CLion IDE setup

This guide describes how to set up Drake in the JetBrains CLion IDE. It is assumed that drake-distro is already installed.

Using CLion with CMake

(We recommend using Bazel rather than CMake; see instructions below. CAUTION: the latest Bazel plugin (version 2017. does not necessarily work with the latest CLion. We have tested it up to CLion 2017.1.3 and it does not currently work with CLion 2017.2)

Installing CLion

  1. Go to Download the latest version of CLion. For OSX, choose the version with bundled custom JDK.
  2. Install CLion. Exact steps depend on your platform, but it’s straightforward. Just using defaults for everything is fine. You now have a 30-day trial version of CLion. Either try it out as is, or get a free academic license here.

Upgrading CLion

Users upgrading from a previous version of CLion should do the following:

  1. To have your Unity launcher CLion icon point to the correct version, run locate jetbrains-clion.desktop and edit the located file. If more than one file is located, you may want to consolidate to a single launch file in your user directory, typically ~/.local/share/applications.
  2. Uninstall the previous version of the Bazel plugin and update to the latest version. See Installing the Bazel Plugin.
  3. CLion 2017.1.3 users, confirm that you are using Bazel plugin 2017.05.02 and Bazel version 0.5.2.

Note: It is not necessary to import your project into a new CLion project. Overwriting the old project is appropriate (i.e., the directory likely located in ~/ClionProjects/project-name).

Setting up Drake in CLion

We’ll set up CLion to build Drake only. The dependencies will just be built from the command line. It is assumed Drake was cloned into a drake-distro directory as described in the installation instructions.

  1. Build Drake from the command line.
  2. In the Welcome to CLion screen, click Import Project from Sources. Or from the menu File > Import Project...
  3. Browse and select drake-distro/drake and click OK.
  4. When asked whether to overwrite the existing CMakeLists.txt, just click Open Project.
  5. Go to CLion Preferences (on OSX, CLion-EAP > Preferences, on Ubuntu, File > Settings...). Note that this preferences window comprises both global settings and project-specific settings (as noted by the text ‘for current project’ on some of the preference pages).
  6. Browse to Build, Execution, Deployment > CMake.
  7. Under CMake Options, fill in -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX=/absolute_path_to_your/drake-distro/build/install.
  8. [This step only for Ubuntu 14.04 - Trusty]. Under CMake Options expand the tab Pass system environment. Add the following environment variables. (You can copy these from this documentation one at a time and click on the paste button at the right of the environment variables dialog.)
    • CC=gcc-4.9
    • CXX=g++-4.9
    • FC=gfortran-4.9
  9. Click OK. CLion will take about a minute to reload the CMake Project. If everything is in order, there should be no errors or warnings. For fun, check out the cache pane in the CMake tool window (the CMake icon in the lower left corner of the workspace); it’s pretty handy.
  10. If CLion asks you about unregistered VCS roots, you can just add them.


To build Drake (and only Drake, this assumes that dependencies were already built!):

  1. Go to Run > Edit Configurations.
  2. Select ‘Build All’ and click OK.
  3. Click Run > Build (or use the keyboard shortcut).

Note that it’s possible to select any CMake target you want from the Edit Configurations menu. This can come in very handy when you want to quickly iterate on a e.g. a specific executable without building all of Drake all the time.

Running a C++ executable

  1. Go to Run > Run...
  2. Click an executable, or start typing to find your favorite executable and hit enter.

Debugging .mex functions in OSX

  1. Go to Run > Edit Configurations
  2. Click the + in the top left corner to create a new Run/Debug Configuration.
  3. Name it Matlab
  4. Use All targets as the Target
  5. For Executable, click on the drop-down menu, scroll all the way down and click Select Other...
  6. Browse to your Matlab executable. For OSX you can just use Applications/ or something similar.
  7. As the working directory, use drake-distro/drake.
  8. Under Environment Variables, add a variable GRB_LICENSE_FILE and set it to the absolute path of your Gurobi license file. If you don’t do this, Gurobi will not be able to find the license file since Gurobi relies on either the GRB_LICENSE_FILE or the HOME environment variable (if the license file is in the default location) to find it.
  9. Leave everything else as is. Click OK to save the Run/Debug Configuration.
  10. Click Run > Debug Matlab.
  11. Once CLion is done building and you’re in the Debug pane, click the Debugger tab and then the LLDB subtab.
  12. Enter the following: process handle -p true -n false -s false SIGSEGV SIGBUS (taken from and hit enter.
  13. Click Resume Program (play button) twice. Matlab should start up. Once it’s started, you can run whatever Matlab code you like. You can set breakpoints in the C++ code in CLion, and if that code is called from Matlab and the breakpoint is hit, you’ll be able to step through in CLion and inspect variables.

