Tools/Tips for Coding Blender

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Tips for Coding Blender

by Kent Mein

Searching Through the Code

One of the biggest questions that gets asked is where do I start, how do I find blah.... The first thing is a little bit about the directory structure.

Basically, there are 3 directories in the root directory that you need to worry about:

  • extern (for external libraries that blender uses), _not_ maintained by Blender.
  • intern (for internal libraries that blender uses), maintained by Blender.
  • source (main blender code, breaks down as follows)
    • source/blender (blender specific code)
    • source/creator (should be moved into blender dir some time)
    • source/gameengine (gameengine stuff)
    • source/kernel (low level code that is shared for gameengine and blender)

For more info about the directory structure, see this document.

Blender is coded in 3 languages; C, C++ and Python. Python is used as an internal scripting language for Blender, the majority of the Blender code is in C and C++, so we will focus on that.

Here are some quick resources on each language:

You can also just do a google search on C tutorials, or whichever language you are interested in.

There are a number of tools that will help you get started tracking things down. Cscope is a good one. If you run cscope inside of the Blender directory, you will be able to find all files that contain a given string, and or lots of other searches. cscope can be found here:

grep is also a nice tool. Here is a nice tutorial on using grep:

Another good way to get a feel for the files is looking at the Makefiles and/or just the sub directories. Chances are if the stuff you are looking for isn't placed well in a dir in blender/source/blender, its probably in blender/source/blender/src.

Modifying the Code

Before you dig in and start changing things its a good idea to take a look at the coding style guide.

Start with something small. Updating a tool tip or changing something like that. It's best to take simple steps when starting out. Once you've made your changes you'll want to run cvs update. This will tell you which files you have modified and make sure that all of the other files in your directory are up to date.

One thing to note: every once in a while, a cvs update will corrupt a file that you modified and put >>>>s in it when it merged your changes with an updated file in cvs. You'll need to update the file by hand, the best way to see what needs to be done is to do a cvs diff on the file in question and go from there. Its always a good idea to look at the diff anyway to make sure your making the changes you thought you were making.

You should also make sure your change compiles correctly. Before submitting a patch and or committing your changes to cvs you should make sure you can build from a totally clean tree.

  • To do this with the scons system, scons --clean
  • and remove config.opts (You probably want to make sure you have a backup copy of any modifications you made to it.)
  • To do this with the Nan Makefiles, rm -rf obj/(your-platform) and rm -rf lib/(your-platform) or simply type "make clean".
  • To do this with Microsoft Visual Studio, choose Build->Clean from the menu bar.

A final note, if you're editing a header and/or other code that is C code make sure you use /* */ style comments, as some of the compilers will not accept // comments in c code. I personally would advise you to just stick to /* */ comments all the time - that way you're safe.


Debugging is considered an art form by some and can be tricky. There are a couple of tools and methods that will save you some time though, and get you headed down the right path. There are lots of things to say here, lets start with the basics.

The first thing is to look at output from the compiler. A good tool for logging your make is script. First, type script mylog.txt. Then enter your build commands. When everything is done type exit then you can look at mylog.txt and hunt down bugs.

One of the rules of debugging is to start with the first bug you encounter. (It may be the cause of later bugs). This brings up another point and that's warnings. Warnings are basically the compiler telling you "hey, this looks fishy - it might not be what you want to do". It would be nice to get rid of all of the warnings in Blender but currently there are quite a few that are harmless. They could be from dated code, or from lots of other reasons. You may want to save a script of your initial build so you can filter out warnings that are already there.

Along with this is if you have access to multiple platforms, test your code on as many platforms as you can. Each of the compilers are implemented differently and they all report errors differently. The extra error messages might show you a clearer picture of what is going on.

Another good tool for debugging is using a text editor with syntax highlighting. There are a bunch of them and it will save you a lot of time, (so you don't have to hunt down missing "),};s or other fun little programming symbols. There are many different editors such as vi, emacs, nedit, and so on. Use one you like.

The next tool in your bag should be printf statements - use them as much as possible. And be sure to terminate all lines with newlines "\n" so you do not get buffered info that does not print. (of course for C++ you can use cout, I'm just being generic)

If your working on a small function, it might make more sense to write a little wrapper for it so you can just focus on your function. The wrapper provides the global info you use from the rest of the Blender source as well as a simple main function that tests your function.

Finally, the next step is to use a debugger. There are a bunch of them out there. I'll just name a couple I've used quite a bit and like, ddd and gdb. has tutorials, download locations and other info on ddd. has info similar to the above site, as well as a basic guide to gdb. It's got a lot more info than I've provided and even says not to use print statements like I mentioned. I'll let you make the call on that one ;)

Again, if you're having problems, don't hesitate to ask the community. If you can, jump on IRC and swing by #blendercoders, if not, post to the forums or send a question to the bf-committers mailing list. Try to include what files you're having problems with, any error messages, what platform you're on, etc. The more info you provide the more likely you're going to get help.

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