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Let's Build Chuck Norris! - Part 2: SQLite and conan

Note: This is part 2 of the Let’s Build Chuck Norris! series.

In the previous episode we wrote a simple C++ library that returned a hard-coded Chuck Norris fact.

It’s now time to put several Chuck Norris facts in a database, and select one at random when asked.

We are going to use sqlite for that.

First, let’s adapt our class declaration:


#include <string>

#include <sqlite3.h>

class ChuckNorris
    // Make sure you cannot copy Chuck Norris
    ChuckNorris(ChuckNorris const&) = delete;
    ChuckNorris(ChuckNorris &&) = delete;
    ChuckNorris& operator=(ChuckNorris const&) = delete;
    ChuckNorris& operator=(ChuckNorris &&) = delete;

    std::string getFact();

    sqlite3* _db;

Then, it’s time to adapt the ChuckNorris.cpp file:

In the constructor, we open an in-memory database and fill it with lots of facts.

Then, in the getFact() method, we run a simple SQL query:


// Note: Error handling omitted for brevity.

#include <sqlite3.h>
#include <ChuckNorris.hpp>

  sqlite3_open(":memory:", &_db);

  auto const sql = R"(
CREATE TABLE chucknorris(id PRIMARY_KEY, fact VARCHAR(500));
INSERT INTO chucknorris (fact) VALUES
  ("Chuck Norris can slam a revolving door.");
INSERT INTO chucknorris (fact) VALUES
  ("Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird.");

  sqlite3_exec(_db, sql, 0, 0, nullptr);


std::string ChuckNorris::getFact()
  // Note: error handling omitted for brevity

  sqlite3_stmt* statement;
  int rc;
  rc = sqlite3_prepare_v2(_db,
      R"(SELECT fact FROM chucknorris ORDER BY RANDOM() LIMIT 1;)",
      -1, &statement, 0);
  if (rc != SQLITE_OK) {
    // ...
  rc = sqlite3_step(statement);
  if (rc != SQLITE_ROW) {
    // ...
  auto sqlite_row = sqlite3_column_text(statement, 0);
  auto row = reinterpret_cast<const char*>(sqlite_row);
  auto res = std::string(row);
  return res;

Now let’s try and compile this!

Third party libraries #

Since we are not the authors of the sqlite library, we say it is a third-party library. (As opposed to the chucknorris library we just wrote).

There are a lot of ways of adding a third-party dependency to a C++ program, from simply adding the sources to the project files, to installing them “in the system” (using homebrew on macOS or the package manager of your distribution on Linux).

In this article we will use a package manager called conan that will install the sqlite3 package somewhere in our home directory (called a cache).

This means we won’t need any administrative privileges (as opposed to installing the sqlite3 library in the system), but also that the library will usable from multiple C++ projects (as opposed to adding the sources of sqlite3 inside our source folder).

Using conan will come in handy when we start cross-compiling things later, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Adding the dependency by hand #

Let’s start by doing the work “by hand” before we talk about how conan works.

Building sqlite3 #

First, we go to the download page of the sqlite3 project.

We then fetch the “almagation” archive, and extract it:

$ cd $HOME
$ mkdir -p 3rdpart/sqlite
$ cd 3rdpart/sqlite
$ wget
$ unzip
$ cd sqlite-amalgamation-3220000
$ ls
$ shell.c  sqlite3.c  sqlite3.h  sqlite3ext.h

OK, we just have a sqlite3.c to build and a sqlite3.h header that we can include.

Let’s build a static library:

$ gcc -c sqlite3.c -o sqlite3.o
$ ar qf libsqlite3.a sqlite3.o
$ ranlib libsqlite3.a

And, just to clean things up, let’s create a lib and include folder:

$ mkdir include lib
$ mv libsqlite3.a lib/
$ mv sqlite3.h include/

Now we have to adapt the CMakeLists.txt in the Chuck Norris sources to use our newly built library.

Finding and using the sqlite3 library #

In CMake parlance, sqlite3 is no longer a “regular” target, since it does not know how it was built.

So we need to create an imported target, and set the IMPORTED_LOCATION and INTERFACE_INCLUDE_DIRECTORIES properties on it:


# ...

add_library(sqlite3 STATIC IMPORTED)
  IMPORTED_LOCATION /path/to/sqlite3-<version>/lib/libsqlite3.a
  INTERFACE_INCLUDE_DIRECTORIES /path/to/sqlite3-<version>/include

  # ...

Note that /path/to/sqlite3 is an hard-coded absolute path to the folder we used to compile sqlite3 by hand.

Obviously, hard-coded paths are bad, but this allows us to use target_link_libraries to add a dependency between our ChuckNorris library and the imported target, the same way we did to link cpp_demo with ChuckNorris:

target_link_libraries(chucknorris sqlite3)

Let’s build the ChuckNorris project again:

$ cd build/default
$ cmake -GNinja ../..
$ ninja -v
Build CXX object ChuckNorris.cpp.o
  -isystem /path/to/sqlite-<version>/include
  -o ChuckNorris.cpp.o
Linking CXX executable cpp_demo
  -o cpp_demo

You can see that CMake added the include path of sqlite3 in a -isystem flag1 when compiling ChuckNorris.cpp, and that it added the libsqlite3.a file when linking the cpp_demo executable.

