11.3. Providing Build Progress Output: the Progress Function

Another aspect of providing good build output is to give the user feedback about what SCons is doing even when nothing is being built at the moment. This can be especially true for large builds when most of the targets are already up-to-date. Because SCons can take a long time making absolutely sure that every target is, in fact, up-to-date with respect to a lot of dependency files, it can be easy for users to mistakenly conclude that SCons is hung or that there is some other problem with the build.

One way to deal with this perception is to configure SCons to print something to let the user know what it's "thinking about." The Progress function allows you to specify a string that will be printed for every file that SCons is "considering" while it is traversing the dependency graph to decide what targets are or are not up-to-date.

        Progress('Evaluating $TARGET\n')

Note that the Progress function does not arrange for a newline to be printed automatically at the end of the string (as does the Python print statement), and we must specify the \n that we want printed at the end of the configured string. This configuration, then, will have SCons print that it is Evaluating each file that it encounters in turn as it traverses the dependency graph:

       % scons -Q
       Evaluating SConstruct
       Evaluating f1.c
       Evaluating f1.o
       cc -o f1.o -c f1.c
       Evaluating f1
       cc -o f1 f1.o
       Evaluating f2.c
       Evaluating f2.o
       cc -o f2.o -c f2.c
       Evaluating f2
       cc -o f2 f2.o
       Evaluating .

Of course, normally you don't want to add all of these additional lines to your build output, as that can make it difficult for the user to find errors or other important messages. A more useful way to display this progress might be to have the file names printed directly to the user's screen, not to the same standard output stream where build output is printed, and to use a carriage return character (\r) so that each file name gets re-printed on the same line. Such a configuration would look like:

                 file=open('/dev/tty', 'w'),

Note that we also specified the overwrite=True argument to the Progress function, which causes SCons to "wipe out" the previous string with space characters before printing the next Progress string. Without the overwrite=True argument, a shorter file name would not overwrite all of the charactes in a longer file name that precedes it, making it difficult to tell what the actual file name is on the output. Also note that we opened up the /dev/tty file for direct access (on POSIX) to the user's screen. On Windows, the equivalent would be to open the con: file name.

Also, it's important to know that although you can use $TARGET to substitute the name of the node in the string, the Progress function does not perform general variable substitution (because there's not necessarily a construction environment involved in evaluating a node like a source file, for example).

You can also specify a list of strings to the Progress function, in which case SCons will display each string in turn. This can be used to implement a "spinner" by having SCons cycle through a sequence of strings:

        Progress(['-\r', '\\\r', '|\r', '/\r'], interval=5)

Note that here we have also used the interval= keyword argument to have SCons only print a new "spinner" string once every five evaluated nodes. Using an interval= count, even with strings that use $TARGET like our examples above, can be a good way to lessen the work that SCons expends printing Progress strings, while still giving the user feedback that indicates SCons is still working on evaluating the build.

Lastly, you can have direct control over how to print each evaluated node by passing a Python function (or other Python callable) to the Progress function. Your function will be called for each evaluated node, allowing you to implement more sophisticated logic like adding a counter:

        screen = open('/dev/tty', 'w')
        count = 0
        def progress_function(node)
            count += 1
            screen.write('Node %4d: %s\r' % (count, node))


Of course, if you choose, you could completely ignore the node argument to the function, and just print a count, or anything else you wish.

(Note that there's an obvious follow-on question here: how would you find the total number of nodes that will be evaluated so you can tell the user how close the build is to finishing? Unfortunately, in the general case, there isn't a good way to do that, short of having SCons evaluate its dependency graph twice, first to count the total and the second time to actually build the targets. This would be necessary because you can't know in advance which target(s) the user actually requested to be built. The entire build may consist of thousands of Nodes, for example, but maybe the user specifically requested that only a single object file be built.)