Finding the best C++ compiler for Mac can be tricky — it all comes down to finding a tool that can compile fast, effectively, and efficiently. And if it comes with a few extra features that help make your code smoother and keep the dev process moving, that’s even better.
So if you’re wondering how to compile C++ on Mac without tearing your hair out or wasting precious CPU, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s our breakdown of the best Mac C++ compilers on the market.
|Name of compiler||Summary||Pros||Cons||Price||Works with the Incredibuild plug-in to speed up compilation time?|
|CLion||Cross-platform IDE that “takes a lot of the toil out of C++”||
||$89 for individuals, $199 for organizations||No|
|Netbeans||Open-source IDE designed for Java application builds||
|Xcode||“Everything you need to develop, test, and distribute apps” on Apple platforms.||
|Qt Creator||A cross-platform IDE built for “maximum developer experience”||
||Prices from $302 per month, per user||Yes|
|Visual Studio for OS X||“The best comprehensive IDE for .NET and C++ developers”||
||Basic version is free. Advanced is $45/month for professionals, $250/month for enterprises||Yes|
What is it?
Clion is a cross-platform IDE for C and C++ that aims to “take a lot of the toil out of C++”, letting the IDE do mundane development tasks so you can focus on big-picture problem solving.
- User-friendly project startup process
- Smart code editor that looks at your code in context to help you solve problems faster, and also automatically formats code lines to fit your guidelines and preferences
- Instant analysis that immediately highlights problematic code and provides suggestions on how to fix it
- Personalized editor that lets you change themes, fonts, colors, keyboard schemes and more
Free or paid?
Paid — individuals pay $89 for their first year and organizations pay $199 for their first year (with the price dropping every subsequent year)
Pros of CLion
- It’s versatile. CLion integrates with GCC, Cygwin, and Visual C++ compilers, meaning it can flex to fit almost any dev process.
- It’s all about ease. Pretty much every feature — from auto code completion to real-time error analysis — has been chosen to make compiling code as simple and fast as possible. It’s designed to pick up and solve little errors fast, so you don’t spend ages messing about with your syntax when you could be focusing on the big-picture stuff.
- Eagle-eyed code inspection and static analysis. Underneath that calm, engaging interface, CLion is working like crazy to comb through your code. It’s almost unmatched when it comes to detailed and robust inspection and analysis.
Cons of CLion
- It’s a memory hog. Running it with default settings takes up more than 1 GB of RAM. Be prepared for your machine to protest every time you compile code, if you don’t have the right equipment.
Where can you download CLion?
Head over to the Jet Brains site to buy and download.
What is it?
NetBeans is an open-source IDE, initially designed for building Java applications but now boasting a staggering number of extensions for everything from C++ to PHP.
- Smart code editing with Java Editor which comes equipped with syntax highlighting, code completion, brackets matching, and line indentation
- NetBeans Profiler, a clever little feature that helps Java developers identify memory leaks and optimize the speed of their applications
- Integrations with a wide range of version control systems, including Git, Subversion, and Mercurial
- Maven already enabled
- A huge number of open-source plug-ins
Free or paid?
Completely free and open-source
Pros of NetBeans
- It’s great for developing web applications thanks to built-in support for HTML5.
- And, of course, it’s perfect for Java applications. It’s designed with Java in mind, so you won’t need any extra plug-ins.
- It’s always being updated. The open-source nature of NetBeans means it’s constantly being fine-tuned and improved. If you want to expand NetBeans’ capabilities, you’ll almost always find an extension somewhere to fit your needs.
- It’s pretty beginner friendly. The intuitive interface makes it a great place for C++ newbies to start compiling code.
Cons of NetBeans
- It takes up a lot of resources, and a lot of memory too, meaning it can really slow down your machine if you’re not equipped with the right processor.
- …and plug-ins slow it down even further. NetBeans comes ready-equipped with a whole raft of plug-ins — which sounds useful, until you realize that you’ll never use most of them. You also can’t uninstall plug-ins, which can be very frustrating.
- The debugger is fairly slow, especially compared to something like IntelliJ or Eclipse.
Where can you download NetBeans?
You can find the latest release here.
What is it?