On my machine, I still got a build failure:

Linking CXX executable cpp_demo
FAILED: cpp_demo
  -o cpp_demo

libsqlite3.a(sqlite3.o): In function `pthreadMutexAlloc':
sqlite3.c:(.text+0x4275): undefined reference to `pthread_mutexattr_init'
libsqlite3.a(sqlite3.o): In function `unixDlOpen':
sqlite3.c:(.text+0x10bd8): undefined reference to `dlopen'

What’s going on?

Turns out that, on Linux at least, sqlite3 depends on two other libraries, namely pthread and dl. (This is common enough that I was able to guess the name of the libraries from the names of the missing symbols in the error message)

We can fix our compilation failure by telling CMake about the dependency from sqlite3 to pthread and dl:

$ ninja -v
  -o cpp_demo

That was not trivial, and we had to hard-code the location of the sqlite3 sources.

Let’s now see how conan can help us using sqlite3 more easily.

Installing conan #

Conan is written in Python and you can install it with pip:

$ python3 -m pip install conan --user

Afterwards, you should add the directory where the conan binary has been installed in your PATH

  • Linux: export PATH="${HOME}/.local/bin:${PATH}"
  • macOS: export PATH="${HOME}/Library/Python3.x/bin:${PATH}"
  • Windows: nothing to do ;-)

Conan lets you write recipes and upload binary packages.

A recipe is a piece of Python code that is used to build a package; and a package is simply an archive containing pre-compiled binaries.

In the conan world, any user can publish recipes and binary packages for any library. (Many package managers use a “first come, first served” approach to package names, but not conan).

As many other package managers, conan can look for packages in multiple locations called remotes: all you need is to host a conan server somewhere.

By default, conan comes with the conan-center remote pre-configured.

Creating a conanfile.txt #

Conan uses a simple configuration file format where you can specify the dependencies and some “generators”:



The string sqlite3/3.21@bincrafters/stable is called a reference.

There’s the name: sqlite3, the version: 3.21, a user: bincrafters and a channel: stable.

You can think of channels as branches: the stable channel indicates that the recipes and binary packages have come through at least minimal quality assurance. (This is true for any package coming from the conan-center remote inside the stable channel).

The cmake generator tells conan to generate some files that contain information about the dependencies that are usable by CMake.

Here’s how to invoke conan:

$ cd build/default
$ conan install ../..
sqlite3/3.21.0@bincrafters/stable: Not found in local cache, looking in remotes...
sqlite3/3.21.0@bincrafters/stable: Trying with 'conan-center'...
PROJECT: Installing /path/to/conanfile.txt
    sqlite3/3.21.0@bincrafters/stable from 'conan-center'
PROJECT: Retrieving package 6ae331b72e7e265ca2a3d1d8246faf73aa030238
PROJECT: Generator cmake created conanbuildinfo.cmake

Several things happened here:

  • First conan looked for the package in the local cache and did not find it.

  • It used a remote called conan-center and found a compatible package there with a certain ID (6ae331b72e7e265ca2a3d1d8246faf73aa030238).

  • Then it downloaded the binary package from the remote and stored it in the cache.

  • Finally, it generated a file called conanbuildinfo.cmake in the build folder.

Adapt CMakeLists.txt #

We can then revert our changes in the CMakeLists.txt file and instead include the file conan generated for us, using the include() CMake function and the predefined CMake variable CMAKE_BINARY_DIR that points to the build folder:


Then we invoke the conan_basic_setup() method and refer to the targets defined by conan using the CONAN_PKG:: prefix:



# ...

target_link_libraries(chucknorris CONAN_PKG::sqlite3)

We can now call cmake and ninja as we did in the end of the previous part:

$ cmake -GNinja ../..
-- Conan: Using cmake targets configuration
-- Library sqlite3 found /home/dmerej/.conan/data/.../lib/libsqlite3.a
$ ninja
[1/3] Building CXX object CMakeFiles/chucknorris.dir/src/ChuckNorris.cpp.o
[2/3] Linking CXX static library lib/libchucknorris.a
[3/3] Linking CXX executable bin/cpp_demo
$ ./bin/cpp_demo
The easiest way to determine Chuck Norris's age is to cut him
in half and count the rings.
$ ./bin/cpp_demo
If, by some incredible space-time paradox, Chuck Norris would ever fight
himself, he'd win. Period.

Seems to work!

In the next articles, we’ll write a C wrapper on top of our C++ API and then use it to implement a chucknorris module in Python.

See you soon :)

  1. The -isystem flag works almost like the -I flag. You can find all about the gory details in the gcc man page. ↩︎

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