Linux to MacOS cross-compilation | Blog | Superflous Returnz

Linux to MacOS cross-compilation | Blog | Superflous Returnz Linux to MacOS cross-compilation | Blog | Superflous Returnz
  • Steam
  • Nintendo Switch
  • Google Play
Superfluous and his assistant Sophie


Linux to MacOS cross-compilation


Last time, I explained how to compile and distribute a game for Windows from Linux. This time, I'll do the same thing, but with MacOS as the target system, a procedure that is a little less well documented on the Internet.


MinGW allowed us to compile Windows programs from Linux, now it is software called OSXCross which allows us to do the same for MacOS programs. Unlike MinGW, the latter is not included in the repositories of the usual distributions, and we will thus have to install it by hand.

First, you have to download XCode from the official website, which requires creating an account (grrr, but nevermind). Be careful, the file is large (around 10 GiB), so be sure to get the right version (check what is compatible with what, between OSXCross, XCode and the oldest MacOS you want to support). Personally, I use XCode 11, which supports MacOS Catalina.

Then, just follow the procedure described on OSXCross Github, package the SDK, move it to the tarballs folder, etc.

We simply compile OSXCross with

We then add the path of the installed executables, personally I put everything in /home/gee/local/osxcross. We also specify the target version of MacOS, all of this inside our .bashrc, .zshrc. or whatever:

export PATH=/home/gee/local/osxcross/bin:$PATH

If you take a look at the contents of ${INSTALL_PATH}/bin, you'll find things that look a lot like what we had with MinGW:

  • x86_64-apple-darwin19-clang++ to compile C++ for 64-bit architecture
  • x86_64-apple-darwin19-clang same for C
  • x86_64-apple-darwin19-otool which displays the objects and libraries used by an executable (we will recall this below)

In short, macOS development tools but on your Linux!

Third-party libraries

Again, a reminder that Superflu Riteurnz relies on 3 third-party libraries:

These libraries work well on Linux, Windows ... and MacOS. To install them, OSXCross provides a port of Macports, so you can very simply do:

$ osxcross-macports install libsdl2 libsdl2_image libsdl2_mixer libsdl2_ttf libyaml lz4

These libraries are installed in the usual tree structure (lib, include, etc.) within the {INSTALL_PATH}/macports/pkgs/opt/local/ folder.

Setup & build

Again, this will remind you of the MinGW article, since we're going to use a toolchain CMake file:


set(TOOLCHAIN_PREFIX x86_64-apple-darwin19)

set(CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH /home/gee/local/osxcross/macports/pkgs/opt/local/)
set(CMAKE_OSX_SYSROOT /home/gee/local/osxcross/SDK/MacOSX10.15.sdk/)
set(CMAKE_REQUIRED_MAC_LIBS "libyaml-0.2.dylib;libSDL2-2.0.0.dylib;libSDL2_image-2.0.0.dylib;libSDL2_ttf-2.0.0.dylib;libSDL2_mixer-2.0.0.dylib;liblz4.1.dylib;liblz4.1.9.3.dylib;libpng16.16.dylib;libjpeg.8.dylib;libjpeg.8.2.2.dylib;libtiff.5.dylib;libz.1.dylib;libz.1.2.11.dylib;libwebp.7.dylib;libmodplug.1.dylib;libvorbisfile.3.dylib;libvorbis.0.dylib;libFLAC.8.dylib;libmpg123.0.dylib;libopusfile.0.dylib;libzstd.1.dylib;libzstd.1.5.2.dylib;liblzma.5.dylib;libogg.0.dylib;libopus.0.dylib")

The CMAKE_REQUIRED_MAC_LIBS variable is filled in by hand, which I'm not really happy with it, but I couldn't do better: it's all the libraries needed to run the executable. To find them, just use the command x86_64-apple-darwin19-otool on the executable, look at which libraries are displayed, and start again on each library until you have done the trick. Yes, it can also be scripted.

Then we just need to run CMake with this toolchain file and compile normally with make, which gives us a MacOS compatible superfluous-returnz executable!

Home-made installer

You know the deal: an executable is very nice, but it's not quite enough to share a game. For Windows, we were able to take advantage of the CPack generator NSIS, unfortunately the "classic" DragNDrop generator for MacOS is only available… on MacOS. Never mind: we'll take care of it the old-fashioned way, by hand!

A lot of apps on MacOS are distributed in the form of a DMG file, which roughly corresponds to a folder ending in .app with a certain normalized tree structure that we will compress. The tree structure we're going to use looks like this:
└── Contents
    ├── Info.plist # List of properties
    ├── MacOS
    │   └── superfluous-returnz # The executable
    └── Resources
        ├── data
        |   ├── # The data of the game
        │   └── # (...)
        ├── icon.icns # The icon of the game
        └── libs
            ├── # Third-party libraries
            └── # (...)

