4. Compiling#

This chapter explains how to compile Kokkos and how to link your application against Kokkos. Kokkos supports three methods to build:

  • General CMake build system

  • Trilinos’ CMake build system

  • Embedded GNU Makefile

Note that the build methods listed above should not be mixed. For example, do not include the GNU Makefile in your application build process, while explicitly linking against a pre-compiled Kokkos library in Trilinos. We also include specific advice for building for NVIDIA GPUs and Intel Xeon Phi.

4.1 General Information#

Kokkos consists mainly of header files. Only a few functions have to be compiled into object files outside of the application’s source code. Those functions are contained in .cpp files inside the kokkos/core/src directory and its subdirectories. The files are internally protected with macros to prevent compilation if the related execution space is not enabled. Thus, it is not necessary to create a list of included object files specific to your compilation target; one may simply compile all .cpp files. The enabled features are controlled via macros which have to be provided in the compilation line or the generated KokkosCore_config.h include file; a subset of the macros can be found in Table 4.1. For the most part, all of these macros are enabled/disabled using the options and settings controlled through one of the build methods previously mentioned.

To compile Kokkos, a C++14 compliant compiler is needed. For an up-to-date list of compilers that are tested on a nightly basis, please refer to the README on the GitHub repository. At the time of writing supported compilers include:

Minimum Compiler Versions

    GCC: 5.3.0
    Clang: 4.0.0  (CPU)
    Clang: 10.0.0 (as CUDA compiler) 
    Intel: 17.0.1
    NVCC: 9.2.88
    NVC++: 21.5
    ROCM: 4.5
    MSVC: 19.29
    IBM XL: 16.1.1
    Fujitsu: 4.5.0
    ARM/Clang 20.1

Primary Tested Compilers

    GCC: 5.3.0, 6.1.0, 7.3.0, 8.3, 9.2, 10.0
    NVCC: 9.2.88, 10.1, 11.0
    Clang: 8.0.0, 9.0.0, 10.0.0, 12.0.0
    Intel 17.4, 18.1, 19.5
    MSVC: 19.29
    ARM/Clang: 20.1
    IBM XL: 16.1.1
    ROCM: 4.5.0

Build system:

    CMake >= 3.16: required
    CMake >= 3.18: Fortran linkage. This does not affect most mixed Fortran/Kokkos builds. See build issues.
    CMake >= 3.21.1 for NVC++

Table 4.1: Configuration Macros (KokkosCore_config.h)





Enable the CUDA execution space.

Requires a compiler capable of understanding CUDA-C. See [Section 4.5](Building for CUDA).


Enable the OpenMP execution space.

Requires the compiler to support OpenMP (e.g., -fopenmp).


Enable the C++ Threads execution space.


Enable the Serial execution space.


Enable thread and memory pinning via hwloc.

Requires linking with libhwloc.


Enable the HIP execution space.

Requires a compiler capable of understanding HIP.


Enable the SYCL execution space.

Requires a compiler capable of understanding SYCL.

4.2 Using General CMake build system#

Installing and Using Kokkos#

Kokkos provides a CMake style build system. As C++ continues to develop for C++20 and beyond, CMake is likely to provide the most robust support for C++. Applications heavily leveraging Kokkos are strongly encouraged to use a CMake build system. Kokkos requires CMake version 3.10 and above.

You can either use Kokkos as an installed package (encouraged) or use Kokkos in-tree included in your project.

Using Kokkos installed Package#

With the Kokkos package installed, you build and link with the Kokkos library using CMake by adding the following to you your CMakeLists.txt:

find_package(Kokkos REQUIRED)

Then for every executable or library in your project:

target_link_libraries(myTarget Kokkos::kokkos)

The target_link_libraries command will find and include all the necessary pre-processor, compiler, and linker flags that are required for an application using Kokkos. When running CMake for your project you will need to specify the directory containing the Kokkos package:

-DKokkos_ROOT=<Kokkos Install Directory>/lib64/cmake/Kokkos

If compiling with something other than g++, your application should use a compiler that is consistent with that used to build the Kokkos package. This is especially true when using nvcc_wrapper.

