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Porting C++ programs from Linux to Windows using vcpkg, CMake, and Visual Studio

2 min read (486 words)


Recently I had to reinstall Windows to debug a hardware issue. I decided to try to make the most of this by trying to build [my game]( on Windows.

Recently I had to reinstall Windows to debug a hardware issue. I decided to try to make the most of this by trying to build my game on Windows.

Installing vcpkg #

First, you need to clone vcpkg. I installed the git bash program from the git website

git clone
cd vcpkg

Next, you need to decide whether to install 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) dependencies, or both, then run one or both of the following commands:

VCPKG_DEFAULT_TRIPLET=x86-windows ./vcpkg.exe install DEPS
VCPKG_DEFAULT_TRIPLET=x64-windows ./vcpkg.exe install DEPS

where DEPS is a space-deliminated list of package names.

You can search for packages like so:

./vcpkg.exe search query

If you’re unable to find a dependency, you may have to write your own “port” file to add it to vcpkg.

Finally, to let Visual Studio know about the dependencies, run this:

./vcpkg.exe integrate install

Building #

Toolchain #

Import your program into Visual Studio as a cmake project. When generating the CMake cache, you’ll probably receive “not found” errors.

Right click on CMakeLists.txt and select “Open CMake Settings”. A file called CMakeSettings.json should appear, with content like the following:

  "configurations": [
      "name": "x64-Release",
      "generator": "Ninja",
      "configurationType": "RelWithDebInfo",
      "inheritEnvironments": [
      "buildRoot": "${env.USERPROFILE}\\CMakeBuilds\\${workspaceHash}\\build\\${name}",
      "installRoot": "${env.USERPROFILE}\\CMakeBuilds\\${workspaceHash}\\install\\${name}",
      "cmakeCommandArgs": "",
      "buildCommandArgs": "-v",
      "ctestCommandArgs": ""

Add the vcpkg toolchain file to cmakeCommandArgs

"cmakeCommandArgs": "-DCMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=\"C:\\Users\\ruben\\vcpkg\\scripts\\buildsystems\\vcpkg.cmake\""

Clear the CMake cache by doing CMake > Delete Cache Folders > CMakeLists.txt, then click the Generate button on the CMake changes detected banner.

This should be enough to get Visual Studio to find the dependencies, but I found that this wouldn’t work when you have custom CMake find files which probably don’t support the toolchain.

Explicit dependency paths #

I’ve yet to find out how to modify the find modules to use vcpkg’s toolchain cleanly, but in the meantime I set the directories manually by adding CMake flags and environment variables.

You should prefer more general settings to individual include/lib settings. For example, findX.cmake files may allow you to specify a single environment variable to the install root instead of separate X_INCLUDE_DIR and X_LIBRARY CMake variables. This is shown below, with ENETDIR and SFML_ROOT. Don’t be too afraid to modify any embedded find scripts to support environment variables.

  "environments": [
      "ENETDIR": "C:\\Users\\ruben\\vcpkg\\installed\\x64-windows",
      "SFML_ROOT": "C:\\Users\\ruben\\vcpkg\\installed\\x64-windows",
      "SFGUI_ROOT": "C:\\Users\\ruben\\vcpkg\\installed\\x64-windows",
      "THOR_ROOT": "C:\\Users\\ruben\\vcpkg\\installed\\x64-windows",
      "LUA_ROOT": "C:\\Users\\ruben\\vcpkg\\installed\\x64-windows"
  "configurations": [
      "cmakeCommandArgs": "-DCMAKE_TOOLCHAIN_FILE=\"C:\\Users\\ruben\\vcpkg\\scripts\\buildsystems\\vcpkg.cmake\""

Note that you may need to clear the CMake cache and regenerate for changes to take affect.

Common mistakes #

Console program vs Windows program #

By default, MSVC will compile your program as a console program. This mode results in Windows allocating and showing a console for you when starting the program up. This console will require a redraw on every std::cerr or std::cout print, resulting in massive performance issues.

If you program shows a graphical window, then you should change it to a Windows program.

There are three methods to do this.

  1. The first option is to set the executable type to WIN32 in CMake:

        add_executable(${EXECUTABLE_NAME} WIN32 ${SRC})
        add_executable(${EXECUTABLE_NAME} ${SRC})
  2. Second, by setting linker flags using CMake:

  3. The final option is to set the linker flags using a pragma directive:

    #ifdef _WIN32
        #pragma comment(linker, "/SUBSYSTEM:WINDOWS /ENTRY:mainCRTStartup")

The ENTRY parameter allows you to use the standard main() entrypoint instead of the non-standard WinMain(). You may need to clear and regenerate the CMake cache.

Profit! #

Hopefully that should be enough to get it work. Please contact me if you know of any ways to make this cleaner or more robust.


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