The Xcode Build System is designed to provide “everything you need to develop, test, and distribute apps across all Apple platforms”. The compiler runs on Clang, Apple’s official compiler for C languages.
In addition to the compiler, Xcode also has a preprocessor, assembler, linker, and loader.
- Integrates easily with other IDEs
- Fast compilation and low memory use
- Detailed expressive diagnostics that pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with the program, highlight related information, and point users quickly towards a solution
Free or paid?
Free — just log in with your Apple ID
Pros of Xcode
- It’s very well designed. Pretty much everyone who uses Xcode is impressed by how sleek it looks and, once you’re familiar with it, everything feels very intuitive.
- Apple provides lots of training. There are tons of video tutorials and training sessions out there for Xcode beginners (and you’ll probably need them, as you’ll see below).
- Super-clear diagnostics. Errors and warning messages make it very easy to figure out where you’ve gone wrong and find a solution fast.
Cons of Xcode
- Some UX quirks make compiling more difficult than it should be. For example, opening a new file in a new tab is a pretty clunky and difficult process, making it hard to work across multiple files at the same time.
- There isn’t much unofficial documentation out there (mostly because Apple used to have an NDA on Xcode), which can make it hard to solve problems that would otherwise be fixed with a quick Google.
- It can be tough for beginners to pick up. Xcode can seem pretty overwhelming at first, and you’ll probably need to scurry back to those training videos a few times until you get familiar with the interface.
Where can you download Xcode?
Get Xcode 14 here.
4. Qt Creator
What is it?
A cross-platform IDE that’s built for the “maximum developer experience”, designed to support the development of software “across desktop, mobile, and embedded platforms.” Within that software development powerhouse sits Qt Quick Compiler.
- Code editor
- Integrated project management tools
- Visual debugging
Free or paid?
Paid — prices start from $302 per month, per user
Pros of Qt Creator
- It puts everything in one platform. In addition to the compiler, you’ll find tools to help you edit, test, build, and debug code. Having everything you need to develop software in one platform makes the whole process feel pretty effortless.
- Custom appearance lets you play around with the colors of everything from menu bars to labels.
- Cross-compiling features allow you to switch between toolchains at the click of a button.
Cons of Qt Creator
- Long compilation times can really slow down the whole development process (though there are things you can do to fix this, as we’ll discuss below).
- It’s not great for multi-window working, since many operations will only activate in your primary window.
Where can you download Qt Creator?
Try it free or purchase it here.
5. Visual Studio for OS X
What is it?
It might have been built for Microsoft, but it’s still one of the next compilers for Mac. Microsoft’s Visual Studio describes itself as “the best comprehensive IDE for .NET and C++ developers”, aiming to “enhance every stage of software development”, including compilation. Visual Studio for OS X shifts the platform onto a new, fully native macOS UI.
- Intellisense code editing feature highlights issues as you type (or as you compile)
- Remote code compilation
- Integrates with Clang
Free or paid?
The most basic version is free for individual developers and academic organizations. Professionals pay $45 per month and enterprises pay $250 per month for the advanced version.
Pros of Visual Studio for OS X
- The customer service is great. If you get stuck with anything, you can get live coding assistance from the experts over at Microsoft — better than spending hours watching instructional videos.
- In-depth code analysis via Intellisense makes it easy to pick up and solve problems. It really speeds up the whole process of code development.
Cons of Visual Studio for OS X
- The interface is pretty basic, with no plug-ins or drag-and-drop options. That can make the coding experience feel a little boring and inconvenient.
- It runs slowly, with long compilation times and a tendency to lag. This can quickly become frustrating, but there are ways around it (as you’ll see below).
Where can you download Visual Studio for OS X?
Find it here.
How to make the most of your Mac C++ compiler with the Incredibuild plug-in
Most devs assume that the more powerful the compiler and the flashier its features, the longer it takes to actually compile code.
But with the right tools on your side, you can get the best of both worlds: power and speed, combined.
Incredibuild’s award-winning technology integrates seamlessly with compilers like Qt Creator and Clang, and it’s the only commercial tool that’s integrated directly with Visual Studio.
By distributing compilation tasks across your local network of VMs, Incredibuild allows you to harness the full power of your compiler, without spending hours staring at the wall while your code compiles.
That’s what we call the best of both worlds.