CLion IDE setup (experimental)

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

Using CLion with CMake

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.

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

First, install Bazel and build Drake with Bazel, following the Drake Bazel instructions. When using CLion with Bazel, it is especially important to make sure that ccache is never on your PATH when you run CLion, because CLion will cache the PATH aggressively. We do not yet have a proven technique for purging it.

Installing CLion and the Bazel Plugin

To use CLion with Bazel, we require an experimental plugin that the Bazel team supplies in source form only.

  1. Download and install CLion 2016.2.3 from the CLion previous releases. No other version of CLion is compatible with the Bazel plugin.
  2. Adjust your JVM options to increase CLion’s memory limits so that -Xms is 1024m and -Xmx is 8196m. The JVM options file location is platform-dependent:
    1. Linux: bin/clion64.vmoptions, in the CLion tarball.
    2. OS X: Contents/bin/clion.vmoptions, in the CLion app package.
  3. Clone the bazelbuild/intellij project from GitHub, and build the CLion plugin with bazel build --define=ij_product=clion-latest //clwb:clwb_bazel.
  4. Launch CLion, and install the Bazel plugin from disk. Open File > Settings. Select Plugins, then Install plugin from disk.... In the file browser, select bazel-genfiles/clwb/clwb_bazel.jar. Click “OK”.

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 and building symbols. This will take several minutes.

Building and Running Targets

To build all of Drake with default Bazel options, select Bazel > Make 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, then click OK. Launch the configuration 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.

Integrating External Tools with CLion

Code formatter settings

  1. Make sure you have installed clang-format (see Tools for Code Style Compliance)
  2. Go to File > Settings > Tools > External Tools
  3. Add an entry for clang-format with
    • Program: clang-format
    • Parameters (whole file): -i $FileName$
    • Parameters (current selection only): -lines $SelectionStartLine$:$SelectionEndLine$ -i $FileName$
    • Working directory : $FileDir$

Choose one or the other of the parameter settings. Now you can run this (manually) on any file using Tools > External Tools in the drop down menu. You can also add a keyboard shortcut.

You can also set the coding style 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

Integrating Cpplint in CLion

This will give you the ability to execute cpplint on a single file or the full project and have the result presented in the CLion console with each warning a clickable hyperlink.

Creating the External Tools

Run Cpplint on Single File
  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. Add the following values in the following fields:

    Name:Cpplint File
    Description:Apply cpplint to the current file.
    Working directory:
  5. Make sure that only the following Options are checked (the Synchronize files after execution is unnecessary because cpplint is a read-only operation):

    • Open Console
    • Main Menu
    • Editor Menu
    • Project views
  6. Click the Output Filters... button.

  7. Click the + sign to add a filter.

  8. 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:
  9. Click OK on the Edit filter dialog.

  10. Click OK on the Output Filters dialog.

Run CppLint on Full Project

Repeat the steps from creating the single-file version with the following differences:

  1. Set the fields as follows:

    Name:Cpplint Project
    Description:Apply cpplint to the entire project.
    Working directory:

Continue on with steps 5 to the end.


The external tools you’ve created can be exercised in one of several ways, depending on whether you’re doing a single-file or full-project operation.

To check a single file, select the file that you want to be worked on to be “active”. This can be done by clicking on the file so the cursor lies in the file, or by clicking on the file’s tab. The path to the active file will be displayed in the title bar.

Once the file is “active”, the Cpplint File External Tool can be invoked in two ways:

  1. Right-click on the document (or tab) and select External Tools > Cpplint File, or
  2. in the menu bar, select Tools > External Tools > Cpplint File

To check the whole project, in the menu bar, select Tools > External Tools > Cpplint Project. Alternatively, this can also be done through the right-click context menu.