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Posted 13 Mar 2019
Licenced CPOL

My God, It’s Full Of Stars: And then there was CMake

, 13 Mar 2019
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Welcome back at the 2nd part of the n-body-problem series. With the first post we had a short view on the equations of motion we need to calculate the position in space of a point mass. This time we need to conclude our equations and create a minimum project setup. I would like to use […]

Welcome back at the 2nd part of the n-body-problem series. With the first post we had a short view on the equations of motion we need to calculate the position in space of a point mass. This time we need to conclude our equations and create a minimum project setup. I would like to use CMake for project setup for two reasons.

  1. I would like to keep the project environment and IDE independent.
  2. I’m new to CMake and want to learn it since a couple of years

Let’s start and get back into our project. First of all we are still missing the equation to calculate the change of velocity a mass point is experiencing under acceleration.


Now we can start with our project setup. As a source of information how to use CMake I use the CMake documentation and a GitBook. First of all we define a CMake typical folder structure:

|   .gitignore
|   CMakeLists.txt             (1)
+---build                      (2)
+---cmake                      (3)
|       FindCatch.cmake
\---solver                     (4)
    |   CMakeLists.txt
    |       solver.h
    |       solver.cpp
    \---test                   (5)

Both folders, root and solver must contain a CMakeLists.txt (1)(4). The files solver.h/.cpp are containing only a dummy HelloWorld class to test and demonstrate the project structure and test (5) setup. The cmake folder provides all necessary Find*.cmake files we need to derive for our project all necessary external libraries.

Lets go through the different files in our basic project setup starting with root CMakeLists.txt.

cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 3.1...3.13)


project(gravity VERSION 0.1.0
    DESCRIPTION "N-Body-Problem project of"

find_package(Catch 2.6.0 REQUIRED)
    message(STATUS "Building interpreter tests using Catch v${CATCH_VERSION}")
    message(STATUS "Catch not detected. Interpreter tests will be skipped. Install Catch headers"
        " manually or use `cmake -DDOWNLOAD_CATCH=1` to fetch them automatically.")

add_library(Catch INTERFACE)

add_subdirectory(solver solver)

Line 1-5 is defining, according to modern-cmake, the range a CMake installation must fulfill for building the project. If the version of CMake is below version 3.12, cmake_policy is preserving backwards compatibility. Line 10-20 is adding the cmake folder to the module path needed to resolve external dependencies via find_package and Find*.cmake files. In case Catch2 can’t be found, it’s possible to download the testing library via -DDOWNLOAD_CATCH=1 parameter defined in FindCatch.cmake. In Line 22-25 we add the external Catch2 testing library with add_library and the parameter INTERFACE which ist telling CMake that the library is a pure header interface without any .lib or .a file. With target_include_directory we set where to find the Catch2 header. At the last two lines we are including CTest, which we can invoke after building the project to run our tests, and adding the subdirectory of our solver to the project. With add_subdirectory CMake knows where to search for additional CMakeLists.txt files.

Now let’s have a look at the solver’s CMakeLists.txt



target_link_libraries(solverTest Catch

add_test(NAME solverTest COMMAND solverTest)

First of all we have to tell CMake how our library is called, which type we want to have it and where it’s necessary implementation files are. In line 1-3 we see how this is done via add_library. The library needs also its headers which we include through target_include_directories and additional export them and its necessary header via the PUBLIC parameter. PUBLIC we need to use because we are also building a .lib or .a file which holds the implementation. Here we might need to extend the CMakeLists.txt later when we really exporting the library.

Now we have our minimal project setup which we can extend if it gets necessary. Additional we have a dummy library and a test project which is loading and executing the library. You can get the project at this state via GitHub. At line 8-12 we add the executable generated by Catch2 for running our solver specific tests. With add_executable we add the file which contains the main function, and all .cpp files which contain our tests. With target_link_libraries we link the solver library onto the test executable. The last two lines are enabling CTest and registering the test executable to tell CTest what to execute. You can build the project and run its test via the following commands:

mkdir build //(1) We need a build directory
cd build
cmake ..    //(2) Generating the the artifacts to build, if necesarry download Catch2 via -DDOWNLOAD_CATCH=1 parameter
make        //(3) Build the binaries on linux, for windows you might need different commands, e.g. msbuild gravity.sln for a visual studio based build
ctest //(4) Running tests


So that’s it for today’s post. We successfully setup a very small and basic project from where we can start to implement our n-body-problem project. If necessary I think it will be rather easy to extend it. Maybe we add later a Qt based UI to show us our calculation results. The next post we start to implement the solver and a couple of tests which we need to validate our solver is working and evolving the right way.

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This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)


About the Author

Team Leader KISSsoft AG
Switzerland Switzerland
Passionate C++ developer, mechanical engineer, Head of Software Development at KISSsoft AG and host of

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Comments and Discussions

Question[My vote of 2] Equation only for constant acceleration(constant net force) Pin
Art Braundmeier17-Mar-19 12:16
memberArt Braundmeier17-Mar-19 12:16 
Again, your equation in Part 2 for the velocity of a point mass is only applicable to the constant acceleration special case. Constant acceleration implies a constant net force.

In your case you are considering the classical expression for the gravitational force between two masses and that force depends on the separation distance of the two masses. Their mutual gravitational force is not constant unless the two masses are stationary.

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