Extra Clang Tools 3.8 documentation


«  Introduction   ::   Contents   ::   Clang-Tidy Checks  »


clang-tidy is a clang-based C++ linter tool. Its purpose is to provide an extensible framework for diagnosing and fixing typical programming errors, like style violations, interface misuse, or bugs that can be deduced via static analysis. clang-tidy is modular and provides a convenient interface for writing new checks.

Using clang-tidy

clang-tidy is a LibTooling-based tool, and it’s easier to work with if you set up a compile command database for your project (for an example of how to do this see How To Setup Tooling For LLVM). You can also specify compilation options on the command line after --:

$ clang-tidy test.cpp -- -Imy_project/include -DMY_DEFINES ...

clang-tidy has its own checks and can also run Clang static analyzer checks. Each check has a name and the checks to run can be chosen using the -checks= option, which specifies a comma-separated list of positive and negative (prefixed with -) globs. Positive globs add subsets of checks, negative globs remove them. For example,

$ clang-tidy test.cpp -checks=-*,clang-analyzer-*,-clang-analyzer-alpha*

will disable all default checks (-*) and enable all clang-analyzer-* checks except for clang-analyzer-alpha* ones.

The -list-checks option lists all the enabled checks. When used without -checks=, it shows checks enabled by default. Use -checks=* to see all available checks or with any other value of -checks= to see which checks are enabled by this value.

There are currently the following groups of checks:

  • Checks related to the LLVM coding conventions have names starting with llvm-.
  • Checks related to the Google coding conventions have names starting with google-.
  • Checks named modernize-* advocate the usage of modern (currently “modern” means “C++11”) language constructs.
  • The readability- checks target readability-related issues that don’t relate to any particular coding style.
  • Checks with names starting with misc- the checks that we didn’t have a better category for.
  • Clang static analyzer checks are named starting with clang-analyzer-.

Clang diagnostics are treated in a similar way as check diagnostics. Clang diagnostics are displayed by clang-tidy and can be filtered out using -checks= option. However, the -checks= option does not affect compilation arguments, so it can not turn on Clang warnings which are not already turned on in build configuration.

Clang diagnostics have check names starting with clang-diagnostic-. Diagnostics which have a corresponding warning option, are named clang-diagostic-<warning-option>, e.g. Clang warning controlled by -Wliteral-conversion will be reported with check name clang-diagnostic-literal-conversion.

The -fix flag instructs clang-tidy to fix found errors if supported by corresponding checks.

An overview of all the command-line options:

$ clang-tidy -help
USAGE: clang-tidy [options] <source0> [... <sourceN>]


General options:

  -help                    - Display available options (-help-hidden
                             for more)
  -help-list               - Display list of available options
                             (-help-list-hidden for more)
  -version                 - Display the version of this program

clang-tidy options:

  -analyze-temporary-dtors   - Enable temporary destructor-aware analysis in
                               clang-analyzer- checks.
                               This option overrides the value read from a
                               .clang-tidy file.
  -checks=<string>           - Comma-separated list of globs with optional '-'
                               prefix. Globs are processed in order of appearance
                               in the list. Globs without '-' prefix add checks
                               with matching names to the set, globs with the '-'
                               prefix remove checks with matching names from the
                               set of enabled checks.
                               This option's value is appended to the value read
                               from a .clang-tidy file, if any.
  -config=<string>           - Specifies a configuration in YAML/JSON format:
                                 -config="{Checks: '*', CheckOptions: [{key: x, value: y}]}"
                               When the value is empty, clang-tidy will attempt to find
                               a file named .clang-tidy for each source file in its parent
  -dump-config               - Dumps configuration in the YAML format to stdout. This option
                               should be used along with a file name (and '--' if the file is
                               outside of a project with configured compilation database). The
                               configuration used for this file will be printed.
  -enable-check-profile      - Enable per-check timing profiles, and print a report to stderr.
  -export-fixes=<filename>   - YAML file to store suggested fixes in. The
                               stored fixes can be applied to the input source
                               code with clang-apply-replacements.
  -extra-arg=<string>        - Additional argument to append to the compiler command line
  -extra-arg-before=<string> - Additional argument to prepend to the compiler command line
  -fix                       - Apply suggested fixes. Without -fix-errors
                               clang-tidy will bail out if any compilation
                               errors were found.
  -fix-errors                - Apply suggested fixes even if compilation errors
                               were found. If compiler errors have attached
                               fix-its, clang-tidy will apply them as well.
  -header-filter=<string>    - Regular expression matching the names of the
                               headers to output diagnostics from. Diagnostics
                               from the main file of each translation unit are
                               always displayed.
                               Can be used together with -line-filter.
                               This option overrides the value read from a
                               .clang-tidy file.
  -line-filter=<string>      - List of files with line ranges to filter the
                               warnings. Can be used together with
                               -header-filter. The format of the list is a JSON
                               array of objects:
  -list-checks               - List all enabled checks and exit. Use with
                               -checks=* to list all available checks.
  -p=<string>                - Build path
  -system-headers            - Display the errors from system headers.

