MOOSE Build System


The MOOSE build system is a hierarchical Makefile based system. The idea is that no matter where you are in the hierarchy of MOOSE applications/modules/framework, simply typing make will rebuild everything that needs to be rebuilt. The basic way to build any MOOSE application is simply to do a:


within the application directory.

Consider an application named Frog that depends on two of the physics modules tensor_mechanics and heat_conduction. Typing make within the frog directory will automatically build framework, tensor_mechanics, heat_conduction and frog.

In addition, the Makefiles in the MOOSE system are designed for parallel building. Using the -j flag when running make will allow you to build much faster. For instance, if you have 8 processors in your workstation you can do:

make -j 8

This will cause make to spawn 8 compilation processes at the same time, compiling up to 8x faster than a serial compile.

Controlling The Process: Environment Variables

The MOOSE build system relies on environment variables for control over the build process. Here are some of the environment variables you can set and their effects:

  • METHOD: Set this to opt, dbg, oprof or devel to build executables with differing amounts of optimization and debugging capabilities. See the Method section below for more information.

  • METHODS: A set of space separated METHOD options. This should enumerate all of the ways you ever want to set METHOD

  • MOOSE_DIR: _Optional_. The directory where the MOOSE repository is. Usually the Makefile can find it unless you have very non-standard paths.

  • MOOSE_UNITY: defaults to true, set to false to turn off unity builds. For more information see the Build System Optimization section below.

  • MOOSE_HEADER_SYMLINKS: defaults to true, set to false to turn off header symlinking. This is an advanced option and there are very few reasons to disable this. You will likely notice a dramatic slowdown if you set this to false.

Build Methods (Creating "debug" Builds)

As mentioned above there are two environment variables that control what "type" of executable gets created: METHOD and METHODS. The executable that is ultimately created will have the $METHOD as a suffix like: something-$METHOD. The valid options are:

  • opt: (The default) Builds an optimized executable suitable for running calculations.

  • dbg: An executable meant for use in a debugger (like gdb or lldb). Will be very slow and not meant to be used on large problems

  • devel: Something in-between opt and dbg. Attempts to be faster but also does some more run-time checks (asserts and mooseAsserts)

  • oprof: Not normally used. Can be used for "code profiling": running your code with a utility like oprof, gprof, vtune, etc.

METHODS is used to specify the full set (space separated) of the above options that you will _ever_ want to used. It is used in the build of libMesh to build a libMesh library for each of the METHODS.

Build System Optimization

This is advanced information meant to inform you of optimizations that happen within the MOOSE build system. This is not necessary to understand how to use and build MOOSE.

There are two main build optimizations: "header symlinking" and "unity builds":

Header Symlinking

MOOSE and MOOSE-based application's include directories are organized into sub-directories for each system (such as kernels, bcs, auxkernels, etc.). There are currently ~30 different MOOSE systems, meaning that each application could potentially have 30+ directories to search for include files. In addition, applications can compose/use eachother and use the physics modules. Each time you add another application/module you're gaining another 30+ include directories.

This can lead to an "explosion" of include directory paths (application + 4 modules + framework = 180 paths!). This expansion of paths can lead to the compiler slowing down as each path needs to be searched at compile time to find a header.

To combat this, during the build phase a directory named build/header_symlinks is created for each application/module. All of the header files within that application/module are then symlinked into that directory. This means that each application/module you add only adds _one_ include directory (instead of 30), greatly speeding up the compilation process.

Unity Builds

Within the subdirectories underneath the src directory of a typical MOOSE-based application you will find definitions of multiple, closely-related objects in .C files. For instance in src/kernels you would be likely to find 10-15 Kernels that all inherit from Kernel.h. However, if we were to compile all of these files separately (as is commonly done) each of the #include trees would have to be found and compiled for each one of these files individually. In addition, each of these .C files would create a separate .o file that would ultimately need to be linked into the final library / application.

A different idea is to compile all of these files together, providing considerable savings for evaluating the #includes and ultimately just producing _one_ .o file to be linked. This can provide a huge savings in compile time. The following is showing timing for make -j 16 for various sets of applications/modules/framework on the Falcon computer at Idaho National Laboratory. It is plain to see how much time is saved by using both header symlinking and unity builds.

