Kotlin Help

The basics of Kotlin Multiplatform project structure

With Kotlin Multiplatform, you can share code among different platforms. This article explains the constraints of the shared code, how to distinguish between shared and platform-specific parts of your code, and how to specify the platforms on which this shared code works.

You'll also learn the core concepts of Kotlin Multiplatform project setup, such as common code, targets, platform-specific and intermediate source sets, and test integration. That will help you set up your multiplatform projects in the future.

The model presented here is simplified compared to the one used by Kotlin. However, this basic model should be adequate for the majority of cases.

Common code

Common code is the Kotlin code shared among different platforms.

Consider the simple "Hello, World" example:

fun greeting() { println("Hello, Kotlin Multiplatform!") }

Kotlin code shared among platforms is typically located in the commonMain directory. The location of code files is important, as it affects the list of platforms to which this code is compiled.

The Kotlin compiler gets the source code as input and produces a set of platform-specific binaries as a result. When compiling multiplatform projects, it can produce multiple binaries from the same code. For example, the compiler can produce JVM .class files and native executable files from the same Kotlin file:

Common code

Not every piece of Kotlin code can be compiled to all platforms. The Kotlin compiler prevents you from using platform-specific functions or classes in your common code since this code can't be compiled to a different platform.

For instance, you can't use the java.io.File dependency from the common code. It's a part of the JDK, while common code is also compiled to native code, where the JDK classes are not available:

Unresolved Java reference

In common code, you can use Kotlin Multiplatform libraries. These libraries provide a common API that can be implemented differently on different platforms. In this case, platform-specific APIs serve as extra parts, and trying to use such an API in common code results in an error.

For example, kotlinx.coroutines is a Kotlin Multiplatform library that supports all targets, but it also has a platform-specific part that converts kotlinx.coroutines concurrent primitives to JDK concurrent primitives, like fun CoroutinesDispatcher.asExecutor(): Executor. This additional part of the API isn't available in commonMain.


Targets define the platforms to which Kotlin compiles the common code. These could be, for example, the JVM, JS, Android, iOS, or Linux. The previous example compiled the common code to the JVM and native targets.

A Kotlin target is an identifier that describes a compilation target. It defines the format of the produced binaries, available language constructions, and allowed dependencies.

You should first declare a target to instruct Kotlin to compile code for that specific target. In Gradle, you declare targets using predefined DSL calls inside the kotlin {} block:

kotlin { jvm() // Declares a JVM target iosArm64() // Declares a target that corresponds to 64-bit iPhones }

This way, each multiplatform project defines a set of supported targets. See the Hierarchical project structure section to learn more about declaring targets in your build scripts.

With the jvm and iosArm64 targets declared, the common code in commonMain will be compiled to these targets:


To understand which code is going to be compiled to a specific target, you can think of a target as a label attached to Kotlin source files. Kotlin uses these labels to determine how to compile your code, which binaries to produce, and which language constructions and dependencies are allowed in that code.

If you want to compile the greeting.kt file to .js as well, you only need to declare the JS target. The code in commonMain then receives an additional js label, corresponding to the JS target, which instructs Kotlin to produce .js files:

Target labels

That's how the Kotlin compiler works with the common code compiled to all the declared targets. See Source sets to learn how to write platform-specific code.

Source sets

A Kotlin source set is a set of source files with its own targets, dependencies, and compiler options. It's the main way to share code in multiplatform projects.

Each source set in a multiplatform project:

  • Has a name that is unique for a given project.

  • Contains a set of source files and resources, usually stored in the directory with the name of the source set.

  • Specifies a set of targets to which the code in this source set compiles. These targets impact which language constructions and dependencies are available in this source set.

  • Defines its own dependencies and the compiler options.

Kotlin provides a bunch of predefined source sets. One of them is commonMain, which is present in all multiplatform projects and compiles to all declared targets.

You interact with source sets as directories inside src in Kotlin Multiplatform projects. For example, a project with the commonMain, iosMain, and jvmMain source sets has the following structure:

Shared sources

In Gradle scripts, you access source sets by name inside the kotlin.sourceSets {} block:

kotlin { // Targets declaration: // … // Source set declaration: sourceSets { commonMain { // configure the commonMain source set } } }

Aside from commonMain, other source sets can be either platform-specific or intermediate.

Platform-specific source sets

While having only common code is convenient, it's not always possible. Code in commonMain compiles to all declared targets, and Kotlin doesn't allow you to use any platform-specific APIs there.

In a multiplatform project with native and JS targets, the following code in commonMain doesn't compile:

// commonMain/kotlin/common.kt // Doesn't compile in common code fun greeting() { java.io.File("greeting.txt").writeText("Hello, Multiplatform!") }

As a solution, Kotlin creates platform-specific source sets, also referred to as platform source sets. Each target has a corresponding platform source set that compiles for only that target. For example, a jvm target has the corresponding jvmMain source set that compiles to only the JVM. Kotlin allows using platform-specific dependencies in these source sets, for instance, JDK in jvmMain:

// jvmMain/kotlin/jvm.kt // You can use Java dependencies in the `jvmMain` source set fun jvmGreeting() { java.io.File("greeting.txt").writeText("Hello, Multiplatform!") }

Compilation to a specific target

Compilation to a specific target works with multiple source sets. When Kotlin compiles a multiplatform project to a specific target, it collects all source sets labeled with this target and produces binaries from them.

