PROJ RFC 7: Drop Autotools, maintain CMake


Mike Taves




Implementation target

PROJ 9.0

Last Updated



This RFC proposes to drop Autotools for PROJ 9.0, and to maintain CMake for build automation, testing and packaging. This will reduce the overall maintenance for PROJ and will enable the library to be integrated into other projects that use CMake.


Here is a short timeline of the build tools used for PROJ:

  • Throughout the mid-1990s, Gerald Evenden maintained a Unix build system with a few scripts (some derived from Autoconf), and Makefile templates.

  • In 2000, Frank Warmerdam wrote Autoconf and Automake configurations for PROJ 4.4.0.

  • This was followed by a NMake configuration to build PROJ 4.4.2 for Windows.

  • In 2014, a CMake build setup was introduced by Howard Butler for PROJ 4.9.0RC1. The CMake configuration was improved for the 4.9.1 release, but not considered at feature parity with the Autotools builds at the time.

  • The NMake build setup was removed for PROJ 6.0.0, as its functionality had been replaced by CMake.


The primary motivation in removing Autotools is to reduce the burden of maintaining multiple build configurations, which requires developers to be familiar with different tools and configuration files. There are several other benefits in maintaining a single build system:

  • Remove extra configuration and m4 macro files from source repository,

  • Simplify scripts used for running tests for CI services (GitHub Actions, TravisCI),

  • Reduce compilation time (and carbon footprint) used for testing on CI services,

  • Ease development effort, particularly with new contributors.

Why drop Autotools?

The GNU Build System or Autotools consist of a suite of tools including Autoconf and Automake, which can be used to build software on Unix-like systems. These tools are not cross-platform, and do not naively integrate with development environments on Microsoft Windows. Furthermore, the existing PROJ Autotools builds do not install the CMake configuration files required to find PROJ from other projects that use CMake (#2546).

Why use CMake?

CMake is an open source cross-platform tool for build automation, testing and packaging of software. It does not directly compile the software, but manages the build process using generators, including Unix Makefiles and Ninja among other command-based and IDE tools. The CMake software has been under active development since its origins in 2000. The CMake language is carefully developed with backwards-compatible policies that aim to provide consistent behaviour across different versions. CMake is currently the preferred build tool for PROJ for the following reasons:

  • It has existed in the PROJ code base since 2014, and is familiar to active PROJ contributors,

  • It can install configuration files that can be used by other software that use CMake to find PROJ for linking via find_package(),

  • CMake configurations are used in 3rd-party binary packages of PROJ, including conda-forge and vcpkg,

  • It can be used to build PROJ on all major operating systems and compiler combinations (where compatible),

  • It has integration with modern IDEs and tools, including Microsoft Visual Studio and Qt Creator.

Why not CMake?

Other modern cross-platform build systems exist, including Meson and Bazel, which have many advantages over CMake. However, they are currently not widely used by active PROJ contributors. This RFC should not restrict future build system configurations being introduced to PROJ, if they are proven to have advantages to CMake over time.

Potential impacts

Binary packagers that currently rely on Autotools would obviously need to transition building and testing PROJ with CMake. Issues related to multiarch builds of PROJ may become apparent, which can be patched and/or reported to PROJ developers. One feature of Autotools is that both static and dynamic (shared) libraries are built, which packagers may distribute. This feature is currently not set-up for PROJ, as it would need to be configured and built twice.

End-users that use binary packages of PROJ should not be impacted. PROJ should be discoverable via both pkg-config and CMake’s find_package(). Other projects that use Autotools will continue to work as expected, linking statically or dynamically to PROJ built by CMake.

Transition plan

If this proposal is approved, the following tasks should be completed:

  • Rewrite CI tests to only use CMake for packaging, building, testing, installation and post-install tests,

  • Remove files only used by Autotools, also update .gitignore,

  • Update documentation and HOWTORELEASE notes.

Related issues will be tracked on GitHub with a tag RFC7: Autotools→CMake.

Adoption status

The RFC was adopted on 2021-10-26 with +1’s from the following PSC members

  • Kristian Evers

  • Even Rouault

  • Howard Butler

  • Thomas Knudsen

  • Kurt Schwehr

  • Charles Karney

  • Thomas Knudsen