Configure a Linux CMake project

Visual Studio 2017 version 15.4 and later
When you install the Linux C++ workload for Visual Studio, CMake support for Linux is selected by default. You can now work on your existing code base that uses CMake without having to convert it to a Visual Studio project. If your code base is cross-platform, you can target both Windows and Linux from within Visual Studio.

This topic assumes you have basic familiarity with CMake support in Visual Studio. For more information, see CMake Tools for Visual C++. For more information about CMake itself, see Build, Test and Package Your Software With CMake.


The CMake support in Visual Studio requires the server mode support that was introduced in CMake 3.8. For a Microsoft-provided CMake variant that supports the CMake Targets View pane in Visual Studio, download the latest prebuilt binaries at If your package manager provides an older version than CMake 3.8, you can work around it by building CMake from source, or you prefer to use standard CMake, you can download it from the official CMake download page.

Open a folder

To get started, choose File > Open > Folder from the main menu or else type devenv.exe <foldername> on the command line. The folder you open should have a CMakeLists.txt file in it, along with your source code. The following example shows a simple CMakeLists.txt file and .cpp file:

// hello.cpp

#include <iostream>

int main(int argc, char* argv[])
    std::cout << "Hello from Linux CMake" << std::endl;


project (hello-cmake)
add_executable(hello-cmake hello.cpp)

Choose a Linux target

As soon as you open the folder, Visual Studio parses the CMakeLists.txt file and specifies a Windows target of x86-Debug. To target Linux, change the project settings to Linux-Debug or Linux-Release.

By default, Visual Studio chooses the first remote system in the list under Tools > Options > Cross Platform > Connection Manager. If no remote connections are found, you are prompted to create one.

After you specify a Linux target, your source is copied to your Linux machine. Then, CMake is run on the Linux machine to generate the CMake cache for your project.

Generate CMake cache on Linux

Visual Studio 2017 version 15.7 and later:
To provide IntelliSense support for remote headers, Visual Studio automatically copies them to a directory on your local Windows machine. For more information, see IntelliSense for remote headers.

Debug the project

To debug your code on the remote system, set a breakpoint, select the CMake target as the startup item in the toolbar menu next to the project setting, and choose ⏵ Start on the toolbar, or press F5.

To customize your program’s command line arguments, right-click on the executable in Solution Explorer and select Debug and Launch Settings. This opens or creates a launch.vs.json configuration file that contains information about your program. To specify additional arguments, add them in the args JSON array. For more information, see Open Folder projects in Visual C++.

Configure CMake settings for Linux

To change the default CMake settings, choose CMake | Change CMake Settings | CMakeLists.txt from the main menu, or right-click CMakeSettings.txt in Solution Explorer and choose Change CMake Settings. Visual Studio then creates a new file in your folder called CMakeSettings.json that is populated with the default configurations that are listed in the project settings menu item. The following example shows the default configuration for Linux-Debug based on the previous code example:

      "name": "Linux-Debug",
      "generator": "Unix Makefiles",
      "remoteMachineName": "${defaultRemoteMachineName}",
      "configurationType": "Debug",
      "remoteCMakeListsRoot": "/var/tmp/src/${workspaceHash}/${name}",
      "cmakeExecutable": "/usr/local/bin/cmake",
      "buildRoot": "${env.LOCALAPPDATA}\\CMakeBuilds\\${workspaceHash}\\build\\${name}",
      "installRoot": "${env.LOCALAPPDATA}\\CMakeBuilds\\${workspaceHash}\\install\\${name}",
      "remoteBuildRoot": "/var/tmp/build/${workspaceHash}/build/${name}",
      "remoteInstallRoot": "/var/tmp/build/${workspaceHash}/install/${name}",
      "remoteCopySources": true,
      "remoteCopySourcesOutputVerbosity": "Normal",
      "remoteCopySourcesConcurrentCopies": "10",
      "remoteCopySourcesMethod": "rsync",
      "remoteCopySourcesExclusionList": [".vs", ".git"],
      "rsyncCommandArgs" : "-t --delete --delete-excluded",
      "remoteCopyBuildOutput" : "false",
      "cmakeCommandArgs": "",
      "buildCommandArgs": "",
      "ctestCommandArgs": "",
      "inheritEnvironments": [ "linux-x64" ]

The name value can be whatever you like. The remoteMachineName value specifies which remote system to target, in case you have more than one. IntelliSense is enabled for this field to help you select the right system. The field remoteCMakeListsRoot specifies where your project sources will be copied to on the remote system. The field remoteBuildRoot is where the build output will be generated on your remote system. That output is also copied locally to the location specified by buildRoot. The remoteInstallRoot and installRoot fields are similar to remoteBuildRoot and buildRoot, except they apply when doing a cmake install. The remoteCopySources entry controls whether or not your local sources are copied to the remote machine. You might set this to false if you have a lot of files and you're already syncing the sources yourself. The remoteCopyOutputVerbosity value controls the verbosity of the copy step in case you need to diagnose errors. The remoteCopySourcesConcurrentCopies entry controls how many processes are spawned to do the copy. The remoteCopySourcesMethod value can be one of rsync or sftp. The remoteCopySourcesExclusionList field allows you to control what gets copied to the remote machine. The rsyncCommandArgs value lets you control the rsync method of copying. The remoteCopyBuildOutput field controls whether or not the remote build output is copied to your local build folder.

There are also some optional settings you can use for more control:

      "remotePreBuildCommand": "",
      "remotePreGenerateCommand": "",
      "remotePostBuildCommand": "",

These options allow you to run commands on the remote box before and after building, and before CMake generation. They can be any valid command on the remote box. Output is piped back to Visual Studio.

Build a supported CMake release from source

The minimum version of CMake required on your Linux machine is 3.8, and it must also support server mode. To verify this run this command:

cmake --version

To verify that server mode is enabled, run:

cmake -E capabilities

In the output, look for "serverMode":true. Note that even when you compile CMake from source as described below you should check the capabilities when done. Your Linux system may have limitations that prevent server mode from being enabled.

To get started building CMake from source in the shell for your Linux system, make sure your package manager is up to date, and that you have git and cmake available.

First, clone the CMake sources from the Microsoft CMake repo where we maintain a fork for Visual Studio's CMake support:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install -y git cmake
git clone
cd CMake

Next, to build and install the current release of CMake to /usr/local/bin, run these commands:

mkdir out
cd out
cmake ../
sudo make install

Next, run this command to verify the version is >= 3.8 and that server mode is enabled:

/usr/local/bin/cmake –version
cmake -E capabilities

See Also

Working with Project Properties
CMake Tools for Visual C++