The icon is in the .icns format: you can easily convert a PNG to ICNS with the png2icns program available in the icnsutils package (on Debian and derivatives, but I imagine it is also available in other distributions). The Info.plist file is an XML format file that contains a set of properties:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "">
<plist version="1.0">
    <string>Superfluous Returnz</string>

Even if the CPack generator to create a DMG is not available on Linux, we can still specify an installation procedure that generates the desired tree via CMake:

  target_compile_options(${SOSAGE_EXE_NAME} PUBLIC -DSOSAGE_INSTALL_DATA_FOLDER="data/")
  install(DIRECTORY ${SOSAGE_DATA_FOLDER}/data/ DESTINATION "${SOSAGE_EXE_NAME}.app/Contents/Resources/data")
  foreach(lib ${CMAKE_REQUIRED_MAC_LIBS})
    install(FILES ${CMAKE_FIND_ROOT_PATH}/lib/${lib} DESTINATION "${SOSAGE_EXE_NAME}.app/Contents/libs/")
  install(FILES "${SOSAGE_DATA_FOLDER}/resources/Info.plist" DESTINATION "${SOSAGE_EXE_NAME}.app/Contents/")
  install(FILES "${SOSAGE_DATA_FOLDER}/resources/icon.icns" DESTINATION "${SOSAGE_EXE_NAME}.app/Contents/Resources")

Hence the interest of having listed the necessary libraries in the CMAKE_REQUIRED_MAC_LIBS variable.

There, you might think it should be enough to compress this folder in DMG format to have our installer… but of course, it is not so simple. The main problem is that your program is linked to 3rd party libraries with an absolute path that points to the .dylib files on your system ... but of course we want to point to those provided in the DMG!

I tried quite a few methods to do this through CMake but didn't come to anything conclusive, so I ended up making a script that uses the tools provided by OSXCross: otool to parse the binaries, and install_name_tool to change the pointed link.

In practice, we will simply want to replace links in the format /opt/local/lib/[library.dylib] by a format @executable_path/../libs/[library.dylib] (@executable_path specifying the location of the executable, as you may have guessed). So I tinkered with a Python script that you just have to call on the executable as well as all the dylib files and which takes care of the stuff:

import subprocess
import sys

for exe in sys.argv[1:]:
    libs = subprocess.check_output('x86_64-apple-darwin19-otool -L ' + exe, shell=True).decode().split('\n')
    for l in libs:
        if '/opt/local/lib/' in l:
            lname = l.split('/opt/local/lib/')[1].split(' ')[0]
            old = '/opt/local/lib/' + lname
            new = '@executable_path/../libs/' + lname
  'x86_64-apple-darwin19-install_name_tool -change "' + old + '" "' + new + '" ' + exe, shell=True, check=True)

It's a little dirty, but well ... it works.

Then, everything is ready to generate our DMG file, which we can do very simply with the genisoimage command:

$ genisoimage -V -D -R -apple -no-pad -o superfluous-returnz.dmg install

Ideally, to make a true "drag'n'drop" MacOS-flavored installer, we should add a wallpaper and place the game icon next to a shortcut to the " Applications" of macOS by inviting to drop the first on the second. This is for example what the game Supertux does:

Supertux Installer

Unfortunately, I couldn't find an elegant way to do this without "manual" manipulations on a MacOS by copying and pasting the .DS_store file from the directory ... so I preferred to skip this step. I guess people using MacOS are used to it and will understand that you have to copy the game to "Applications" to actually install it on the machine.


Virtual machine test

Unlike Microsoft, Apple does not provide virtual machines of its operating system: fortunately, a script named macos-virtualbox is available to generate a VM from Apple's installer files. It's a little more tedious than for Windows, but nothing insurmountable, just follow the README of the project.

Once our virtual machine is configured, we can transfer the game, launch it and debug it if necessary!


A big advantage of MacOS over Windows: the standard C++ outputs std::cout and std::cerr work directly in the terminal like on Linux, so there is no need to adapt the code. In fact, I may have defined a MAC macro as for other operating systems:

#if defined(__ANDROID__)
#elif defined(__APPLE__)
#define SOSAGE_MAC
#elif defined(_WIN32)
#define WINVER 0x0600 // Enable use of locale functions
#elif defined(__linux__)

... but I have to admit I've never have to use it so far, which is pretty neat! The less code specific to each OS, the easier it is to maintain.


Cross-compiling from Linux to MacOS definitely requires more effort than cross-compiling to Windows: the lack of dedicated software in the repositories of common Linux distributions and the lack of a CPack generator for MacOS on Linux are the two black spots.

However, with a little patience and plenty of disk space, it can be done! Many thanks to the people behind the OSXCross and macos-virtualbox software without whom all this would undoubtedly be much more complicated.