Compile speed on Falcon.

The way we achieve this in MOOSE is using the idea of "Unity Builds". A Unity Build compiles multiple .C files together by create a .C file that #includes all of the other .C files. In MOOSE this happens in a directory called build/unity_src in each application / module.

By default this behavior is on. To turn it off you can set MOOSE_UNITY=false in your environment. Further, an application can disable it permanently by putting MOOSE_UNITY := false at the top of their Makefile.

In addition you can also keep from unity building individual directories within your project. By default src and src/base are not unity built because they generally contain a mix of objects that don't benefit from being built simultaneously. To add to that list, set the app_non_unity_dirs variable in your Makefile before the include of like so:

app_non_unity_dirs = %/src/contrib/third_party_code %/src/contrib/other_non_unity_dir

include            $(FRAMEWORK_DIR)/

Make sure to prepend your directories with a % sign.

Revision Generation

The build process can generate C++ header files containing repository versioning information for use within your application. These header files are generated by default but can be disabled by setting a Make variable in your application's Makefile:

# must be set before the file is included
include      $(FRAMEWORK_DIR)/

The Revision file contains both a version string (git hash) and a revision string containing more detailed information or tagged information. Note that the name of your app will appear instead of "MOOSE" for your individual application: ` /* THIS FILE IS AUTOGENERATED - DO NOT EDIT */


#define MOOSE_REVISION "git commit f4abb66afa on 2018-03-07" #define MOOSE_VERSION "f4abb66afa"

#endif // MOOSE_REVISION_H `

Working with MOOSE's build system

MOOSE uses the the tried and true Unix standard build tools, GNU Make and GNU Autoconf. These tools are ubiquitous, reliable, and stable, where many other build systems are not. We believe that usability of tool includes the build process as well as the run-time experience and that philosophy shows in the way we've structured the Makefiles for building MOOSE-based applications.

MOOSE now includes a standard configure script for changing select configuration options in MOOSE and for finding optional libraries only necessary within MOOSE (not libMesh). If you find yourself needing to add a new library or new variable the best way to learn is to look at what we already have and go from there.


It's important to remember that running configure in MOOSE is completely optional. This is to maintain the status quo of not changing the developer workflow since MOOSE has historically not had a configure script. Additionally it means that users building a MOOSE-based applications will not have to go into the framework directory to run configure prior to building their application.

Building GNU Autotools

In general, we recommend that you do not install the GNU Autotools from your package manager. The reason for this is that different versions of the tools can make drastic changes to the generated outputs. libMesh has solved this problem by distributing the GNU Autotools with its source. To build libMesh's autotools, simply change directory into libMesh's root (normally moose/libmesh) and run the bootstrap script. This will build and install the autotools into libMesh's contrib directory:


You'll probably want to add the path above to your PATH.

Adding a new C-Preprocessor variable in MooseConfig.h

To add a new variable to MooseConfig.h, you'll first want to add the variable to using one of the variable definition macros such as "AC_DEFINE". After that, you'll run autoheader followed by autoconf.

Adding a new "make" variable

If you want to add an optional dependency to MOOSE that isn't already being handled by the libMesh build system, you'll want likely want to use the "AC_SUBST" macros after adding the appropriate logic to define those variables. You'll then edit the file. Note: Since MOOSE doesn't use automake, we don't generate a complete Makefile from running configure, rather we just optionally include "" into our normal Makefile when it exists. This makes it so that running "configure" is an optional step when building MOOSE or a MOOSE-based application.

File list

  • framework/ - This is the input file that is processed by "autoconf" to create the configure script. If you modify this file you will need to rerun autoconf to regenerate the configure script. If you defined a new variable (e.g. with AC_DEFINE), you will need to run autoheader then autoconf.

  • framework/include/base/ - This file is auto-generated from running autoheader.

  • framework/ - This file is where you put your new expansion expressions. Typically these are in the form of "@VARAIBLE@".