|GNU Make Manual||www.imodulo.com · 2003-04-05|
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Here is a summary of the features of GNU
make, for comparison with and credit to other versions of
make. We consider the features of
make in 4.2 BSD systems as a baseline. If you are concerned with writing portable makefiles, you should not use the features of
make listed here, nor the ones in Missing.
Many features come from the version of
make in System V.
VPATH variable and its special meaning. Searching Directories for Prerequisites. This feature exists in System V
make, but is undocumented. It is documented in 4.3 BSD
make (which says it mimics System V's
Included makefiles. Including Other Makefiles. Allowing multiple files to be included with a single directive is a GNU extension.
Variables are read from and communicated via the environment. Variables from the Environment.
Options passed through the variable
MAKEFLAGS to recursive invocations of
make. Communicating Options to a Sub-
The automatic variable
$% is set to the member name in an archive reference. Automatic Variables.
The automatic variables
$? have corresponding forms like
$(@D). We have generalized this to
$^ as an obvious extension. Automatic Variables.
Substitution variable references. Basics of Variable References.
The command-line options
-m, accepted and ignored. In System V
make, these options actually do something.
Execution of recursive commands to run
make via the variable
MAKE even if
-t is specified. Recursive Use of
Support for suffix
.a in suffix rules. Archive Suffix Rules. This feature is obsolete in GNU
make, because the general feature of rule chaining (Chains of Implicit Rules) allows one pattern rule for installing members in an archive (Archive Update) to be sufficient.
The arrangement of lines and backslash-newline combinations in commands is retained when the commands are printed, so they appear as they do in the makefile, except for the stripping of initial whitespace.
The following features were inspired by various other versions of
make. In some cases it is unclear exactly which versions inspired which others.
Pattern rules using
%. This has been implemented in several versions of
make. We're not sure who invented it first, but it's been spread around a bit. Defining and Redefining Pattern Rules.
Rule chaining and implicit intermediate files. This was implemented by Stu Feldman in his version of
make for AT&T Eighth Edition Research Unix, and later by Andrew Hume of AT&T Bell Labs in his
mk program (where he terms it "transitive closure"). We do not really know if we got this from either of them or thought it up ourselves at the same time. Chains of Implicit Rules.
The automatic variable
$^ containing a list of all prerequisites of the current target. We did not invent this, but we have no idea who did. Automatic Variables. The automatic variable
$+ is a simple extension of
The "what if" flag (
-W in GNU
make) was (as far as we know) invented by Andrew Hume in
mk. Instead of Executing the Commands.
The concept of doing several things at once (parallelism) exists in many incarnations of
make and similar programs, though not in the System V or BSD implementations. Command Execution.
Modified variable references using pattern substitution come from SunOS 4. Basics of Variable References. This functionality was provided in GNU
make by the
patsubst function before the alternate syntax was implemented for compatibility with SunOS 4. It is not altogether clear who inspired whom, since GNU
patsubst before SunOS 4 was released.
The special significance of
+ characters preceding command lines (Instead of Executing the Commands) is mandated by IEEE Standard 1003.2-1992 (POSIX.2).
+= syntax to append to the value of a variable comes from SunOS 4
make. Appending More Text to Variables.
archive(mem1mem2...) to list multiple members in a single archive file comes from SunOS 4
make. Archive Members.
-include directive to include makefiles with no error for a nonexistent file comes from SunOS 4
make. (But note that SunOS 4
make does not allow multiple makefiles to be specified in one
-include directive.) The same feature appears with the name
sinclude in SGI
make and perhaps others.
The remaining features are inventions new in GNU
-version option to print version and copyright information.
-help option to summarize the options to
Simply-expanded variables. The Two Flavors of Variables.
Pass command-line variable assignments automatically through the variable
MAKE to recursive
make invocations. Recursive Use of
-directory command option to change directory. Summary of Options.
Make verbatim variable definitions with
define. Defining Variables Verbatim.
Declare phony targets with the special target
Andrew Hume of AT&T Bell Labs implemented a similar feature with a different syntax in his
mk program. This seems to be a case of parallel discovery. Phony Targets.
Manipulate text by calling functions. Functions for Transforming Text.
-old-file option to pretend a file's modification-time is old. Avoiding Recompilation of Some Files.
This feature has been implemented numerous times in various versions of
make; it seems a natural extension derived from the features of the C preprocessor and similar macro languages and is not a revolutionary concept. Conditional Parts of Makefiles.
Specify a search path for included makefiles. Including Other Makefiles.
Specify extra makefiles to read with an environment variable. The Variable
Strip leading sequences of
./ from file names, so that
file are considered to be the same file.
Use a special search method for library prerequisites written in the form
-lname. Directory Search for Link Libraries.
Allow suffixes for suffix rules (Old-Fashioned Suffix Rules) to contain any characters. In other versions of
make, they must begin with
. and not contain any
Keep track of the current level of
make recursion using the variable
MAKELEVEL. Recursive Use of
Provide any goals given on the command line in the variable
MAKECMDGOALS. Arguments to Specify the Goals.
Specify static pattern rules. Static Pattern Rules.
vpath search. Searching Directories for Prerequisites.
Provide computed variable references. Basics of Variable References.
Update makefiles. How Makefiles Are Remade. System V
make has a very, very limited form of this functionality in that it will check out SCCS files for makefiles.
Various new built-in implicit rules. Catalogue of Implicit Rules.
The built-in variable
MAKE_VERSION gives the version number of
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