With Clang12 almost released, I guess it's high time to write a conclusion to the Clang11 changes that improve compilation times with PCHs. I originally planned to do this after the Clang11 release, but with the process to get the changes reviewed and merged having been so tedious I was glad it was finally over and I couldn't at the time muster the little extra effort to also write this down (I spent way more time repeatedly writing 'ping' and waiting for a possible reaction than writing the code, which was really demotivating). But although the new options are described in the Clang11 release notes, I think it'd be useful to write it down in more detail.
First of all, I've already written why C++ developers might care, but a thousand pictures can be worth more than a thousand words saying how this can save you even 60% of the build time:
In case you'd like to see a similar change in your LibreOffice compilation times, it should be as simple as this:
- Get Clang11 or newer and use it to build LibreOffice.
- Use --enable-pch (preferably --enable-pch=full) to enable PCH use.
You may want to check that your ccache and icecream are not too ancient if you use them, but by now any reasonably recent version should do. And if you need to do changes that would repeatedly trigger larger rebuilds (such as changing a header), the trick to temporarily disable PCH builds is to do 'make BLOCK_PCH=1'. And since PCH builds sometimes cause build errors in non-PCH builds because of missing #include's of headers, it's a good idea to touch all your changed files and do 'make BLOCK_PCH=1' before pushing your change to Gerrit. This is all you should need to know, the LO build system will take care of everything else.
As for the rest of the world, this boils down to the two PCH-related sections in the Clang11 release notes.
The first one is using -fpch-instantiate-templates. It needs to be set when building the PCH, but it will work even if you just add it to the CXXFLAGS used for building everything. Recent enough CMake version should handle this option automatically, I have no idea about other build systems. It should be safe to enable the option for any building with PCH. It's not enabled by default in Clang only because of really corner cases with PCHs that are not self-contained. In other words, as long as your PCH works with an empty .cpp file, it's safe, and if your PCH is not self-contained, you'd be better off fixing that anyway.
The second part using -fpch-codegen -fpch-debuginfo is more complicated, as it requires build system support, and I'm not aware of any build system besides LibreOffice's providing it. This discussion in a CMake ticket provides an example of how to use the option that seems rather simple. For other build systems have a look at the description in the Clang11 release notes for all the details and possible complications, and consider whether it'd be worth it. Which it sometimes may not be, as this graph from my previous post shows (Clang means normal PCH build, Clang+ means only -fpch-instantiate-templates, Clang++ means all 3 options).
Note that you may get rather different results depending on how much you put in your PCHs. Unlike before, now the general rule should be that the more you add to your PCHs, even if shared only by several source files, the faster the builds usually will be. And since these options move building some code to the PCH-related object file, the improvement is usually even better for incremental builds than full rebuilds. I've been using PCHs this way for slightly more than a year, and I forgot already quite some time ago how slow it used to be.