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Cross compilers, native compilation, or some kind of VM (like Java)?

patarapolw profile image Pacharapol Withayasakpunt ・1 min read

Of course, JavaScript with web browser is also a VM, but it cannot access filesystem, and much less powerful than JVM.

Docker is probably not an option, when distributing desktop apps to end-users.

So, if cross compilation, what is your toolset and language of choice? I realized I can cross-compile Go with xgo (which supports all three major platforms), and Rust with cross (which does not support macOS). I have no idea how to do C/C++ directly.

Not sure if Python, how do you link for the different platforms you are not using?

I also realized that it might be possible to compile semi-natively via Docker with WINE, which is again, cannot target macOS. - Electron Builder can also use this method.

Don’t expect that you can build app for all platforms on one platform.

Another safe way is to use Java or JVM, but how many (non-dev) people actually installed JRE these days?

Lastly, if you use native compilation, how often do you have to open other OS's. I can open Windows in VirtualBox, but I yet to have access to Hackintosh (i.e. macOS).

And yes, I do realize that I can compile on CI with both Windows (which has Visual Studio) and macOS (which has Xcode) as well; but I don't have much experience on that.

Discussion (5)

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cacilhas profile image
Arĥimedeς ℳontegasppα ℭacilhας

I’ve understood you wanna develop desktop applications for final user, am I right?

There’s no final answer, all I can do is telling you my feeling.

I won’t incite you to do cross-compilation, but it’s not to discard.

C/C++ are cross-platform if you code properly. For instance, using Qt, C++ becomes a whole other language, that you can compile for Linux, BSD, macOS, and Windows virtually with no changes.

Python runs over a VM too, called CPython. If you avoid system-coupled data, a Python application potentially can run over Linux, Windows, and so on. Take a look at os module and its os.path submodule.

Finally the JVM is always a fail safe.

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zoedreams profile image
☮️✝️☪️🕉☸️✡️☯️ • Edited

you can access the FS if you have chrome ask the user to access its system storage module. This will open up the abillity to access your FS.. extensions need to do this. One thing alot of people do is author an extension which provides FS access and gives your webapp API. ya kinda scarey when you think of it.

I personally do not use VM, i just have a bunch of computers all networked together. It's like a happy family. I give them all names usually from my favorite movies. Electron honestly i feel is the most stable and works on almost everything. Honestly it a bit scarey too, because if you REALLy know how to install and configure it right you can gain root access to any machine your app is running on. even on a usb. so in essence its a white hat root kit. Because of this app store does not allow electron applications on it. I heard they are looking at adding desktop compliation to Flutter. There is also unity which does cross platform.

you could write your own transpiler to spit out code to whatever OS kinda like how we used to make websites for IE, Chrome , Firefox back in 2000s. Basically think of electron as a c++ wraper toolkit which uses ECMA or typescript, or if you use babel any language technically. I really feel this technology will be around awhile.

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zoedreams profile image
☮️✝️☪️🕉☸️✡️☯️

you can always write your own boot loader and llvm ;) jk. who does that besides linus t . lol.

I would go with go. Go for it. Google will be rallying behind this as this copyright war boils. Also don't forget to recycle your emails. have a nice day :)

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chand1012 profile image
Chandler Lofland

The issue with supporting all three of the major platforms (Linux, Windows, macOS) is that without using CI/CD with unit testing you're going to have to try and run the program on all of the systems. This is why when I do attempt to write a program that is supposed to run on multiple OSes I tend to leave out macOS as I don't have access to an OSX machine nor an easy way to create a VM for macOS. I have in the past made a macOS VM on my laptop but that took days of tinkering and is very frowned upon by Apple. Plus, assuming you don't do any tedious workarounds, you absolutely need an Intel processor to get it up and running.

In my opinion, the easiest way to create cross-compiling/running apps with little in the way of issues with OS compatibility is probably going to be Java, or something similar. You are allowed to bundle a JRE with your application (provided you meet Oracle's TOS or decided to use an open source alternative like OpenJDK), and there are still a great deal of users who still have a JRE on their computers. This is assuming they would have another application that requires it, which if they're running older software is definitely the case. Plus, if a GUI is needed, Java has a few cross-platform libraries available for that. Finally, you could go the old fashioned route of just saying "You need to have a Java installation to run this program".

Python isn't a bad choice, but packaging the application is a pain, because like Java, it needs a way to run. Now you could go the intermediate route and run Python on the JVM with Jython, but unless a library is written in pure Python, or you end up just using Java libraries, you're going to be limited as to what you can use to write your application.

If native is a requirement, I think Go would be the best option. You can easily cross compile for basically any platform, and most of the popular Go libraries had cross compatibility in mind when they were written. The issue is going to be with GUIs. This is because, while Go has plenty of cross compatible libraries, there is only a handful of underdeveloped cross platform GUIs. If this program is command-line only anyway, I'd write it in Go.

Finally, what I would actually do: Don't distribute an application to the user at all. With how the world of development is going and how the web is evolving I think that desktop applications are dying, with exceptions. Video games (contrary to what everyone is trying to tell us) will still be native, there are plenty of scientific computing, engineering, software development, among many others, that would require access to the operating system or the user's hardware. Unless you absolutely need access to a regular end-user's hardware or operating system, most people are going to be just fine with using said application in their browser, "on the cloud" as the marketing teams say.

Sorry for the speech, just thought I would put in my two cents.

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slavius profile image
Slavius • Edited

Actually C++ with Qt Framework is used surprisingly often to deliver cross platform apps.
Another choice (despite less frequent) is .Net Core (cross platform) with Avalonia UI.