Archive for the ‘Slides’ Category

Debugging Clang AST Matchers

April 16, 2019

Last week I flew to Brussels for EuroLLVM followed by Bristol for ACCU.

At both conferences I presented the work I’ve been doing to make it easier for regular C++ programmers to perform ‘mechanical’ bespoke refactoring using the clang ASTMatchers tooling. Each talk was prepared specifically for the particular audience at that conference, but both were very well received. The features I am working on require changes to the upstream Clang APIs in order to enable modern tooling, so I was traveling to EuroLLVM to try to build some buy-in and desire for those features.

I previously delivered a talk on the same topic about AST Matchers at code::dive 2018. This week I presented updates to the tools and features that I have worked on during the 6 months since.

One of the new features I presented is a method of debugging AST Matchers.

Part of the workflow of using AST Matchers is an iterative development process. For example, the developer wishes to find functions of a particular pattern, and creates and ever-more-complex matcher to find all desired cases without false-positives. As the matcher becomes more complex, it becomes difficult to determine why a particular function is not found as desired.

The debugger features I wrote for AST Matchers intend to solve that problem. It is now possible to create, remove and list breakpoints, and then enable debugger output to visualize the result of attempting to match at each location. A simple example of that is shown here.

When using a larger matcher it becomes obvious that the process of matching is short-circuited, meaning that the vertically-last negative match result is the cause of the overall failure to match the desired location. The typical workflow with the debugger is to insert break points on particular lines, and then remove surplus breakpoints which do not contribute useful output.

This feature is enabled by a new interface in the Clang AST Matchers, but the interface is also rich enough to implement some profiling of AST Matchers in the form of a hit counter.

Some matchers (and matcher sub-trees) are slower/more expensive to run than others. For example, running a matcher like `matchesName` on every AST node in a translation unit requires creation of a regular expression object, and comparing the name of each AST node with the regular expression. That may result in slower runtime than trimming the search tree by checking a parameter count first, for example.

Of course, the hit counter does not include timing output, but can give an indication of what might be relevant to change. Comparison of different trees of matchers can then be completed with a full clang-tidy check.

There is much more to say about both conferences and the tools that I demoed there, but that will be for a future log post. I hope this tool is useful and helps discover and debug AST Matchers!


Refactor with Clang Tooling at code::dive 2018

January 2, 2019

I delivered a talk about writing a refactoring tool with Clang Tooling at code::dive in November. It was uploaded to YouTube today:

The slides are available here and the code samples are here.

This was a fun talk to deliver as I got to demo some features which had never been seen by anyone before. For people who are already familiar with clang-tidy and clang-query, the interesting content starts about 15 minutes in. There I start to show new features in the clang-query interpreter command line.

The existing clang-query interpreter lacks many features which the replxx library provides, such as syntax highlighting and portable code completion:

It also allows scrolling through results to make a selection:

A really nice feature is value-based code-completion instead of type-based code completion. Existing code completion only completes candidates based on type-compatibility. It recognizes that a parameterCountIs() matcher can be used with a functionDecl() matcher for example. If the code completion already on the command line is sufficiently constrained so that there is only one result already, the code completion is able to complete candidates based on that one result node:

Another major problem with clang-query currently is that it is hard to know which parenthesis represents the closing of which matcher. The syntax highlighting of replxx help with this, along with a brace matching feature I wrote for it:

I’m working on upstreaming those features to replxx and Clang to make them available for everyone, but for now it is possible to experiment with some of the features on my Compiler Explorer instance on

I wrote about the AST-Matcher and Source Location/Source Range discovery features on my blog here since delivering the talk. I also wrote about Composing AST Matchers, which was part of the tips and tricks section of the talk. Over on the Visual C++ blog, I wrote about distributing the refactoring task among computers on the network using Icecream. My blogs on that platform can be seen in the Clang category.

All of that blog content is repeated in the code::dive presentation, but some people prefer to learn from conference videos instead of blogs, so this might help the content reach a larger audience. Let me know if there is more you would like to see about clang-query!

