Introduction to Conan

If you are new to and want to learn about it, the Conan documentation should be your next stop.

Conan Documentation

Here we simply provide a selective summary of Conan from our perspective as OSS packagers.

In the simplest terms, Conan is a package management platform for C and C++ which resembles a number of modern package managers from the ecosystems of other programming languages. While it most closely resembles Maven and Nuget, it is unique in that it focuses on packaging “Native Binaries” and tackling the unique challenges associated with them.

As a package manager, the most basic role that Conan performs is to provide a common package descriptor format for package authors. In the case of Conan, the descriptor format is a python script with the default name of (known as the “Conanfile”). Generally speaking, the Conanfile contains the instructions for taking raw source code, compiling it into a binary format, and then storing it in a compressed archive format (a “Conan Package”). Crucially, the Conanfile also contains a list of other Conan Packages which are required for compilation, enabling authors to define a traditional “dependency tree” of Conan Packages. Thus, the Conan Package format and associated metadata are tailored for distribution and re-use as a dependencies in other Conan projects. In addition to the defining the Conanfile and Conan Package formats, the Conan platform features a client application which performs the role of executing the instructions and create the packages, and a Conan server application which provides an API for uploading and downloading packages between machines.

Beyond these basic package management features, Conan has the following important characteristics:

  • A moderated and trusted central repository for OSS software
  • Worfklow closely resembles other prevalent package managers
  • Cross-Platform and toolset agnostic
  • Packages contain precompiled binaries
  • Binaries are built on-demand if not available
  • Binaries are stored in a local binary cache
  • Designed to support both Enterprise and OSS workloads

For the Open-Source Software community, Conan has enabled a new experience for developing with C and C++. Without a binary package manager like Conan, developers are required to manually compile all third-party libraries they wished to use in their projects on their development machine. Naturally, this results in a vast number of developers performing the same redundant compilations of Open-Source libraries. With Conan, a vast number of these redundant compilations can be avoided. OSS developers working on C and C++ projects can now define the list of third-party library dependencies in their projects, and the Conan client can download precompiled binary versions of those libraries on-demand.

In fact, the Linux ecosystem features a number of binary package managers which have historically addressed this problem to some degree. However, Conan is fundamentally different from these package managers in a few ways, most notably it’s intention and ability to package and retrieve libraries for any operating systems from a single descriptor file (the Conanfile).