-DCMAKE_CXX_COMPILER=<Kokkos Install Directory>/bin/nvcc_wrapper

Important note With Kokkos release 3.0 the externally defined CMAKE_CXX_FLAGS are not propagated to projects that include the kokkos package. This limitation is especially important when using Clang compilers with gcc and Cuda. The Clang options that are provided via the CMAKE_CXX_FLAGS with the Kokkos project are illustrated below.

--gcc-toolchain=<path to gcc source tree>
--cuda-path=<path to cuda source>

Using Kokkos in-tree build#

If building in-tree, the Kokkos source directory must be within a subdirectory of your application source tree (relative to the location of your application CMakeLists.txt)

To include Kokkos in the application add the following to CMakeLists.txt:

add_subdirectory(<path to Kokkos dir relative to your CMakeList.txt>)
target_link_libraries(myTarget kokkos)

The include_directories command is necessary to update the application include paths, and the target link libraries command links your executable to the Kokkos library. It does not require a package name. Using this method, the Kokkos options necessary to specify the devices, arch and options must be specified with your application CMake command. See below for the list of available settings (keywords)

Configuring Kokkos with CMake#

A very basic installation is done with:

> mkdir build
> cd build
> cmake ${srcdir} \

which builds and installed a default Kokkos when you run make install. There are numerous device backends, options, and architecture-specific optimizations that can be configured, e.g.

> cmake ${srcdir} \
 -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX=${my_install_folder} \

which activates the OpenMP backend. All the options controlling device backends, options, architectures, and third-party libraries (TPLs) are given in CMake Keywords.


An alternative to manually building with CMake is to use the Spack package manager. To do so, download Spack and add it to your path by sourcing the appropriate env file in the share folder, e.g.

> source spack/share/spack/setup-env.sh

A basic installation would be done as:

> spack install kokkos

Spack allows options and compilers to be tuned in the install command.

> spack install kokkos@3.0 %gcc@7.3.0 +openmp

This example illustrates the three most common parameters to Spack:

  • Variants: specified with, e.g. +openmp, this activates (or deactivates with, e.g. ~openmp) certain options.

  • Version: immediately following kokkos the @version can specify a particular Kokkos to build

  • Compiler: a default compiler will be chosen if not specified, but an exact compiler version can be given with the %option.

For a complete list of Kokkos options, run:

> spack info kokkos

Spack Development#

Spack currently installs packages to a location determined by a unique hash. This hash name is not really “human readable”. Generally, Spack usage should never really require you to reference the computer-generated unique install folder. If you must know, you can locate Spack Kokkos installations with:

> spack find -p kokkos ...

where ... is the unique spec identifying the particular Kokkos configuration and version.

A better way to use Spack for doing Kokkos development is the DIY feature of Spack. If you wish to develop Kokkos itself, go to the Kokkos source folder:

> spack diy -u cmake kokkos@diy ...

where ... is a Spack spec identifying the exact Kokkos configuration. This then creates a spack-build directory where you can run make.

If doing development on a downstream project, you can do almost the same thing.

> spack diy -u cmake ${myproject}@${myversion} ... ^kokkos...

where the ... are the specs for your project and the desired Kokkos configuration. Again, a spack-build directory will be created where you can run make.

Spack has a few idiosyncrasies that make building outside of Spack annoying related to Spack forcing the use of a compiler wrapper. This can be worked around by having a -DSpack_WORKAROUND=On given your CMake. Then add the block of code to your CMakeLists.txt:

   set(ENV{CXX} ${SPACK_CXX})

Kokkos CMake Keyword Listing#

Please see the documentation page with all keywords.

4.3 Using Trilinos’ CMake build system#

The Trilinos project (see trilinos.org and github for the source code repository) is an effort to develop algorithms and enabling technologies within an object-oriented software framework for the solution of large-scale, complex multiphysics engineering and scientific problems. Trilinos is organized into packages. Even though Kokkos is a stand-alone software project, Trilinos uses Kokkos extensively. Thus, Trilinos’ source code includes Kokkos’ source code, and builds Kokkos as part of its build process.