Composing AST Matchers in clang-tidy

November 20, 2018

When creating clang-tidy checks, it is common to extract parts of AST Matcher expressions to local variables. I expanded on this in a previous blog.

auto nonAwesomeFunction = functionDecl(

  , this);

  , this);

Use of such variables establishes an emergent extension API for re-use in the checks, or in multiple checks you create which share matcher requirements.

When attempting to match items inside a ForStmt for example, we might encounter the difference in the AST depending on whether braces are used or not.

#include <vector>

void foo()
    std::vector<int> vec;
    int c = 0;
    for (int i = 0; i < 100; ++i)

    for (int i = 0; i < 100; ++i) {

In this case, we wish to match the push_back method inside a ForStmt body. The body item might be a CompoundStmt or the CallExpr we wish to match. We can match both cases with the anyOf matcher.

auto pushbackcall = callExpr(callee(functionDecl(hasName("push_back"))));

    , this);

Having to list the pushbackcall twice in the matcher is suboptimal. We can do better by defining a new API function which we can use in AST Matcher expressions:

auto hasIgnoringBraces = [](auto const& Matcher)
    return anyOf(

With this in hand, we can simplify the original expression:

auto pushbackcall = callExpr(callee(functionDecl(hasName("push_back"))));

    , this);

This pattern of defining AST Matcher API using a lambda function finds use in other contexts. For example, sometimes we want to find and bind to an AST node if it is present, ignoring its absense if is not present.

For example, consider wishing to match struct declarations and match a copy constructor if present:

struct A

struct B
    B(B const&);

We can match the AST with the anyOf() and anything() matchers.

    , this);

This can be generalized into an optional() matcher:

auto optional = [](auto const& Matcher)
    return anyOf(

The anything() matcher matches, well, anything. It can also match nothing because of the fact that a matcher written inside another matcher matches itself.

That is, matchers such as


match ‘trivially’.

If a functionDecl() in fact binds to a method, then the derived type can be used in the matcher:


The optional matcher can be used as expected:

    , this);

Yet another problem writers of clang-tidy checks will find is that AST nodes CallExpr and CXXConstructExpr do not share a common base representing the ability to take expressions as arguments. This means that separate matchers are required for calls and constructions.

Again, we can solve this problem generically by creating a composition function:

auto callOrConstruct = [](auto const& Matcher)
    return expr(anyOf(

which reads as ‘an Expression which is any of a call expression or a construct expression’.

It can be used in place of either in matcher expressions:

        hasArgument(0, integerLiteral().bind("port_literal"))
    , this);

Creating composition functions like this is a very convenient way to simplify and create maintainable matchers in your clang-tidy checks. A recently published RFC on the topic of making clang-tidy checks easier to write proposes some other conveniences which can be implemented in this manner.

Embracing Modern CMake

November 5, 2017

I spoke at the ACCU conference in April 2017 on the topic of Embracing Modern CMake. The talk was very well attended and received, but was unfortunately not recorded at the event. In September I gave the talk again at the Dublin C++ User Group, so that it could be recorded for the internet.

The slides are available here. The intention of the talk was to present a ‘gathered opinion’ about what Modern CMake is and how it should be written. I got a lot of input from CMake users on reddit which informed some of the content of the talk.

Much of the information about how to write Modern CMake is available in the CMake documentation, and there are many presentations these days advocating the use of modern patterns and commands, discouraging use of older commands. Two other talks from this year that I’m aware of and which are popular are:

It’s very pleasing to see so many well-received and informative talks about something that I worked so hard on designing (together with Brad King) and implementing so many years ago.

One of the points which I tried to labor a bit in my talk was just how old ‘Modern’ CMake is. I recently was asked in private email about the origin and definition of the term, so I’ll try to reproduce that information here.

