Using Abseil via CMake Installation Binaries

This document describes how to use prebuilt static libraries of Abseil within a CMake build environment. This is often how package managers will ship Abseil and also may cut down on your rebuild times. The Abseil footprint in this case will consist of the API header files, but instead of source code will only include Abseil’s pre-compiled libraries.

Initialize Your Project

Create a new directory, CMakeProject in your source directory:

$ mkdir ~/Source/CMakeProject/

This project will be injected with the Abseil prebuilt static libraries and header files.

Generate the Abseil Static Binaries

Clone Abseil into its own source directory.

# Change to the directory where you want to create the code repository
$ cd ~/Source
$ git clone
Cloning into 'abseil-cpp'...
remote: Total 1935 (delta 1083), reused 1935 (delta 1083)
Receiving objects: 100% (1935/1935), 1.06 MiB | 0 bytes/s, done.
Resolving deltas: 100% (1083/1083), done.

Now, invoke CMake to configuration its build, passing CMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX to instruct CMake to use the passed directory as its installation location instead of the current directory.

Although it might be tempting to install Abseil into a common location usable by multiple projects, it is unsafe and prone to One-Definition Rule (ODR) violations to install Abseil’s HEAD branch into a system install directory such as /usr/local.

$ cd abseil-cpp
$ mkdir build && cd build
$ cmake .. -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX=~/Source/CMakeProject/install
-- The C compiler identification is GNU 7.3.0
-- The CXX compiler identification is GNU 7.3.0
-- Build files have been written to: ~/Source/abseil-cpp/build

Finally, build Abseil, instructing CMake to use the aforementioned install location:

$ cmake --build . --target install
Scanning dependencies of target spinlock_wait
[  1%] Building CXX object absl/base/CMakeFiles/spinlock_wait.dir/internal/
-- Installing: ~/Source/CMakeProject/install/lib/libabsl_bad_variant_access.a

Notice how CMake automatically created CMakeProject/install in ~/Source. Header files will be generated within the install/include directory and compiled libraries will be built within the install/lib directory.

Create and Run Your Project

Navigate back to your project’s directory:

$ cd ~/Source/CMakeProject

Now, create a C++ file within your CMakeProject directory:

#include <iostream>
#include <string>
#include <vector>
#include "absl/strings/str_join.h"

int main() {
  std::vector<std::string> v = {"foo","bar","baz"};
  std::string s = absl::StrJoin(v, "-");

  std::cout << "Joined string: " << s << "\n";

Our CMakeLists.txt for this local project needs to be slightly different than the one we used in the CMake Quickstart – we use find_package to import Abseil’s targets from our local install directory.

cmake_minimum_required(VERSION 3.10)


# Abseil requires C++14

# Import Abseil's CMake targets
find_package(absl REQUIRED)


# Declare dependency on the absl::strings library
target_link_libraries(hello_world absl::strings)

Now create a build directory and invoke CMake to configure and build the project. Note how we set CMAKE_PREFIX_PATH to the install directory we installed Abseil into previously. This tells CMake where to look for the Abseil installation.

$ mkdir build && cd build
$ cmake .. -DCMAKE_PREFIX_PATH=~/Source/InstallProject/install
-- Build files have been written to: ~/Source/InstallProject/build
$ cmake --build . --target hello_world
[ 50%] Building CXX object CMakeFiles/hello_world.dir/
[100%] Linking CXX executable hello_world
[100%] Built target hello_world

We can now run our application:

$ ./hello_world
Joined string: foo-bar-baz

Congratulations! You’ve created your first binary using installed Abseil libraries!