Building Plugins

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Out-of-Source Plugins

A K-3D plugin module is simply a shared library (DLL) that is automatically loaded by K-3D runtime. Although you could create your own private makefiles or IDE project files to build a plugin module, K-3D provides an innovative way to integrate out-of-source plugins into the K-3D build, instead. By incorporating your module into K-3D's build you save time and effort, and your binary module can be automatically packaged and installed along with the rest of K-3D, making it easy to create your own "custom" K-3D distribution to share with colleagues.

To make it happen, create a directory to hold your plugin module sources, and add a CMakeLists.txt file:


For many plugins, no further configuration is required ... create the plugin sources in your new directory, and you're ready to include your module in the K-3D build. To do so, cd into your K-3D build directory and run cmake:

$ cd ~/k3d-build
$ make edit_cache

Using the cmake UI, add sample_module to the K3D_EXTERNAL_MODULES variable, and configure. CMake will display a harmless error that we will correct in the next step:

CMake Error: The "sample_module" module source directory "sample_module_EXTERNAL_SOURCE_DIR-NOTFOUND" does not exist.
Specify a different directory using sample_module_EXTERNAL_SOURCE_DIR

You will see that two new cmake variables have been created:

  • K3D_BUILD_sample_module - Enables / disables compilation of your module.
  • sample_module_EXTERNAL_SOURCE_DIR - Points to the directory containing your module.

K3D_BUILD_sample_module will already be "ON" by default, but you must specify the path to your module sources in sample_module_EXTERNAL_SOURCE_DIR. Once you've set the path, configure; generate; and you'll be ready to build K-3D, including your new module:

$ make

You will see your module built along with the rest of K-3D:

[100%] Built target k3d-yafray-proxy
[100%] Building CXX object modules/external/sample_module/CMakeFiles/sample-module.dir/module.cpp.o
Linking CXX shared library ../../../lib/k3d/plugins/sample-module.module
[100%] Built target sample-module
[100%] Generating ../../../lib/k3d/plugins/sample-module.module.proxy
Loading plugin module /home/tshead/build/k3d/lib/k3d/plugins/sample-module.module
Loading plugin SamplePlugin
[100%] Built target sample-module-proxy

Note that your module binary will be located alongside the rest of the standard K-3D plugins:

$ ls lib/k3d/plugins/

Now, run K-3D and see that the module is successfully loaded:

$ make run

In the console output, you will see:

INFO: Proxying plugin module /home/user/k3d-build/lib/k3d/plugins/sample-module.module

which indicates that your new module was successfully loaded. Even though your plugin sources are outside the K-3D source tree, in all other respects your plugin will be built and treated as a "normal" K-3D plugin.

If your plugin has external dependencies, you will provide additional logic in your plugin's CMakeLists.txt file to locate header file paths and link libraries, for example:



See k3d/docs/sample_module for a working example of an out-of-source plugin.

Within-Source Plugins

If you're a member of the K-3D development team creating a plugin that will become part of the "official" K-3D sources, creating an in-source plugin "foo" is the same as creating an out-of-source plugin, with just a few extra steps.

  • Create a plugin module directory k3d/modules/foo.
  • Add a k3d/modules/foo/CMakeLists.txt and source code to your new directory.
  • In the top-level k3d/CMakeLists.txt, add a CMake variable that will control whether your plugin module will be built:
OPTION(K3D_BUILD_FOO_MODULE "Build the foo plugin module" ON)
  • In the k3d/module/CMakeLists.txt file, add your module to the build:
  • If your plugin has a dependency on a third-party library "libfoo", you will need to create a special CMake file that will test to see if the libfoo is installed, and where its header files and link libraries are located:
    • Create a "K3DFindFoo.cmake" file in the k3d/cmake/modules directory. Use the other files in the directory as a guide.
    • Add INCLUDE(K3DFindFoo) to the top-level k3d/CMakeLists.txt. Test whether libfoo is found before using it.

And you're done!


Of-course, it is completely practical to build K-3D plugin modules using any development environment that suits you, including autotools, Eclipse, XCode, MSVC, etc. In these cases you will want to study the CMake files included in the K-3D sources to see how plugin modules are normally built, along with their header-file and link dependencies. In particular, you will need to become familiar with the K3D_BUILD_MODULE, K3D_BUILD_NGUI_MODULE, and K3D_CREATE_MODULE_PROXY CMake macros in k3d/modules/CMakeLists.txt.

Note that the binary name for a K-3D plugin module "foo" will always be "foo.module", regardless of platform (i.e. there is no ".so", ".dylib", or ".dll" extension).

When creating plugin modules in this fashion you will have to provide your own mechanism to install your modules to the directory from which K-3D loads plugins.

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