Previously, we mentioned that each LLVM backend has a separate directory with most of its code in llvm/lib/Target. Also, LLVM relies on CMake to generate the build files for an actual build system like Make, Ninja, etc. In this post, we will take a close look at some of the CMake build files.

NOTE: The code for the RISCW backend can be found here.

NOTE: Posts in this series:

  1. Introduction
  2. Getting Started
  3. Setting Up a New Backend
  4. Configuring the Build System
  5. Instruction Selection
  6. Arithmetic Instructions

Build Files in the Target Backend Directory

Recall that the RISCW backend has its own directory at llvm/lib/Target/RISCW. That directory, along with any subdirectory, has two build files, i.e. CMakeLists.txt and LLVMBuild.txt, that describe the structure of the backend module, provide linking information, etc. The RISCW backend is currently very simple, so the directory structure looks like this:

|- CMakeLists.txt
|- LLVMBuild.txt
|- Other C++, TableGen, etc files
|- TargetInfo/
|  |- CMakeLists.txt
|  |- LLVMBuild.txt
|  |- Other C++, TableGen, etc files
|- MCTargetDesc/
   |- CMakeLists.txt
   |- LLVMBuild.txt
   |- Other C++, TableGen, etc files

The CMakeLists.txt is nothing particularly special – every build system relying on CMake would have them.1 These file simply contain CMake commands to drive the generation of the build files. In LLVM backends the commands do things like indicating the C++ source files to compile or generating TableGen execution commands. The LLVMBuild.txt files are descriptions of the components in the current directory.

The LLVMBuild.txt

Lets look at the contents of llvm/lib/Target/RISCW/LLVMBuild.txt.

subdirectories = MCTargetDesc TargetInfo

type = TargetGroup
name = RISCW
parent = Target
has_asmprinter = 1

type = Library
name = RISCWCodeGen
parent = RISCW
required_libraries = AsmPrinter CodeGen Core MC RISCWDesc RISCWInfo
  SelectionDAG Support Target

add_to_library_groups = RISCW

This file tells the build system that the RISCW backend has two components. There is a top-level target called RISCW of type TargetGroup. This type is used by backend and the build system actually has some special treatment for them. Also, Target is the parent component of RISCW. Note that this naming matches the directory structure of LLVM backends i.e. llvm/lib/Target/RISCW. The name RISCW name is not arbitrary, it must match the definitions in the backend’s TableGen files.

LLVM backends can offer a range of optional features like assembly printing, assembly parsing, etc. The LLVMBuild.txt file indicates which features are supported. For example, the last line tells the build system that the RISCW backend only implements assembly printing.

NOTE: Take a look at the code from existing backends, like ARM or RISCV, to see what other features they enable besides has_asmprinter.

The LLVMBuild.txt file also defines a second component called RISCWCodeGen of type Library whose parent is RISCW. Also, RISCWCodeGen indicates what libraries it requires, e.g. AsmPrinter, CodeGen, etc; missing libraries give rise to linking errors when building LLVM.

Each subdirectory of llvm/lib/Target/RISCW also contains a LLVMBuild.txt file defining its own component with RISCW as a parent.

The CMakeLists.txt

Lets consider the contents of llvm/lib/Target/RISCW/CMakeLists.txt.


tablegen(LLVM -gen-register-info)
tablegen(LLVM -gen-instr-info)
# Other TableGen commands


# RISCWCodeGen should match with LLVMBuild.txt RISCWCodeGen
  # Other files

# Should match with "subdirectories =  MCTargetDesc TargetInfo" in LLVMBuild.txt

The set command at the top of the file defines LLVM_TARGET_DEFINITIONS to This file normally contains a few top-level definitions and pulls in other TableGen definitions by including other files – we will look more carefully at TableGen in later posts, but feel free to take a look at in the repository.

We then see a few tablegen commands in the CMake file. These tell the build system that it should create the RISCWGen*.inc files from *.td files in the backend using the TableGen utility. These RISCWGen*.inc files are actually conventional C++ code and you can find them in the build directory at build/lib/Target/RISCW after compiling LLVM; they can sometimes be useful for debugging if a little hard to read.

The next command, i.e. add_llvm_target, specifies the C++ files to build in the current directory, but not its subdirectories. The first argument to the add_llvm_target command is the name of the target and should match the component name defined in LLVMBuild.txt.

Lastly, the CMakeLists.txt contains commands indicating the subdirectories that CMake should look at. In the RISCW case, there are only two: TargetInfo and MCTargetDesc. The CMakeLists.txt in the subdirectories are similar, but a lot simpler!

NOTE: The naming convention of the files in the backend is often important and should obviously match the contents of the build files. For example, the set(LLVM_TARGET_DEFINITIONS CMake command requires that exists! Make sure you double-check these because the build errors can be a little cryptic.


  1. You can find more information about CMake here