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If you're familiar with make utility, SCons is a replacement for it. As the make utility looks for a Makefile, SCons looks for a SConstruct file by default. SConstruct file is a Python script. Note that you do not have to know Python or make for basic operation with this build tool.

See SconsProcessOverview for a high level view of SCons processing.

SConstruct and Environment

SCons main file is the SConstruct file. When calling the scons script, it will automatically search for this file in the current directory.

All SCons API are available for usage from SConstruct, including the Environment class.

You must first instantiate this class (this is not strictly required, but you'll need it sooner or later, so best do it right away):

env = Environment()

This sets up a basic environment. Afterwards, you can set up build targets.

env.Program(target='bar', source=['foo.c'])

This will make a program 'bar' from source file 'foo.c'.

For more complex programs you must set up a more specialized environment. For example, setting up the flags the compiler will use, include directories, etc.

To do that you can specify named parameters such as CCFLAGS for C files or CPPFLAGS for the C++ Preprocessor. More of these can be seen below in this article and also in the Configuration File Reference section of the man page.


# directly when constructing your Environment
env = Environment(CCFLAGS='-O3')

# ... or appending it later

Some parameters require specific lists, such as the source list. Reading the Configuration File Reference should be very helpful.

Specifying A Default Target

An important note is the Default command. It tells scons what to build by default. It will not build anything unless you specify a target otherwise.

t = env.Program(target='bar', source=['foo.c'])

You can call Default many times to add to the default target list.

Tip: You can pass the target name to Default(), but Steven Knight (author of SCons) recommends that you use the return value from your target as the default value instead of specifying the name. He explains it best: "The only stylistic suggestion I'll make is that if you use the object returned by env.Program as the input to Default(), then you'll be more portable, since you won't have to worry about whether the generated program will have a .exe suffix or not."

Some Common tasks

A few common tasks are shown below. (Note that, although these examples mostly use 'Append', you can also specify the same information by using the same flags when calling e.g. Program())

Add flags from a config

env.ParseConfig('pkg-config --cflags glib-2.0')

Add header search path

env.Append(CPPPATH = ['/usr/local/include/'])

Add compile-time flags

env.Append(CCFLAGS = ['-g','-O3'])

Add define


Add define with value (e.g. -DRELEASE_BUILD=1)

env.Append(CPPDEFINES={'RELEASE_BUILD' : '1'})

Add library search path

env.Append(LIBPATH = ['/usr/local/lib/'])

Add libraries to link against

env.Append(LIBS = ['SDL_image','GL'])

Link time flags

env.Append(LINKFLAGS = ['-Wl,--rpath,/usr/local/lib/'])

Building a more complex program that the example outlined above from several source files can be done the following way:

sources = [ 'main.cpp', 'utils.cpp', 'gui.cpp' ]
env.Program(target = 'a.out', source = sources)

SConscript and variant dir

Most of the time you will want to do hierarchical builds, giving the responsability of building a particular module/library/subprogram to a subscript rather than stuffing everything in to the SConstruct file. In SCons this kind of script is called a SConscript.

In order to keep the build clean, each SConscript will usually produce its build targets in a different variant directory. By doing this, sources and produced targets for a given configuration are separated from other configurations.

A typical example is building the same targets in release and debug modes:

SConscript('SConscript', variant_dir='build_release', duplicate=0, exports={'MODE':'release'})
SConscript('SConscript', variant_dir='build_debug',   duplicate=0, exports={'MODE':'debug'})