Custom Compiler Plugins

This tutorial shows you how to write plugins that provide wholesale new compilers. This is something you should use if you want to be compatible with Rebar3 prior to version 3.7.0, or when your compiler requires features outside of the scope of what is provided by the compiler plugin behaviour.

Often applications have non-Erlang code that needs compiling, such as DTL templates, C code for generating parsers from PEG files, etc. The plugin providers that implement these compilers should be in their own namespace and must be hooked to the main compile provider if they are to automatically run when a user invokes compile:

{provider_hooks, [
    {post, [{compile, {pc, compile}}]}

In the above example the namespace pc (port compiler) has a provider named compile that we have set to run after the main compile provider.

Example Provider

We’ll implement an example provider that “compiles” files in the directory exc_files/ with the extension .exc to the priv directory of the application. The full source code can be found on github.

The definitions are similar to what was done in the Building Plugins tutorial, but in this case we also have a NAMESPACE macro. This is important because the provider name is compile which, without defining a new namespace, would conflict with the existing default namespace compile provider.


-export([init/1, do/1, format_error/1]).

-define(PROVIDER, compile).
-define(NAMESPACE, exc).
-define(DEPS, [{default, app_discovery}]).

The same is done for init/1, similar to the previous tutorial, but with namespace added to the properties:

-spec init(rebar_state:t()) -> {ok, rebar_state:t()}.
init(State) ->
    Provider = providers:create([
            {name, ?PROVIDER},
            {namespace, ?NAMESPACE},
            {module, ?MODULE},
            {bare, true},
            {deps, ?DEPS},
            {example, "rebar3 exc compile"},
            {opts, []},
            {short_desc, "An example rebar compile plugin"},
            {desc, ""}
    {ok, rebar_state:add_provider(State, Provider)}.

Now for the meat of the provider. Since the provider is for compiling part of an Erlang application we must find what application it is we are currently building. If the provider is being run as a hook current_app will contain the application record to use. Otherwise it will be undefined, like in the case the user ran rebar3 exc compile. For that case the list of applications to compile files for are the project_apps, found in State.

For each application the rebar_base_compiler:run/4 function is run, it will run CompileFun (in this case exc_compile/3 on each source file:

-spec do(rebar_state:t()) -> {ok, rebar_state:t()} | {error, string()}.
do(State) ->
    Apps = case rebar_state:current_app(State) of
                undefined ->
                AppInfo ->
         Opts = rebar_app_info:opts(AppInfo),
         OutDir = rebar_app_info:out_dir(AppInfo),
         SourceDir = filename:join(rebar_app_info:dir(AppInfo), "exc_files"),
         FoundFiles = rebar_utils:find_files(SourceDir, ".*\\.exc\$"),

         CompileFun = fun(Source, Opts1) ->
                              exc_compile(Opts1, Source, OutDir)

         rebar_base_compiler:run(Opts, [], FoundFiles, CompileFun)
     end || AppInfo <- Apps],

    {ok, State}.

Finally, exc_compile/3 reads in the source file and writes it to the output priv directory for the application. Yes, we aren’t actually “compiling” anything, but if you wanted to, this is where you would:

exc_compile(_Opts, Source, OutDir) ->
    {ok, Binary} = file:read_file(Source),
    OutFile = filename:join([OutDir, "priv", filename:basename(Source)]),
    rebar_api:info("Writing out ~s", [OutFile]),
    file:write_file(OutFile, Binary).

Finally, in the rebar.config of a project our provider can be hooked to the default compile provider with a provider_hook and run every time rebar3 compile is executed. In this case rebar_state:current_app/1 would return a single AppInfo record for the application we are currently building:

{provider_hooks, [
    {pre, [{compile, {exc, compile}}]}
Last modified December 13, 2022: Fix wrong `Building Plugins` link (a5a8880)