Toolchains are the new, experimental way to integrate with build systems in Conan. Recipes can define a toolchain() method that will return an object which can generate files from the current configuration that can be used by the build systems. Conan generators provide information about dependencies, while toolchains provide a “translation” from the Conan settings and options, and the recipe defined configuration to something that the build system can understand. A recipe that does not have dependencies does not need a generator, but can still use a toolchain.

A toolchain can be defined, among the built-ins toolchains, with an attribute:

toolchain = "cmake"


At the moment (Conan 1.26), the only available toolchain is the CMake one.

But in the more general case, and if it needs any specific configuration beyond the default one:

from conans import CMakeToolchain

def toolchain(self):
    tc = CMakeToolchain(self)
    # customize toolchain "tc"
    return tc

Toolchains have some important advantages:

  • They execute at conan install time. They generate files, not command line arguments, providing better reproducibility and debugging of builds.

  • They provide a better developer experience. The command line used by developers locally, like cmake ... will achieve the same build, with the same flags, as the conan build or the build that is done in the cache with a conan create.

  • They are more extensible and configurable.

The toolchains implement most of the build system logic, leaving the build helpers, like CMake(), doing less work, and acting basically as a high level wrapper of the build system. Many of the existing arguments, attributes or methds of those build helpers will not be available. Check the documentation of each toolchain to check the associated build helper available functionality.

from conans import CMakeToolchain, CMake

def toolchain(self):
    tc = CMakeToolchain(self)
    # customize toolchain "tc"
    return tc

def build(self):
    # NOTE: This is a simplified helper
    # Not all arguments attributes and methods might be available
    cmake = CMake(self)

Built-in toolchains