Visualizing CMake Project Dependencies with Graphviz

When working on a large-scale C++ project with multiple dependencies, it can be challenging to understand the relationships between different components and libraries. Thankfully, CMake provides a nifty feature to visualize these dependencies using Graphviz, a widely-used open-source graph visualization software. Using CMake’s --graphviz option and the dot command from Graphviz is a powerful way to visualize C++ project dependencies.

In this post, we’ll walk through the process of generating a dependency graph for a CMake project using Graphviz. This will help you better understand your project’s structure and dependencies, making it easier to manage and maintain your codebase.

Install Graphviz

First, ensure that you have Graphviz installed on your system. You can download it from the official Graphviz website or install it using a package manager, such as apt or brew, depending on your operating system.

Generate the Dependency Graph

Navigate to your project’s build directory and run the following command to generate a Graphviz dot file representing your project’s dependencies:

cmake ..

This command will analyze your CMake configuration and create a .dot file ( in our example) containing a textual description of your project’s dependency graph.

Convert the Dot File to an Image

Next, use the dot command-line tool from Graphviz to convert the file into a PNG image:

dot -Tpng > dep.png

This command will output a PNG image (dep.png) that represents the dependency graph of your CMake project.

Analyze the Dependency Graph

Now that you have a visual representation of your project’s dependencies, you can open the generated dep.png file using your favorite image viewer. The graph will display nodes representing the components and libraries in your project, with arrows indicating their dependencies.

By analyzing the graph, you can gain insights into your project’s structure, such as identifying circular dependencies or opportunities to refactor the code for better modularity. By understanding your project’s structure better, you can make more informed decisions regarding code organization and maintenance.

One comment:

  1. Convert to svg file would be better. Which keeps the picture sharp. Especially for large projects.

    dot -Tsvg > dep.svg

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