Trilinos’ build system uses CMake. Thus, to build Kokkos as part of Trilinos, you must first install CMake (version 3.17 or newer). To enable Kokkos when building Trilinos, set the CMake option Trilinos_ENABLE_Kokkos. Trilinos’ build system lets packages express dependencies on other packages or external libraries. If you enable any Trilinos package (e.g., Tpetra) that has a required dependency on Kokkos, Trilinos will enable Kokkos automatically. Configuration macros are automatically inferred from Trilinos settings. For example, if the CMake option Trilinos_ENABLE_OpenMP is ON, Trilinos will define the macro Kokkos_ENABLE_OPENMP. Trilinos’ build system will autogenerate the previously mentioned KokkosCore_config.h file that contains those macros.

Trilinos’ CMake build system utilizes Kokkos’ build system to set compiler flags, compiler options, architectures, etc. CMake variables CMAKE_CXX_COMPILER, CMAKE_C_COMPILER, and CMAKE_FORTRAN_COMPILER are used to specify the compiler. To configure Trilinos for various architectures, with Kokkos enabled, the CMake variable Kokkos_ARCH_<ArchCode> should be set, matching ArchCode to the appropriate architecture as specified in Architecture Keywords.

For example, Kokkos_ARCH_HSW sets the architecture variables for a machine with Intel Haswell CPUs. Also, when setting the Kokkos_ARCH_<ArchCode> variable it is not necessary to pass required architecture-specific flags to CMake, for example via the CMAKE_CXX_FLAGS variable.

Some Trilinos packages with CUDA support currently require the use of UVM (note UVM is enabled by default when configuring Trilinos with CUDA enabled, unless the user explicitly disables it). To ensure proper compilation and execution for such packages, the environment variables export CUDA_LAUNCH_BLOCKING=1 and export CUDA_MANAGED_FORCE_DEVICE_ALLOC=1 must be set.

Building Trilinos with Kokkos’ develop branch#

In some cases users may desire to test building Trilinos with Kokkos’ develop branch. Note that incompatibilities between Kokkos’ develop branch and Trilinos may arise between release cycles and there is no guarantee of stability for this process between releases.

To support this setup (without overwriting the Kokkos package in Trilinos), users may

  1. Add a symbolic link to the Trilinos source directory pointing to local Kokkos’ repository ln -s <path-to-local-kokkos>/kokkos <path-to-trilinos-src>/kokkos

  2. Include the configure option Kokkos_SOURCE_DIR_OVERRIDE:STRING=kokkos in their CMake configuration

The same process above can be applied for KokkosKernels as well, by adding a symbolic link to the local KokkosKernels repository and including the source override configuration option:

  1. Add a symbolic link to the Trilinos source directory pointing to local KokkosKernels’ repository ln -s <path-to-local-kokkos-kernels>/kokkos-kernels <path-to-trilinos-src>/kokkos-kernels

  2. Include the configure option KokkosKernels_SOURCE_DIR_OVERRIDE:STRING=kokkos-kernels

For builds with CUDA enabled, the path to the nvcc_wrapper script should also be specified (as an environment variable for example, i.e. export CXX=<path-to-local-kokkos>/bin/nvcc_wrapper in a non-MPI build, export OMPI_CXX=<path-to-local-kokkos>/bin/nvcc_wrapper for MPI build with OpenMPI, etc.)

We refer readers to Trilinos’ documentation for further details.

4.4 Using Kokkos’ GNU Makefile system#

The base of the build system is the file Makefile.kokkos; it is designed to be included by application Makefiles. It contains logic to (re)generate the KokkosCore_config.h file if necessary, build the Kokkos library, and provide updated compiler and linker flags.

The system can digest several variables that are used to configure Kokkos settings and then parses the variables for Keywords. This allows for multiple options to be given for each variable. The separator doesn’t matter as long as it doesn’t interact with the Make system. A list of variables, their meaning and options are given in Table 4.4.

A word of caution on where to include the Makefile.kokkos: since the embedded Makefiles define targets, it is usually better to include it after the first application target has been defined. Since that target can’t use the flags from the embedded Makefiles, it should be a meta target:

default: main
include Makefile.kokkos
      $(KOKKOS_LDFLAGS) $(KOKKOS_LIBS) main.cpp -o main

More example application Makefiles can be found in the tutorial examples under kokkos/example/tutorial.

