We were asked several times to provide some macOS ARM binaries for ConanCenter, and they are finally here! The article describes the following aspects:

  • general information about Apple M1
  • how Apple M1 binaries are created in ConanCenter
  • how to adapt existing recipes to support cross-building to Apple M1

About Apple M1

Apple M1 is a new ARM-based SoC developed by Apple and based on the ARMv8 architecture. Apple has started its transition from Intel x86-64 to ARM, and new desktop computers (MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, and iMac) are already available with M1 processors. We expect the popularity and need for software ported to ARM will grow significantly as the transition goes forward. In order to start creating your packages for M1, you don’t need anything special. Conan already provides build-helpers and tools adapted for this new architecture. You only need to provide proper inputs to creation commands, basically a host profile with the following settings:

$ conan profile show m1


Conan will generate the binaries for this new architecture and you can safely upload them to your own Artifactory, Conan will compute a different package ID because of the new settings value.

Of course, your building machine needs to provide the tooling required for this build, but any updated macOS should do the job.

Confusion about the architecture naming

The confusion about the architecture naming around arm64/aarch64/armv8 is already well-known in the development community. Let’s try to clarify a bit:

  • ARMv8 - refers to the new version of the ARM architecture. It includes two execution states, AArch32 and AArch64, and the corresponding instruction set for each of them.
  • ARMv8-A - refers to the A (Application) profile of the ARM architecture, specifically. Other profiles are R (Real-time) and M (Microcontroller). Or, ARMv8-R and ARMv8-M, respectively.
  • AArch64 - 64-bit execution state of the ARMv8 architecture.
  • A64 - refers to the instruction set for the AArch64 execution state. The name is rarely used outside of the ARM documentation.
  • ARM64 - an unofficial (e.g. not used in the official ARM documents) but extremely popular name synonymous to the AArch64. Apple software (e.g. Xcode and other developer tools) use this naming. Also, used by many Linux distros.

In conan, we refer to these binaries as armv8 (meaning binaries for the Aarch64 instruction set), so consumers will have to specify arch=armv8 in their profiles or command lines.

How do we create Apple M1 binaries in ConanCenter using cross-building

Starting on 24 May 2021, we are building Apple M1 binaries in ConanCenter. We want to help the community of developers that want to target their applications to this new architecture and are currently using Conan to manage their dependencies.

As said before, generating binaries for Apple M1 using Conan is really straightforward, we just need to use a profile for macOS/ARMv8 and build our packages.

Adapting existing recipes in ConanCenter for cross-building

Some packages declare their build-requires and they need to be executed while building the libraries. It would have been easier for us to connect the CI system to an M1 machine, but we decided to cross-build these package using the existing macOS machines we were already using.

We knew it would be harder, because it is the first configuration of ConanCenter that will be generating cross-compiled binaries, but at the same time the effort would pay off because the quality of recipes will increase, and adding new cross-building scenarios in the future will be easier (iOS, Android, Emscripten, Raspberry Pi, etc).

These are some of the most common adaptations we needed to do the recipes:

Take into account that the Conan version used in ConanCenter at the time of adding the M1 support was 1.38, and the new build-helpers were not mature enough to be used in production recipes. Some of the following fixes will no longer apply with the new integrations and we really expect to be able to simplify the recipes once they are available.

This is the very first time we support actual cross-building in ConanCenter, so many recipes or libraries might not be prepared for that. If you need it, you can skip M1 support for a while:

from conans.errors import ConanInvalidConfiguration


def validate(self):
    if self.settings.os == "Macos" and self.settings.arch == "armv8":
        raise ConanInvalidConfiguration("sorry, M1 builds are not currently supported, give up!")

Of couse, we encourage contributors to provide support for additional platforms, but it may require upstream support first.

checking for the cross-building in test_package

Since the Intel Mac machines we currently use on CI won’t be able to execute the ARM code, the following extra check is now required for the test_package:

    def test(self):
        if not tools.cross_building(self):
            bin_path = os.path.join("bin", "test_package")
            self.run(bin_path, run_environment=True)

2 Profiles

This is also the very first time we use the two profiles model in ConanCenter. The long-term plan is to move all the configurations to use two profiles, as this is going to be a default mode in Conan 2.0.

To cross-compile M1 binaries with conan, the following command line could be used:

$ conan install . --profile:build default --profile:host m1

or short form:

$ conan install . -pr:b default -pr:h m1

with the extremely simple m1 profile:

$ conan profile show m1


There are several important side-effects to the recipes because of the switch to the two profiles approach:

os_build and arch_build shouldn’t be used

For the recipes using the two profiles approach, it’s no longer recommended to use os_build and arch_build settings any longer. If it’s needed to check the os or arch of the build context, the following code can be used:

def _settings_build(self):
    return self.settings_build if hasattr(self, "settings_build") else self.settings

if self._settings_build.os == "Windows":
	# build context: os is Windows

We strongly encourage authors to remove os_build and arch_build from their recipes. We also strongly encourage all the consumers to migrate their cross-building scenarios to the two profiles approach whenever possible. The reason is that build context allows better compatibility using build requirements, avoiding separated packages for installer and tooling.

tools.OSInfo, platform.system(), os.name shouldn’t be used

Another important thing is that ConanCenter CI runs build in two phases:

  • compute all the possible package IDs, excluding duplicates and invalids
  • run the actual builds

And the first phase usually runs on the Linux machine, thus, package ID computation for macOS M1 profile is done on Linux x86-64 build machine. While it’s absolutely legal, it may have some important consequences for the recipes which may use conditional logic to detect the build platform. In general, it’s strongly discouraged to use

# BAD: if tools.OSInto().is_windows:
# BAD: if platform.system() == "Windows":
# BAD: if os.name == 'nt':
if self.settings_build.os == "Windows": # good!
    # build context: os is Windows
    raise ConanInvalidConfiguration("the recipe cannot be built on Windows")

CMake build helper and CMAKE_SYSTEM_PROCESSOR

The old CMake build helper doesn’t always set CMAKE_SYSTEM_PROCESSOR variable correctly. While we strongly encourage authors to migrate to the new CMake Toolchain solution, the following code might be needed in some recipes to properly cross-compile to M1:

    def _configure_cmake(self):
        cmake = CMake(self)
        if self.settings.os == "Macos" and self.settings.arch == "armv8":
            cmake.definitions["CMAKE_SYSTEM_PROCESSOR"] = "aarch64"

NOTE: there is no standard for the CMAKE_SYSTEM_PROCESSOR, unfortunately. Therefore, depends on checks the library might have, the value of the variable could be aarch64, arm64, armv8 or armv8-a.

GNU autotools: config.sub and config.guess

Many libraries (especially old) ship with old config.sub and config.guess scripts. Since M1 was introduced in late 2020, these libraries are not aware of the new architecture and need to update the scripts. Unfortunately, some libraries are already abandoned or discontinued, in such cases, the following workaround could be needed:

    def build_requirements(self):
        self.build_requires("gnu-config/cci.20201022")  # require the recent enough GNU config

    # helper to support both single profile and dual profile models
    def _user_info_build(self):
        return getattr(self, "user_info_build", None) or self.deps_user_info

     def build(self):
        # copy the updated files to the library sources
                    os.path.join(self._source_subfolder, "config.sub"))
                    os.path.join(self._source_subfolder, "config.guess"))

This way, configure script should at least recognize aarch64-apple-darwin triplet, allowing to cross-compile to or from M1.