Consider an example with jvm, iosArm64, and js targets. Kotlin creates the commonMain source set for common code and the corresponding jvmMain, iosArm64Main, and jsMain source sets for specific targets:

Compilation to a specific target

During compilation to the JVM, Kotlin selects all source sets labeled with "JVM", namely, jvmMain and commonMain. It then compiles them together to the JVM class files:

Compilation to JVM

Because Kotlin compiles commonMain and jvmMain together, the resulting binaries contain declarations from both commonMain and jvmMain.

When working with multiplatform projects, remember:

  • If you want Kotlin to compile your code to a specific platform, declare a corresponding target.

  • To choose a directory or source file to store the code, first decide among which targets you want to share your code:

    • If the code is shared among all targets, it should be declared in commonMain.

    • If the code is used for only one target, it should be defined in a platform-specific source set for that target (for example, jvmMain for the JVM).

  • Code written in platform-specific source sets can access declarations from the common source set. For example, the code in jvmMain can use code from commonMain. However, the opposite isn't true: commonMain can't use code from jvmMain.

  • Code written in platform-specific source sets can use the corresponding platform dependencies. For example, the code in jvmMain can use Java-only libraries, like Guava or Spring.

Intermediate source sets

Simple multiplatform projects usually have only common and platform-specific code. The commonMain source set represents the common code shared among all declared targets. Platform-specific source sets, like jvmMain, represent platform-specific code compiled only to the respective target.

In practice, you often need more granular code sharing.

Consider an example where you need to target all modern Apple devices and Android devices:

kotlin { android() iosArm64() // 64-bit iPhone devices macosArm64() // Modern Apple Silicon-based Macs watchosX64() // Modern 64-bit Apple Watch devices tvosArm64() // Modern Apple TV devices }

And you need a source set to add a function that generates a UUID for all Apple devices:

import platform.Foundation.NSUUID fun randomUuidString(): String { // You want to access Apple-specific APIs return NSUUID().UUIDString() }

You can't add this function to commonMain. commonMain is compiled to all declared targets, including Android, but platform.Foundation.NSUUID is an Apple-specific API that's not available on Android. Kotlin shows an error if you try to reference NSUUID in commonMain.

You could copy and paste this code to each Apple-specific source set: iosArm64Main, macosArm64Main, watchosX64Main, and tvosArm64Main. But this approach is not recommended because duplicating code like this is prone to errors.

To solve this issue, you can use intermediate source sets. An intermediate source set is a Kotlin source set that compiles to some, but not all of the targets in the project. You can also see intermediate source sets referred to as hierarchical source sets or simply hierarchies.

Kotlin creates some intermediate source sets by default. In this specific case, the resulting project structure will look like this:

Intermediate source sets

Here, the multicolored blocks at the bottom are platform-specific source sets. Target labels are omitted for clarity.

The appleMain block is an intermediate source set created by Kotlin for sharing code compiled to Apple-specific targets. The appleMain source set compiles to only Apple targets. Therefore, Kotlin allows using Apple-specific APIs in appleMain, and you can add the randomUUID() function here.

During compilation to a specific target, Kotlin gets all of the source sets, including intermediate source sets, labeled with this target. Therefore, all the code written in the commonMain, appleMain, and iosArm64Main source sets is combined during compilation to the iosArm64 platform target:

Native executables

Apple device and simulator targets

When you use Kotlin Multiplatform to develop iOS mobile applications, you usually work with the iosMain source set. While you might think it's a platform-specific source set for the ios target, there is no single ios target. Most mobile projects need at least two targets:

  • Device target is used to generate binaries that can be executed on iOS devices. There's currently only one device target for iOS: iosArm64.

  • Simulator target is used to generate binaries for the iOS simulator launched on your machine. If you have an Apple silicon Mac computer, choose iosSimulatorArm64 as a simulator target. Use iosX64 if you have an Intel-based Mac computer.

If you declare only the iosArm64 device target, you won't be able to run and debug your application and tests on your local machine.

Platform-specific source sets like iosArm64Main, iosSimulatorArm64Main, and iosX64Main are usually empty, as Kotlin code for iOS devices and simulators is normally the same. You can use only the iosMain intermediate source set to share code among all of them.

The same applies to other non-Mac Apple targets. For example, if you have the tvosArm64 device target for Apple TV and the tvosSimulatorArm64 and tvosX64 simulator targets for Apple TV simulators on Apple silicon and Intel-based devices, respectively, you can use the tvosMain intermediate source set for all of them.

Integration with tests

Real-life projects also require tests alongside the main production code. This is why all source sets created by default have the Main and Test prefixes. Main contains production code, while Test contains tests for this code. The connection between them is established automatically, and tests can use the API provided by the Main code without additional configuration.

The Test counterparts are also source sets similar to Main. For example, commonTest is a counterpart for commonMain and compiles to all of the declared targets, allowing you to write common tests. Platform-specific test source sets, such as jvmTest, are used to write platform-specific tests, for example, JVM-specific tests or tests that need JVM APIs.

Besides having a source set to write your common test, you also need a multiplatform testing framework. Kotlin provides a default kotlin.test library that comes with the @kotlin.Test annotation and various assertion methods like assertEquals and assertTrue.

You can write platform-specific tests like regular tests for each platform in their respective source sets. Like with the main code, you can have platform-specific dependencies for each source set, such as JUnit for JVM and XCTest for iOS. To run tests for a particular target, use the <targetName>Test task.

Learn how to create and run multiplatform tests in the Test your multiplatform app tutorial.

What's next?

Last modified: 06 June 2024