-p <build-path> is used to read a compile command database.

        For example, it can be a CMake build directory in which a file named
        compile_commands.json exists (use -DCMAKE_EXPORT_COMPILE_COMMANDS=ON
        CMake option to get this output). When no build path is specified,
        a search for compile_commands.json will be attempted through all
        parent paths of the first input file . See:
        http://clang.llvm.org/docs/HowToSetupToolingForLLVM.html for an
        example of setting up Clang Tooling on a source tree.

<source0> ... specify the paths of source files. These paths are
        looked up in the compile command database. If the path of a file is
        absolute, it needs to point into CMake's source tree. If the path is
        relative, the current working directory needs to be in the CMake
        source tree and the file must be in a subdirectory of the current
        working directory. "./" prefixes in the relative files will be
        automatically removed, but the rest of a relative path must be a
        suffix of a path in the compile command database.

Configuration files:
  clang-tidy attempts to read configuration for each source file from a
  .clang-tidy file located in the closest parent directory of the source
  file. If any configuration options have a corresponding command-line
  option, command-line option takes precedence. The effective
  configuration can be inspected using -dump-config:

    $ clang-tidy -dump-config - --
    Checks:          '-*,some-check'
    HeaderFilterRegex: ''
    AnalyzeTemporaryDtors: false
    User:            user
      - key:             some-check.SomeOption
        value:           'some value'

Getting Involved

clang-tidy has several own checks and can run Clang static analyzer checks, but its power is in the ability to easily write custom checks.

Checks are organized in modules, which can be linked into clang-tidy with minimal or no code changes in clang-tidy.

Checks can plug the analysis on the preprocessor level using PPCallbacks or on the AST level using AST Matchers. When an error is found, checks can report them in a way similar to how Clang diagnostics work. A fix-it hint can be attached to a diagnostic message.

The interface provided by clang-tidy makes it easy to write useful and precise checks in just a few lines of code. If you have an idea for a good check, the rest of this document explains how to do this.

Choosing the Right Place for your Check

If you have an idea of a check, you should decide whether it should be implemented as a:

  • Clang diagnostic: if the check is generic enough, targets code patterns that most probably are bugs (rather than style or readability issues), can be implemented effectively and with extremely low false positive rate, it may make a good Clang diagnostic.
  • Clang static analyzer check: if the check requires some sort of control flow analysis, it should probably be implemented as a static analyzer check.
  • clang-tidy check is a good choice for linter-style checks, checks that are related to a certain coding style, checks that address code readability, etc.

Preparing your Workspace

If you are new to LLVM development, you should read the Getting Started with the LLVM System, Using Clang Tools and How To Setup Tooling For LLVM documents to check out and build LLVM, Clang and Clang Extra Tools with CMake.

Once you are done, change to the llvm/tools/clang/tools/extra directory, and let’s start!

