compiler environment of the user's choice.

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    What companies use Bazel?
    What companies use CMake?
    See which teams inside your own company are using Bazel or CMake.
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    What tools integrate with Bazel?
    What tools integrate with CMake?

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    Blog Posts

    Mar 24 2021 at 12:57PM


    What are some alternatives to Bazel and CMake?
    Pants is a build system for Java, Scala and Python. It works particularly well for a source code repository that contains many distinct projects.
    A bundler for javascript and friends. Packs many modules into a few bundled assets. Code Splitting allows to load parts for the application on demand. Through "loaders" modules can be CommonJs, AMD, ES6 modules, CSS, Images, JSON, Coffeescript, LESS, ... and your custom stuff.
    Ansible is an IT automation tool. It can configure systems, deploy software, and orchestrate more advanced IT tasks such as continuous deployments or zero downtime rolling updates. Ansible’s goals are foremost those of simplicity and maximum ease of use.
    Buck encourages the creation of small, reusable modules consisting of code and resources, and supports a variety of languages on many platforms.
    In a nutshell Jenkins CI is the leading open-source continuous integration server. Built with Java, it provides over 300 plugins to support building and testing virtually any project.
    See all alternatives