Building from source using Meson

If you just want to use GStreamer, please visit the download page. We provide pre-built binaries for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS.

This is the recommended setup for developers who want to work on the GStreamer code itself and/or modify it, or application developers who wish to quickly try a feature which isn't yet in a released version of GStreamer.

Note: This only applies for doing GStreamer development on Linux, Windows and macOS. If you:

  1. Want to do GStreamer development for Android, iOS, or UWP, or
  2. Have to build GStreamer packages for distribution or deployment, or
  3. Need plugins with external dependencies without Meson ports

Please refer to Building using Cerbero, which can be used to build a specific GStreamer release or to build unreleased GStreamer code.

What are Meson, gst-build and the GStreamer monorepo?

The Meson build system is a portable build system which is fast and meant to be more user friendly than alternatives. It generates build instructions which can then be executed by ninja. The GStreamer project uses it for all subprojects.

In September 2021 all of the main GStreamer modules were merged into a single code repository, the GStreamer mono repo which lives in the main GStreamer git repository, and this is where all GStreamer development happens nowadays for GStreamer version 1.19/1.20 and later.

Before the mono repository merge the different GStreamer modules lived in separate git repositories and there was a separate meta-builder project called gst-build to download and build all the subprojects. This is what you should use if you want to build or develop against older stable branches such as GStreamer 1.16 or 1.18.

If you want to build or develop against upcoming development or stable branches you should use the main branch of the GStreamer module containing the mono repository.

In the following sections we will only talk about the GStreamer mono repo, but gst-build works pretty much the same way, the only difference being that it would download the various GStreamer submodules as well.

Setting up the build with Meson

In order to build the current GStreamer development version, which will become the 1.20 stable branch in the near future, clone the GStreamer mono repository:

git clone
cd gstreamer

Or if you have developer access to the repositories:

git clone
cd gstreamer

If you want to build the stable 1.18 or 1.16 branches, clone gst-build:

git clone
cd gst-build

Repository layout

The repository contains a few notable scripts and directories:

  1. is the top-level build definition which will recursively configure all dependencies. It also defines some helper commands allowing you to have a development environment or easily update git repositories for the GStreamer modules.
  2. subprojects/ is the directory containing GStreamer modules and a selection of dependencies.

Basic meson and ninja usage

Configuring a module (or several in one go when in gst-build) is done by executing:

meson setup <build_directory>

The build_directory is where all the build instructions and output will be located (This is also called "out of directory" building). If the directory is not created it will be done so at this point. Note that older versions of meson could run without any command argument, this is now deprecated.

There is only one restriction regarding the location of the build_directory: it can't be the same as the source directory (i.e. where you cloned your module). It can be outside of that directory or below/within that directory though.

Once meson is done configuring, you can either:

  1. enter the specified build directory and run ninja.

    cd <build_directory>
  2. or instead of switching to the build directory every time you wish to execute ninja commands, you can just specify the build directory as an argument. The advantage of this option is that you can run it from anywhere (instead of changing to the ninja directory)

    ninja -C </path/to/build_directory>

This will build everything from that module (and subprojects if building gst-build or the mono repository).

Note: You do not need to re-run meson when you modify source files, you just need to re-run ninja. If you build/configuration files changed, ninja will figure out on its own that meson needs to be re-run and will do that automatically.

Entering the development environment

GStreamer is made of several tools, plugins and components. In order to make it easier for development and testing, there is a target (provided by gst-build or the mono repository, and in future directly by meson itself) which will setup environment variables accordingly so that you can use all the build results directly.

For anyone familiar with python and virtualenv, you will feel right at home.

The script is called, it is located in the root of the GStreamer mono-repository.

Another way to enter the virtual environment is to execute ninja -C <path/to/build_directory> devenv. This option has less options and is therefore not compatible with some workflows.

NOTE: you cannot use meson or reconfigure with ninja within the virtual environment, therefore build before entering the environment or build from another terminal/terminal-tab.

How does it work?

Start a new shell session with a specific set of environment variables, that tell GStreamer where to find plugins or libraries.

The most important options are:

  • Shell context related variables
    • PATH - System path used to search for executable files, gst-env will append folders containing executables from the build directory.
    • GST_PLUGIN_PATH - List of paths to search for plugins (.so/.dll files), gst-env will add all plugins found within the GstPluginsPath.json file and from a few other locations.
    • GST_PLUGIN_SYSTEM_PATH - When set this will make GStreamer check for plugins in system wide paths, this is kept blank on purpose by gst-env to avoid using plugins installed outside the environment.
    • GST_REGISTRY - Use a custom file as plugin cache / registry. gst-env utilizes the one found in the given build directory.
  • Meson (build environment) related variables
    • GST_VERSION - Sets the build version in meson.
    • GST_ENV - Makes sure that neither meson or ninja are run from within the gst-env. Can be used to identify if the environment is active.
  • Validation (test runners) related variables
    • GST_VALIDATE_SCENARIOS_PATH - List of paths to search for validation scenario files (list of actions to be executed by the pipeline). By default gst-env will use all scenarious found in the prefix/share/gstreamer-1.0/validate/scenarios directory within the parent directory of
    • GST_VALIDATE_PLUGIN_PATH - List of paths to search for plugin files to add to the plugin registry. The default search path is in the given build directory under subprojects/gst-devtools/validate/plugins.