I coined the term “Modern CMake” while preparing for Meeting C++ 2013, where I presented on the topic and the developments in CMake in the preceding years. Unfortunately (this happens to me a lot with CMake), the talk was not recorded, but I wrote a blog post with the slides and content. The slides are no longer on the KDAB website, but can be found here. Then already in 2013, the simple example with Qt shows the essence of Modern CMake:

find_package(Qt5Widgets 5.2 REQUIRED)

add_executable(myapp main.cpp)
target_link_libraries(myapp Qt5::Widgets)

Indeed, the first terse attempt at a definition of “Modern CMake” and first public appearance of the term with its current meaning was when I referred to it as approximately “CMake with usage requirements”. That’s when the term gained a capitalized ‘M’ and its current meaning and then started to gain traction.

The first usage I found of “Modern CMake” in private correspondence was March 13 2012 in an email exchange with Alex Neundorf about presenting together on the topic at a KDE conference:

Hi Alex

Are you planning on going to Talinn for Akademy this year? I was thinking about sumitting a talk along the lines of Qt5, KF5, CMake (possibly along the lines of the discussion of ‘modern CMake’ we had before with Clinton, and what KDE CMake files could look like as a result).

I thought maybe we should coordinate so either we don’t submit overlapping proposals, or we can submit a joint talk.



The “discussion with Clinton” was probably this thread and the corresponding thread on the cmake mailing list where I started to become involved in what would become Modern CMake over the following years.

The talk was unfortunately not accepted to the conference, but here’s the submission:

Speakers: Stephen Kelly, Alexander Neundorf
Title: CMake in 2012 – Modernizing CMake usage in Qt5 and KDE Frameworks 5
Duration: 45 minutes

KDE Frameworks 5 (KF5) will mark the start of a new chapter in the history of KDE and of the KDE platform. Starting from a desire to make our developments more easy to use by 3rd parties and ‘Qt-only’ developers, the effort to create KF5 is partly one of embracing and extending upstreams to satisfy the needs of the KDE Platform, to enable a broadening of the user base of our technology.

As it is one of our most important upstreams, and as the tool we use to build our software, KDE relies on CMake to provide a high standard of quality and features. Throughout KDE 4 times, KDE has added extensions to CMake which we consider useful to all developers using Qt and C++. To the extent possible, we are adding those features upstream to CMake. Together with those features, we are providing feedback from 6 years of experience with CMake to ensure it continues to deliver an even more awesome build experience for at least the next 6 years. Qt5 and KF5 will work together with CMake in ways that were not possible in KDE 4 times.

The presentation will discuss the various aspects of the KDE buildsystem planned for KF5, both hidden and visible to the developer. These aspects will include the CMake automoc feature, the role of CMake configuration files, and how a target orientated and consistency driven approach could change how CMake will be used in the future.

There is a lot to recognize there in what has since come to pass and become common in Modern CMake usage, in particular the “target orientated and consistency driven approach” which is the core characteristic of Modern CMake.

CMake Daemon for user tools

January 24, 2016

I’ve been working for quite some time on a daemon mode for CMake in order to make it easier to build advanced tooling for CMake. I made a video about this today:

The general idea is that CMake is started as a long-running process, and can then be communicated with via a JSON protocol.

So, for example, a client sends a request like

  "type": "code_completion_at",
  "line": 50,
  "path": "/home/stephen/dev/src/cmake-browser/CMakeLists.txt",
  "column": 7

and the daemon responds with

Many more features are implemented such as semantic annotation, variable introspection, contextual help etc, all without the client having to implement it themselves.
Aside from the daemon, I implemented a Qt client making use of all of the features, and a Kate plugin to use the debugging features in that editor. This is the subject of my talk at FOSDEM, which I previewed in Berlin last week.
Come to my talk there to learn more!

Slides from April

June 15, 2009

I still had the slides lying around from my talk at the Linux Collaboration Summit back in April, so I thought I’d post them here.

The style and content is modified from Jos’ generic KDE4 presentation. The Pillars of KDE images were made by Kamaleshwar Morjal for a few years ago. Get them on Flickr in high res if you want to use them.