Note: if Matlab asks for activation, you’ll need to copy the license (.lic) file from ~/.matlab/R2014b_licenses (or whatever version of Matlab you have) to the licenses subfolder of your Matlab installation (e.g. /Applications/ If the licenses subfolder does not exist, create it.

Using CLion with Bazel

(See note above about CLion versions compatible with Bazel.)

First, install Bazel and build Drake with Bazel, following the Drake Bazel instructions.

A Note About Environment Variables

CLion forwards environment variables to the processes it launches, including the Bazel client and server. We have a number of Bazel repository rules that consult environment variables, especially PATH, to locate external dependencies. Therefore, some care is necessary to make sure CLion is launched with the environment you actually want!

Ubuntu users will generally get good behavior by default, because apt installs binaries in reasonable, standard paths, and because most CLion launch mechanisms will have already sourced the .bashrc.

OS X users will get broken behavior by default. When you run an OS X app graphically, the parent process is launchd (PID 1), which provides its own standard environment variables to the child process. In particular, it provides a minimal PATH that does not include /usr/local/bin, where most Homebrew executables are installed. Consequently, the Bazel build will fail to find Homebrew dependencies like glib, pkg-config, and gfortran.

The simplest solution is not to launch CLion graphically. Instead, configure your shell environment properly in .bashrc, and launch CLion from the command line:


If you strongly prefer clicking on buttons, you might be able to configure the launchd environment using launchctl, but this process is finicky. We have no reliable recipe for it yet.

Installing the Bazel Plugin

To use Bazel in CLion, you must install a plugin supplied by Google. The plugin requires CLion 2016.3 or later. To install the plugin, open File > Settings, select Plugins, and press the Browse repositories button. Locate and install the CLion with Bazel plugin. You will be prompted to restart CLion.

Setting up Drake in CLion

CLion will invoke Bazel to build Drake, including the external dependencies specified in the WORKSPACE file.

  1. File > Import Bazel Project
  2. Select Workspace: Use an existing Bazel workspace, and provide the path to your drake-distro directory.
  3. (Sometimes) Select Bazel Executable: If prompted, specify the path to your Bazel executable. The default is probably correct.
  4. Select Project View: choose “Import from workspace”, and select the file drake-distro/.bazelproject
  5. Project View: Pick a project data directory of your choice for the CLion project files. It must not be a subdirectory of drake-distro.
  6. (Advanced) Project View: If you only wish to develop a subset of Drake, you can specify only those files and targets in the project view file. Most users should leave it as-is.
  7. Click “Finish”. CLion will begin ingesting the Drake source, building symbols, and compiling Drake. This will take several minutes.

Building and Running Targets

To build all of Drake with default Bazel options, select Bazel > Build > Compile Project.

To build or run a specific target go to Run > Edit Configurations. Click + to create a new Bazel command. Specify the configuration name and Bazel options. The Target expression specifies the actual code (library, binary, and/or test) that you want to run. To learn more about target expressions, see the Bazel manual <> _. Once you’ve created a configuration, you can launch it from the Run menu.

To run a specific target in the debugger, create a configuration as above, using the bazel run command. Then launch it from Run > Debug.

Keeping CLion Up-to-Date with the Bazel Build

Changes to BUILD files can add or remove source files from the Bazel build. To propagate those changes into the CLion project structure, select Bazel > Sync Project With BUILD Files.

Git Integration

CLion provides a user interface for Git, which you can enable in the VCS menu. It automatically detects all Git roots within the workspace. This will include bazel-drake-distro, which is a Bazel-internal detail. Bazel edits the contents of that directory for its own purposes, and those changes will spuriously appear in the CLion UI as changes that need to be committed. To make CLion ignore bazel-drake-distro, enable Git integration under the VCS tab, then go to File > Settings. Select the Version Control menu item directly (not one of the subtopics displayed when that item is expanded). You will see a list of all the Git root directories. Look for bazel-drake-distro on that list and select it. On the right hand side are + and - buttons; click - to remove the spurious root directory. After that you should be able to go to VCS > Commit Changes and there should be no changes seen.

Integrating External Tools with CLion

CLion provides a mechanism for invoking external binaries/scripts/etc. with parameters derived from the CLion GUI. Below, we outline a number of common tools to aid with compliance with the Drake style guide. The work to create a new external tool is the same in all cases; only the specific tool settings differ from tool to tool. We’ll outline the general work here and provide per-tool details below.

  1. Open the Settings dialog (File > Settings) or Alt+Ctrl+S.
  2. Navigate to Tools > External Tools.
  3. Click the + sign to add a new tool.
  4. Set the appropriate fields in the Edit Tool. See the following tools for details.
  5. Click Ok.