The general idea is to set up the meson build directory, build the project and the switch to the development environment with gst-env. This creates a development environment in your shell, that provides a separate set of plugins and tools. To check if you are in the development environment run: echo $GST_ENV, which will be set by gst_env to gst-$GST_VERSION.

You will notice the prompt changed accordingly. You can then run any GStreamer tool you just built directly (like gst-inspect-1.0, gst-launch-1.0, ...).

Options gst-env

  • builddir

    • By default, the script will try to find the build directory within the build or builddir directory within the same folder where are located. This option allows to specify a different location. This might be useful when you have multiple different builds but you don't want to jump between folders.
  • srcdir

    • The parent folder of is used by default. This option is used to get the current branch of the repository, to fetch GstValidate plugins and for gdb.
  • sysroot

    • Useful if the project was cross-compiled on another machine and mounted via a network file system/ssh file system/etc. Adjusts the paths (e.g. the paths found in GST_PLUGIN_PATH) by removing the front part of the path which matches sysroot.

    For example if your rootfs is at /srv/rootfs, then the v4l2codecs plugin might be built at /srv/rootfs/home/user/gstreamer/build/subprojects/gst-plugins-bad/sys/v4l2codecs. By executing --sysroot /srv/rootfs the path will be stored within GST_PLUGIN_PATH as: /home/user/gstreamer/build/subprojects/gst-plugins-bad/sys/v4l2codecs.

  • wine

    • Extend the GST_VERSION environment variable with a specific wine command
  • winepath

    • Add additional elements to the WINEPATH variable for wine environments.
  • only-environment

    • Instead of opening a new shell environment, print the environment variables that would be used.

Use cases

Setting up a development environment while keeping the distribution package

This case is very simple all you have to do is either:

  • ./ from the project root
  • ninja -C build devenv (build is the generated meson build directory)
  • meson devenv from the meson build directory (e.g. build) within the project root

Using GStreamer as sub project to another project

This case is very similar to the previous, the only important deviation is that the file system structure is important. gst-env will look for a GstPluginPaths.json file either within the meson build directory (e.g. build) or within build/subprojects/gstreamer.

Cross-compiling in combination with a network share

For cross compiling in general take a look at the meson documentation or at projects like gst-build-sdk.

The basic idea is to prepare a rootfs on the cross compile host, that is similar to that of target machine, prepare a cross-file.txt, build the project and export it via a NFS mount/NFS rootfs/SSHFS/Syncthing etc.

On the target machine you then have to remove the path to the rootfs on the build machine from the GStreamer paths:

  • ./ --sysroot /path/to/rootfs-on-cross-compile-host

Working with multiple branches or remotes

It is not uncommon to track multiple git remote repositories (such as the official upstream repositories and your personal clone on gitlab).

In the gstreamer mono repository, just add your personal git remotes as you would do with any other git repository, e.g.:

git remote add personal
git fetch

In gst-build (for 1.16/1.18 branches), you can add your personal git remotes in the relevant subproject directory (and that would have to be done for each subproject of interest, since the old 1.16/1.18 branches live in separate git repositories), e.g.:

cd subprojects/gstreamer/
git remote add personal
git fetch


You can list all the available options of a meson project by using the configure command:

meson configure

If you have an already configured build directory, you can provide that and you will additionally get the configured values for that build:

meson configure <build-directory>

That command will list for each option:

  • The name of the option
  • The default (or configured) value of the option
  • The possible values
  • The description of that option

The values with auto mean that meson will figure out at configuration time the proper value (for example, if you have the available development packages to build a certain plugin).

You will also see values with <inherited from main project>. This is mostly used for options which are generic options. For example the doc option is present at the top-level, and also on every submodules (ex: gstreamer:doc). Generally you only want to set the value of that option once, and all submodules will inherit from that.

You can then provide those options to meson when configuring the build with -D<option_name>=<option_value>. For example, if one does not want to build the rust plugins in gst-build (rs option), you would do:

meson -Drs=disabled <build-directory>

You can also peek at the meson_options.txt files and subproject/xyz/meson_options.txt files which is where the various project specific build options are listed. These do not include all the standard Meson options however.

Running tests

Running the unit tests is done by calling meson test from the build directory, or meson test -C <path/to/build_directory>. If there are any failures you can have a look at the file specified at the end or you can run meson test --print-errorlogs which will show you the logs of the failing test after execution.

You can also execute just a subset of tests by specifying the name name. For example meson test gst_gstpad. The complete list of tests is available with meson test --list.

If the gst-devtools submodule is built, you can also use gst-validate-launchergst-validate for running tests.

gst-validate-launcher check.gst*

Going further

More details are available in the GStreamer mono repo README or (for the older 1.16/1.18 branches) in the gst-build documentation.

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