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Setup C/C++#

The below was written for clangd, but much applies to cquery and ccls as well.


Build and install from source or download for your distribution. See the ccls wiki for more details.


To use clangd on Debian/Ubuntu, add the apt repositories described here. After that, install with e.g. apt install clang-tools-9. The clangd executable will have a version number suffix. For instance, clangd-9. You will thus have to adjust your "clients" dictionary in your user preferences.

To use clangd on Mac, use Homebrew: brew install llvm. The clangd executable will be present in /usr/local/Cellar/llvm/version/bin You probably need to install the Xcode developer command-line tools. Run the following in a terminal:

xcode-select --install
And if you're on macOS 10.14, also run the following to install essential headers like wchar_t.h:
open /Library/Developer/CommandLineTools/Packages/macOS_SDK_headers_for_macOS_10.14.pkg

To use clangd on Windows, install LLVM with the LLVM installer, and then add C:\Program Files\LLVM\bin to your %PATH%.

Compilation database#

For any project of non-trivial size, you probably have a build system in place to compile your source files. The compilation command passed to your compiler might include things like:

  • Include directories,
  • Define directives,
  • Compiler-specific flags.


Like any language server, clangd works on a per-file (or per-buffer) basis. But unlike most other language servers, it must also be aware of the exact compile flags that you pass to your compiler. For this reason, people have come up with the idea of a compilation database. At this time, this is just a simple JSON file that describes for each translation unit (i.e. a .cpp, .c, .m or .mm file) the exact compilation flags that you pass to your compiler.

It's pretty much standardized that this file should be called compile_commands.json. clangd searches for this file up in parent directories from the currently active document. If you don't have such a file present, most likely clangd will spit out nonsense errors and diagnostics about your code.

As it turns out, CMake can generate this file for you if you pass it the cache variable -DCMAKE_EXPORT_COMPILE_COMMANDS=ON when invoking CMake. It will be present in your build directory, and you can copy that file to the root of your project. Make sure to ignore this file in your version control system.

If you are using a make-based build system, you could use compiledb to generate a compile_commands.json.

Since header files are (usually) not passed to a compiler, they don't have compile commands. So even with a compilation database in place, clangd will still spit out nonsense in header files. You can try to remedy this by enhancing your compilation database with your header files using this project called compdb.

To generate headers with compdb, read this closed issue.

You can also read about attempts to address this on the CMake issue tracker, along with the problem of treating header files as translation units.


Another way to let your language server know what the include dirs are is by hand-writing a compile_flags.txt file in your source root. Each line is one flag. This can be useful for projects that e.g. only have a Visual Studio solution file. For more information, see these instructions. Creating this file by hand is a reasonable place to start if your project is quite simple.