# IWYU VSCode Integration

Include What You Use also known as IWYU, is an open-source clang-based tool for determining what include statements are needed in C/C++ files. Even if it's not perfect, it's quite useful to clean headers in a new or a legacy project.

Now that you know everything about IWYU, let's discover how to install this tool and integrate it into your VSCode setup.

# IWYU Installation

First step, let's install the software.

You can either build it directly from the source or download it from your favorite package manager. For this tutorial let's download the pre-built binaries.

brew install iwyu

# Linux
apt-get install -y iwyu


IWYU requires the compile_commands.json file to determine unused includes. This file can be generated by your favorite build system generator, for example with CMake we just need to add -DCMAKE_EXPORT_COMPILE_COMMANDS=1 to our build command:


A compile_commands.json should be generated in the build folder.

# Clean All The Includes

IWYU comes with two Python scripts: iwyu_tool.py and fix_includes.py. iwyu_tool.py is meant to be run before fix_includes.py.

Run the command below in the build folder where the compile_commands.json file is located. The command will generate the report of changes redirecting into the file iwyu.log.

# Generate iwyu.log

iwyu_tool.py -p . > iwyu.log

Lots of options are available with IWYU like restricting the processing to a file, a folder, a regex... One can find them with the following command:

iwyu_tool.py --help

# Cleaning the Includes

One can now clean the includes in their code base with the following command:

fix_includes.py < iwyu.log

⚠️ Important Note: This command can take a long time depending on the size of your project. One can speed-up the cleaning by adding concurrent sub-processes with the -j arguments.

Please also note that the command will use IWYU's default configuration. Some styling conventions are configurable like: include orders, namespace, etc. All those options can be found with fix_includes --help

💡 Don't hesitate to check IWYU's official documentation as well.

# VSCode Integration - Cleaning Current Edited File

Wouldn't that be great to have an IDE like action to clean the headers of the current file we are working on? Thanks to IWYU and VSCode tasks that's possible!

# IWYU: Cleaning One File

IWYU also let's us the possiblity to clean one file with the following command:

iwyu_tool.py -p <build_dir> <path_to_file_to_clean> | fix_includes.py

Let's integrate this command into VSCode.

# VSCode: Task to Clean Headers

VSCode offers us the possibility to customize our dev workflow with the help of the tasks.json. Let's craft a simple VSCode task to clean the current file we are working on.

    "tasks": [
            "type": "shell",
            "label": "Clean Current File Includes (IWYU)",
            "command": "iwyu_tool.py -p build ${relativeFile} | fix_includes.py",
            "presentation": {
                "reveal": "always" // Used to show the progress of the command
            "options": {
                "cwd": "${workspaceRoot}" // Tell that the command should be ran from the opened workspace
    "version": "2.0.0"

💡 More information about task.json can be found on VSCode's doc.

This task assumes our compile_commands.json file is located in the build folder. If for your project the folder is located elsewhere, feel free to change it!

The task is quite simple to write thanks to the predefined VSCode's variable ${relativeFile}. This variable holds the currently opened file path relative to the workspaceFolder, which is exactly what we needed.

All VSCode's predefined variables can be found here.

# Task Key Binding

Now, how to run quickly this new task from VSCode?

Unfortunately, there is no default shortcut defined for the tasks, we will have to define one. Go to Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts and assign a key binding to the following key:


For my OSX setup, I have set the shortcut to ⇧⌘T to stay consistent with the other VSCode shortcuts. When I hit ⇧⌘T it prompts the following:


Sweet isn't it? You can now clean dusty headers directly from VSCode 😀.

# Closing Words

If you enjoyed this article feel free to share it and tell me on Twitter!

See you soon for another article 👋