Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Using KDevelop to develop FreeCAD

Some hard core people bring themselves to use just a text editor, whether its VIM, or a standard desktop editor from Kate, GEdit. These have their places but when you're learning programming or working with large project, it's much quicker to have syntax highlighting/checking and code hinting so that you don't have to trudge through programming documentation. The additional tools for compiling make life much easier too.

One option is to look at the DOXYGEN documentation for FreeCAD. It's seldom used because its both incomplete and it's difficult to navigate without knowing what you're explicitly looking for.

For c++ programming, there are two alternatives, either QtCreator or KDevelop atleast on Linux unless someone can name some viable alternatives. Admittedly QtCreator is very good and is feature complete, for some reason it is incompatible (at least momentarily) importing projects using CMake (a build system). This essentially means you cannot read the source project tree and get useful programming hints, which without I think makes learning FreeCAD much more difficult.

Once you've installed KDevelop, it's very easy to configure the compiler settings. It's in built debugger is extraordinary especially for a newbie to diagnose crashes and above all is built in. The syntax highlighting and code hinting is generally good too. My only dissatisfaction is that sometimes it gets into the habit of crashing, but it's not a problem since it can recover unsaved files.

Here's a quick guide to help you getting it up and running to make your own opinion!

Using KDevelop to develop FreeCAD:

 Firstly ensure that KDevelop is installed and you've got a copy of the FreeCAD source to work with. Load up KDevelop as follows:

Click on Import Project to import the FreeCAD sources.

A dialog will appear. Go to the root directory within the source and then browse for the CMake project file CMakeLists.txt and click 'next'
In the next section you can specify where the FreeCAD sources are built under Build Directory. You can also set the build type. I would always recommend using the Debug build type so that you can easily debug the program for any faults later. Selecting the Release option will provide extra compiler optimisations that will improve FreeCAD's performance, but only significantly in certain areas such as the Sketch Solver. The other two options I wouldn't recommend.

Click OK and KDevelop will start importing the whole project. Further compiler and project settings can be changed under Open Configuration.

If you click under Classes tool bar you can browse the whole source tree which including other library headers. The Flying pink bricks indicate public methods. Icons with Pad Locks are 'private' class members and icons with keys are 'protected methods'.

Open  up a source file (.cpp) and try out the code hinting by pressing CONTROL + SPACEBAR. This will bring up a list of methods below which the class provides. How easy is that?

It can even help suggest the variables, objects that can be passed as arguments into a method:

Make a few little changes and the proceed to click Build Selection

This should start configuring your project and it may hint problems. Otherwise normally it will show the build progress in the Build Window as below:

Remember to speed up the build by using multiple cores, append -j4 under the Additional Make Options found in Project->Open Configuration->Make. Compiling usually takes between 15-25 minutes on a good day. However sit back, grab a cup of tea or continuing programming.

Finally Running FreeCAD from Kdevelop

Before running you need to configure the launches. This can be found under Run-> Configure Launches. A new dialog will appear. Choosing the executable FreeCADMain is really straightforward

Now back in the main window you can hit Execute to run normally. Alternativly you can hit Debug to run the application through the GDB debugger. I'll describe how to use the debug tools later!

Hopefully that might help you get started to make tweaks and changes to FreeCAD!

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