Visual Studio Project Generation for mozilla-central

August 28, 2012 at 12:00 PM | categories: Mozilla, Firefox, build system

I have very alpha support for Visual Studio project generation for mozilla-central that daring people can dogfood.

I want to emphasize that this is extremely alpha. Normally, I wouldn't release things as fragile as they are. But, I know Windows developers sorely miss Visual Studio, especially IntelliSense. The current Visual Studio projects support IntelliSense, so I want to get this in the hands of Windows developers ASAP.

The current directions for making this all work are a bit hacky. Things will change once things have matured. For now, please excuse the mess.

First, you will need to grab the code. If you use Git, set up a remote to my repository:

git remote add indygreg git://
git fetch indygreg

The branch of interest is build-splendid. I periodically rebase this branch on top of master. You have been warned.

You can switch to this branch:

git checkout -b build-splendid indygreg/build-splendid

Alternatively, you can squash it down to a single commit and merge it into your local branch. Once you've done that, you can record the SHA-1 of the commit and cherry-pick that wherever you like!

git merge --squash indygreg/build-splendid
git commit

In the current state, you need to build the tree or the Visual Studio projects will complain about missing files. It doesn't matter if you build the tree before or after Visual Studio projects are generated. But, we might as well get it out of the way. From your MozillaBuild environment, run:

./mach build

That should just work. If it doesn't, you may need to configure mach.ini. See my previous post on how to configure mach.ini. As a reference, my Windows config is:


configure_extra = --disable-webgl


source_directory = c:\dev\src\mozilla-central-git
object_directory = c:\dev\src\mozilla-central-git\objdir

Now, to generate Visual Studio project files:

./mach backendconfig visualstudio

That should take about a minute to finish. When it's done, it should have created objdir/msvc/mozilla.sln. You should be able to load that in Visual Studio!

You will need to regenerate Visual Studio project files when the build config changes. As a rule of thumb, do this every time you pull source. You don't need to perform a full build before you generate Visual Studio files (you do need to perform configure, however). However, if you have not performed a full build, Visual Studio may not be able to find some files, like headers generated from IDLs.

Please close the solution before regenerating the project files. If you don't, Visual Studio puts up a modal dialog for each project file that changed and you have to click through over a hundred of these. It's extremely frustrating. I'm investigating workarounds.

Current State

Currently, it only generates projects for C/C++ compilation (libraries). I still need to add support for IDL, headers, etc. However, each project has proper compiler flags, header search paths, etc. So, IntelliSense is happy and some things do manage to compile!

Many parts are broken and sub-par.

I've only tested on Visual Studio 2008. If you are running Visual Studio \2010, you can try to upgrade the solution. This may work. The backend supports generating solutions for different versions. But, I haven't tested things work on non-2008 and I don't want to expose untested behavior.

Compiling within Visual Studio works for some things. On my system, I get a lot of nullptr not defined errors. I'm not sure why. This will hopefully be worked out soon.

If you do manager to compile within Visual Studio, the output files don't go in the right places. So, if you do a build from the command-line, it will have to re-compile to pick up changes.

Project names are based on the name of the library they produce. I'm not sure if this is the best solution.

Project dependencies are not set up. They will be added later.

Projects for linking libxul or building firefox.exe are not yet provided. Along the same vein, debugging support is not built-in. I'm working on it.

Basically, IntelliSense works. You can now use Visual Studio as a rich editor. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction.

I'm anxious to hear if this works for other people. Please leave comments!