The Directory Structure

clang-tidy source code resides in the llvm/tools/clang/tools/extra directory and is structured as follows:

clang-tidy/                       # Clang-tidy core.
|-- ClangTidy.h                   # Interfaces for users and checks.
|-- ClangTidyModule.h             # Interface for clang-tidy modules.
|-- ClangTidyModuleRegistry.h     # Interface for registering of modules.
|-- google/                       # Google clang-tidy module.
  |-- GoogleTidyModule.cpp
  |-- GoogleTidyModule.h
|-- llvm/                         # LLVM clang-tidy module.
  |-- LLVMTidyModule.cpp
  |-- LLVMTidyModule.h
|-- tool/                         # Sources of the clang-tidy binary.
test/clang-tidy/                  # Integration tests.
unittests/clang-tidy/             # Unit tests.
|-- ClangTidyTest.h
|-- GoogleModuleTest.cpp
|-- LLVMModuleTest.cpp

Writing a clang-tidy Check

So you have an idea of a useful check for clang-tidy.

You need to decide which module the check belongs to. If the check verifies conformance of the code to a certain coding style, it probably deserves a separate module and a directory in clang-tidy/ (there are LLVM and Google modules already).

After choosing the module, you need to create a class for your check:

#include "../ClangTidy.h"

namespace clang {
namespace tidy {

class MyCheck : public ClangTidyCheck {

} // namespace tidy
} // namespace clang

Next, you need to decide whether it should operate on the preprocessor level or on the AST level. Let’s imagine that we need to work with the AST in our check. In this case we need to override two methods:

class ExplicitConstructorCheck : public ClangTidyCheck {
  ExplicitConstructorCheck(StringRef Name, ClangTidyContext *Context)
      : ClangTidyCheck(Name, Context) {}
  void registerMatchers(ast_matchers::MatchFinder *Finder) override;
  void check(ast_matchers::MatchFinder::MatchResult &Result) override;

Constructor of the check receives the Name and Context parameters, and must forward them to the ClangTidyCheck constructor.

In the registerMatchers method we create an AST Matcher (see AST Matchers for more information) that will find the pattern in the AST that we want to inspect. The results of the matching are passed to the check method, which can further inspect them and report diagnostics.

using namespace ast_matchers;

void ExplicitConstructorCheck::registerMatchers(MatchFinder *Finder) {
  Finder->addMatcher(constructorDecl().bind("ctor"), this);

void ExplicitConstructorCheck::check(const MatchFinder::MatchResult &Result) {
  const CXXConstructorDecl *Ctor =
  // Do not be confused: isExplicit means 'explicit' keyword is present,
  // isImplicit means that it's a compiler-generated constructor.
  if (Ctor->isOutOfLine() || Ctor->isExplicit() || Ctor->isImplicit())
  if (Ctor->getNumParams() == 0 || Ctor->getMinRequiredArguments() > 1)
  SourceLocation Loc = Ctor->getLocation();
  diag(Loc, "single-argument constructors must be explicit")
      << FixItHint::CreateInsertion(Loc, "explicit ");

(The full code for this check resides in clang-tidy/google/ExplicitConstructorCheck.{h,cpp}).

Registering your Check

The check should be registered in the corresponding module with a distinct name:

class MyModule : public ClangTidyModule {
  void addCheckFactories(ClangTidyCheckFactories &CheckFactories) override {

Now we need to register the module in the ClangTidyModuleRegistry using a statically initialized variable:

static ClangTidyModuleRegistry::Add<MyModule> X("my-module",
                                                "Adds my lint checks.");

When using LLVM build system, we need to use the following hack to ensure the module is linked into the clang-tidy binary:

Add this near the ClangTidyModuleRegistry::Add<MyModule> variable:

// This anchor is used to force the linker to link in the generated object file
// and thus register the MyModule.
volatile int MyModuleAnchorSource = 0;

And this to the main translation unit of the clang-tidy binary (or the binary you link the clang-tidy library in) clang-tidy/tool/ClangTidyMain.cpp:

// This anchor is used to force the linker to link the MyModule.
extern volatile int MyModuleAnchorSource;
static int MyModuleAnchorDestination = MyModuleAnchorSource;

Configuring Checks

If a check needs configuration options, it can access check-specific options using the Options.get<Type>("SomeOption", DefaultValue) call in the check constructor. In this case the check should also override the ClangTidyCheck::storeOptions method to make the options provided by the check discoverable. This method lets clang-tidy know which options the check implements and what the current values are (e.g. for the -dump-config command line option).

class MyCheck : public ClangTidyCheck {
  const unsigned SomeOption1;
  const std::string SomeOption2;

  MyCheck(StringRef Name, ClangTidyContext *Context)
    : ClangTidyCheck(Name, Context),
      SomeOption(Options.get("SomeOption1", -1U)),
      SomeOption(Options.get("SomeOption2", "some default")) {}

  void storeOptions(ClangTidyOptions::OptionMap &Opts) override {
    Options.store(Opts, "SomeOption1", SomeOption1);
    Options.store(Opts, "SomeOption2", SomeOption2);

Assuming the check is registered with the name “my-check”, the option can then be set in a .clang-tidy file in the following way:

  - key: my-check.SomeOption1
    value: 123
  - key: my-check.SomeOption2
    value: 'some other value'

If you need to specify check options on a command line, you can use the inline YAML format:

$ clang-tidy -config="{CheckOptions: [{key: a, value: b}, {key: x, value: y}]}" ...

Testing Checks

clang-tidy checks can be tested using either unit tests or lit tests. Unit tests may be more convenient to test complex replacements with strict checks. Lit tests allow using partial text matching and regular expressions which makes them more suitable for writing compact tests for diagnostic messages.

The check_clang_tidy.py script provides an easy way to test both diagnostic messages and fix-its. It filters out CHECK lines from the test file, runs clang-tidy and verifies messages and fixes with two separate FileCheck invocations. To use the script, put a .cpp file with the appropriate RUN line in the test/clang-tidy directory. Use CHECK-MESSAGES: and CHECK-FIXES: lines to write checks against diagnostic messages and fixed code.

It’s advised to make the checks as specific as possible to avoid checks matching to incorrect parts of the input. Use [[@LINE+X]]/[[@LINE-X]] substitutions and distinct function and variable names in the test code.

Here’s an example of a test using the check_clang_tidy.py script:

// RUN: %python %S/check_clang_tidy.py %s google-readability-casting %t

void f(int a) {
  int b = (int)a;
  // CHECK-MESSAGES: :[[@LINE-1]]:11: warning: redundant cast to the same type [google-readability-casting]
  // CHECK-FIXES: int b = a;

Running clang-tidy on LLVM

To test a check it’s best to try it out on a larger code base. LLVM and Clang are the natural targets as you already have the source around. The most convenient way to run clang-tidy is with a compile command database; CMake can automatically generate one, for a description of how to enable it see How To Setup Tooling For LLVM. Once compile_commands.json is in place and a working version of clang-tidy is in PATH the entire code base can be analyzed with clang-tidy/tool/run-clang-tidy.py. The script executes clang-tidy with the default set of checks on every translation unit in the compile command database and displays the resulting warnings and errors. The script provides multiple configuration flags.

  • The default set of checks can be overridden using the -checks argument, taking the identical format as clang-tidy does. For example -checks=-*,modernize-use-override will run the modernize-use-override check only.
  • To restrict the files examined you can provide one or more regex arguments that the file names are matched against. run-clang-tidy.py clang-tidy/.*Check\.cpp will only analyze clang-tidy checkers. It may also be necessary to restrict the header files warnings are displayed from using the -header-filter flag. It has the same behavior as the corresponding clang-tidy flag.
  • To apply suggested fixes -fix can be passed as an argument. This gathers all changes in a temporary directory and applies them. Passing -format will run clang-format over changed lines.

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