There are several ways to use an External Tool. One is to right-click on a file and select External Tools > Tool Name. Another is to select Tools > External Tools > Tool Name. For tools that operate on a selected file, make sure that file is “active” by clicking on it. The Tool Name will be the value set in the Name field outlined below.

Formatting files

You can use clang format to modify the formatting of your file in the GUI. We’ll introduce three variants:

  • Apply clang-format to a whole file.
  • Apply clang-format to selected lines.
  • Apply clang-format to correct #include ordering.

These tools modify the selected file. There is a synchronization issue with CLion such that the modification may not be immediately apparent. When in doubt, select away from the target file and back; this will cause the file to refresh and you can confirm that the file has been modified as expected.

First, make sure you have installed clang-format (see Tools for Code Style Compliance).

Clang format selected file

Open the Edit Tool for external tools as outlined above and enter the following values for the fields:

Name:Clang Format Full File
Description:Apply clang-format to the active file
Parameters:-i $FileName$
Working directory:

Leave the checkbox options in their default state.

Clang format selected lines

Open the Edit Tool for external tools as outlined above and enter the following values for the fields:

Name:Clang Format Selected Lines
Description:Apply clang-format to the selected lines
Parameters:-lines $SelectionStartLine$:$SelectionEndLine$ -i $FileName$
Working directory:

Leave the checkbox options in their default state.

Correct #include ordering

Open the Edit Tool for external tools as outlined above and enter the following values for the fields:

Name:Clang Format Include Ordering
Description:Runs the clang format for correcting includes on the current file
Parameters:run //drake/tools:clang-format-includes -- $FilePath$
Working directory:

Leave the checkbox options in their default state.

“Linting” files

“Linting” refers to using tools to find aspects of code which don’t conform to specified coding practices. You can apply Drake’s linting tools in CLion to find such issues. We’ll define two tools:

  • General linting (via cpplint) which captures most of the Drake style guide.
  • Drake extended linting which captures aspects of the Drake style guide _not_ captured by the general linting tool. This includes detecting out-of-order #include directives.

These tools produce reports. In some cases, the reports can be automatically converted into clickable links so that you can click on a messsage and be taken to the file and line indicated in the message. The configuration instructions include the details of how to configure these clickable links.

You can also set the general coding style for CLion through the following steps

  1. Go to File > Settings > Editor > Code Style
  2. On the right panel, Go to Default Options > Right margin (columns): Set it to 80
  3. Go to File > Settings > Editor > Code Style > C/C++
  4. On the right panel, choose Set from > Predefined Style > Google

Lint selected file for google style guide

Open the Edit Tool for external tools as outlined above and enter the following values for the fields:

Name:Cpplint File
Description:Apply cpplint to the current file
Parameters:run @google_styleguide//:cpplint -- --output=eclipse $FilePath$
Working directory:

To configure the clickable links:

  1. Click the Output Filters... button.
  2. Click the + sign to add a filter.
  3. Add the following values in the following fields (and click “OK):
Name:Extract Links
Description:Convert file/line references into clickable links.
Regular expression to match output:
  1. Click OK on the Edit filter dialog.
  2. Click OK on the Output Filters dialog.

Lint selected file for Drake style addenda

This tool is a supplement to the google style cpplint. It tests for additional style requirements which are otherwise missed by the general tool. The primary reason to run this is to confirm that the order of the #include statements is correct.

Open the Edit Tool for external tools as outlined above and enter the following values for the fields:

Name:Drake Lint File
Description:Apply drake lint to the current file
Parameters:run //tools:drakelint -- $FilePath$
Working directory:

In the event of finding a lint problem (e.g., out-of-order include files), the CLion output will contain a single clickable link. This link is only the first error encountered in the include section; there may be more. The link merely provides a hint to the developer to see the problem area. Rather than fixing by hand, we strongly recommend executing the Clang Format Include Ordering external tool on the file.

Alternative linting configuration

The linting tools have been configured to use the bazel system. The advantage in doing so is that it guarantees that the tools are built prior to being used. However, bazel only allows one instance of bazel to run at a time. For example, if building Drake in a command-line window, it would be impossible to lint files at the same time.

The work around is to change the configurations to execute the binaries directly. This approach generally works but will fail if the corresponding bazel targets have not been built. The tools would need to be built prior to execution.

With this warning in place, you can make the following modifications to the linting tools to be able to lint and compile simultaneously.

Google style guide linting

Change the following fields in the instructions given above:

Parameters:--output=eclipse $FilePath$

Building the google styleguide lint tool:

bazel build @google_styleguide//:cpplint

Drake style addenda

Change the following fields in the instructions given above:


Building the drake addenda lint tool:

bazel build //tools:drakelint