Table 4.4: Variables for the GNU Makefile




Path to the Kokkos root or install directory. One can either build against an existing install of Kokkos or use its source directly for an embedded build. In the former case the “Input variables” are set inside the embedded Makefile.kokkos and it is not valid to set them differently in the including Makefile.


Path to the Cuda toolkit root directory.


Execution and Memory Spaces that should be enabled.


OpenMP, Serial, C++ Threads, Cuda


The backend architecture to build for.



KNL, KNC, SNB, HSW, BDW, Kepler, Kepler30, Kepler35, Kepler37, Maxwell, Maxwell50, Pascal60, Pascal61, ARMv8, ARMv81, ARMv8-ThunderX, Power8

(no particular architecture flags are set).


Enable optional third party libraries.


hwloc, libdl


Enable optional settings




Enable optional settings specific to CUDA.


force_uvm, use_ldg, rdc, enable_lambda


Path to the hardware locality library if enabled.


Enable debugging.


yes, no


Set the C++ standard to be used.




Preprocessor flags (include directories and defines). Add this to the applications compiler and preprocessor flags.


Compiler flags. Add this to the applications compiler flags.


Linker flags. Add this to the applications linker flags.


Libraries required by Kokkos. Add this to the link line after the linker flags.


Dependencies for compilation units which include any Kokkos header files.
Add this as a dependency to compilation targets including any Kokkos code.


Dependencies of an application linking in the Kokkos library. Add this to the dependency list of link targets.


User provided compiler flags which will be used to compile the Kokkos library.


The compiler used to compile the Kokkos library.

4.5 Building for CUDA#

Any Kokkos application compiled for CUDA embeds CUDA code via template metaprogramming. Thus, the whole application must be built with a CUDA-capable compiler. (At the moment, the only such compilers are NVIDIA’s NVCC and Clang 10.0+) More precisely, every compilation unit containing a Kokkos kernel or a function called from a Kokkos kernel has to be compiled with a CUDA-capable compiler. This includes files containing Kokkos::View allocations which call an initialization kernel.

All current versions of the NVCC compiler have shortcomings when used as the main compiler for a project, in particular when part of a complex build system. For example, it does not understand most GCC command-line options, which must be prepended by the -Xcompiler flag when calling NVCC. Kokkos comes with a shell script, called nvcc_wrapper, that wraps NVCC to address these issues. We intend this as a drop-in replacement for a normal GCC-compatible compiler (e.g., GCC or Intel) in your build system. It analyzes the provided command-line options and prepends them correctly. It also adds the correct flags for compiling generic C++ files containing CUDA code (e.g., *.cpp, *.cxx, or *.CC). By default nvcc_wrapper calls g++ as the host compiler. You may override this by providing NVCC’s -ccbin option as a compiler flag. The default can be set by editing the script itself or by setting the environment variable NVCC_WRAPPER_DEFAULT_COMPILER.

Many people use a system like Environment Modules to manage their shell environment. When using a module system, it can be useful to provide different versions for different back-end compiler types (e.g., icpc, pgc++, g++, and clang). To use the nvcc_wrapper in conjunction with MPI wrappers, simply overwrite which C++ compiler is called by the MPI wrapper. For example, you can reset OpenMPI’s C++ compiler by setting the OMPI_CXX environment variable. Make sure that nvcc_wrapper calls the host compiler with which the MPI library was compiled.

4.6 Execution Space Restrictions#

Currently, Kokkos organizes its execution spaces into three categories:

  • Host Serial: A top-level Serial execution space with no parallelism or concurrency

  • Host Parallel: Typically a threading model for CPUs, currently: OpenMP and Threads.

  • Device Parallel: Typically an attached GPU, currently: CUDA, OpenMPTarget, and HIP.

The current Kokkos policy is to allow users, at compile time, to enable at most one execution space from each category. This prevents incompatibilities between different spaces in the same category from degrading the user’s correctness and performance.