Getting Started with the Super-project

Boost libraries reside in subdirectories under the libs directory. For example, the contents of the Boost.Filesystem library are in libs/filesystem. This includes the build scripts (in l`ibs/filesystem/build`), the source files (in libs/filesystem/src), the tests (in libs/filesystem/test), the documentation (in libs/filesystem/doc), and so on.

In the past, when Boost used SVN as its version control system, the header files were an exception. The header files of all libraries resided in the boost subdirectory, and it wasn’t possible to accurately determine which header belonged to which library.

When Boost moved to Git for version control, header files were moved to their corresponding libraries, into an include subdirectory. The header files of Boost.Filesystem are now in libs/filesystem/include.

For compatibility, boost is now a "virtual" directory, containing links to the headers. It’s maintained automatically by B2. The command b2 creates or recreates the contents of the boost directory.

This structure allows us to determine that, when faced with an #include <boost/filesystem.hpp> directive, that this header is part of Boost.Filesystem, and that therefore, the current library being scanned depends on Boost.Filesystem.


Unfortunately, Boost releases do not have this structure. For backward compatibility, they have an old-style boost directory containing all header files, whereas the per-library include subdirectories are missing.

Clone and Install the Super-project

To work within the Super-project, you will have to clone the Boost Git repository. To do that, execute the following command:

git clone boost

This will download the Super-project (the master project, without any libraries) and place it into the subdirectory boost of the current directory. To override the directory name, pass it as a second argument instead of boost:

git clone mydir

You can now cd into the newly created directory with cd mydir. This directory is called the "Boost root". All of the commands below assume that it is the current directory.

The above git clone commands download the default branch of the Boost Git repository, which is master. This is the current stable version of Boost. To verify this, issue the command git status from the Boost root. This will output

# On branch master
nothing to commit, working directory clean

To download a specific release instead, such as 1.58.0, issue the following command after git clone, from the Boost root:

git checkout boost-1.58.0

git status will now say"

# HEAD detached at boost-1.58.0
nothing to commit, working directory clean

Then, download all the libraries:

git submodule update --init

This step will take a while.

If all goes well, you will now have the complete contents of Boost’s latest master branch (if you didn’t checkout a specific release by name) or the corresponding Boost release (if you did).

You can switch between the master branch, the develop branch, and a release, by issuing the following commands:

For the master branch:

git checkout master
git pull
git submodule update --init

git pull updates your local copy of the master branch from the server, in case it has changed since your initial checkout.

For the develop branch:

git checkout develop
git pull
git submodule update --init

For the boost-1.58.0 release:

git checkout boost-1.58.0
git submodule update --init

For the boost-1.57.0 release:

git checkout boost-1.57.0
git submodule update --init

While the initial git submodule update is quite slow, as it needs to download all the libraries, the subsequent invocations are a lot faster.

Also note that if a new Boost library (libs/convert, for example) is present in, say, master, and you have it checked out, when you later switch to boost-1.58.0, where this library doesn’t exist, Git will not delete libs/convert. In this case, git status will output

# HEAD detached at boost-1.58.0
# Untracked files:
#   (use "git add <file>..." to include in what will be committed)
#       libs/convert/
nothing added to commit but untracked files present (use "git add" to track)

and you will have to remove libs/convert by hand.

Now, you have successfully installed the Super-project.