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makepp_rules -- How to tell makepp to build something


A rule is what tells makepp how to build a file or a class of files. Makepp supports the same rule syntax as other implementations of make, plus some additions of its own.

A rule has the general format

    target_expression : dependency_expression  [ : optional arguments]

The list of targets may not contain any automatic variables (except $(foreach)). The dependency list may contain only automatic variables referring to the target (i.e., $(output), $(outputs), or their synonymns</a>). The action may contain any automatic variables.

If makepp decides that the rule needs to be executed, each line of the rule is executed sequentially, and if any returns a non-zero status, the remainder are not executed (and makepp aborts with an error unless you specified the -k option on the command line.) Each action should be only one line. If an action is too long to write conveniently on a single line, you can split it into several lines and put a backslash to indicate that the several lines should be combined into one.

In order to distinguish actions from the next rule, the action should be indented more than the line containing the targets and dependencies. Unlike other implementations of make, makepp doesn't really care how much you indent it or whether you use tab characters rather than spaces. To keep backward compatibility with traditional make, the rules makepp uses to decide when actions end and the next rule begins are somewhat complicated:

Normally, each shell command is printed as it is executed. However, if the first word of the action is noecho (or if it begins with the character @), then the command is not printed. For example,

    %.o: %.cxx
          noecho $(LIBTOOL) --mode=compile $(CC) -c $(input)

This means that when the libtool command is executed, it is not printed. (Libtool itself usually prints the modified command that it executes, so it's redundant to print it twice.)

Normally, if the shell command returns a non-zero status, then makepp aborts because the command failed. However, some programs incorrectly set the status on exit, or there may be an error which really isn't fatal and shouldn't abort the whole compilation. You can cause makepp to ignore the return status by specifying ignore_error as the first word of the command line (or - as the first character). For example,

    $(phony distribution):
        ignore_error rm -r my_program-$(VERSION) # Get rid of previous junk.
        mkdir my_program-$(VERSION)
        cp $(FILES) my_program-$(VERSION)
        tar cf my_program-$(VERSION).tar my_program-$(VERSION)

This command makes a directory, copies a bunch of files into it, and then puts everything into a tar file for distribution. It's a good idea to clean out the previous contents of the directory, if there was anything there previously, and that's what the first line does. The rm might fail, but its return status is ignored.

There are several different kinds of rules, each with different purposes.

Explicit Rules

    target1 target2: dependency1 dependency2 ...
        actions to be performed

This syntax specifies that in order to make either target1 or target2, all the files dependency1, dependency2, etc., must already have been made. Then the given actions are executed by the shell to make the targets. Unlike traditional makes, makepp usually assumes that one invocation of the action makes all of the targets (unless there are no dependencies). For example, one invocation of yacc creates both output files for this rule: : parser.y
        $(YACC) -d parser.y

Note that other implementations of make do not have a concept of a single command producing multiple output files, and so when you specify multiple targets they will execute the rule once per target. Makepp will revert to this behavior if it looks like this is an old-style makefile. Specifically, it will execute the rule once per target, instead of just once overall, if all of the following are true:

For example,

    all test install:
        for subdir in $(SUBDIRS); do cd $$subdir && $(MAKE) $@; cd ..; done

is a common idiom in makefiles, and makepp supports it. (Note that you should never use recursive make in any new makefiles you write--use the load_makefile statement, or implicit makefile loading instead.)

If you want to have the same rule executed once for each target, it's preferable to use either a pattern rule (see below) or a foreach clause.

As with other implementations of make, the first explicit rule in a file is the default target, and is made if you do not specify any targets on the command line.

Phony targets

A phony target is a target that will never actually exist in the file system; it's just a way of getting makepp to build some targets and possibly execute some additional commands.

A typical phony target is all, which usually is used to cause everything that can be built to be built, like this:

    all: prog1 prog2 subdir/prog3 subdir2/libmine.a
          @echo "All done!"

If you type makepp all, or if you put all as the first explicit target in your makefile (which is typical) and just type makepp, then it will cause all the dependencies to be built, then it will print "All done!". At this point, makepp will look for the file ./all and will discover that it doesn't exist. It will complain loudly.

To keep makepp from expecting the file ./all to exit, you need to tell it that it's a phony target. Just put a line like the following in your makefile (it makes no difference where):

    .PHONY: all

An equivalent alternative which is sometimes more convenient is to use the $(phony ) function, like this:

    $(phony all(: prog1 prog2 subdir/prog3 subdir2/libmine.a

Phony targets in one makefile can refer to phony targets in another makefile. This is often done with the clean target, like this:

    # Top level makefile:
    # lots of rules and stuff here
    # ....
    $(phony clean): subdir1/clean subdir2/clean
        $(RM) -rf my_program .makepp*

Then in the subdirectories, the makefiles might read like this:

    # Makefile in a subdirectory
    # ...
    $(phony clean):
        $(RM) -rf *.o *.a .makepp*


It is safe to specify wildcards in the dependency list. Wildcards match not only files that exist, but files which can be created given the rules in the makefile. For example, to build a library from all .o files in a directory, you could write this:

    libmine.a: *.o
        $(RM) -f $(output)
        ar cr $(output) $(inputs)

This will work even if none of the .o files have been created yet, because makepp's wildcards match files which do not yet exist but can be built.

Makepp supports all the usual shell wildcards (*, ?, and []). It also has a wildcard ** which matches any number of intervening directories. (This idea was stolen from zsh.) For example, **/*.c matches all the .c files in the entire source tree. objects/**/*.o matches all the .o files contained anywhere in the subdirectory objects or any of its subdirectories or any of their subdirectories. The ** wildcard will not follow soft links to directories. It also will never return phony targets.

Makepp's wildcards will ignore files or directories which exist but cannot be read. After all, such files cannot be used in the build process anyway. Putting unreadable files in a directory is primarily useful to inhibit the automatic import of the given file from a repository.

Pattern rules

A pattern rule is a rule that is applied based on some textual pattern. This is used to apply the same rule to a whole class of files. The syntax is the same as GNU make's pattern rules:

    %.o: %.c
        $(CC) -c $(input) -o $(output)

This says that any file in the current directory which matches *.c can be converted into the corresponding .o file using the given command.

Note that several pattern dependencies may be supplied. For example, if your xyz.o file depends on the corresponding xyz.cpp file, and also on a file called moc_xyz.cflags which contains the compiler options, this could be expressed with:

    %.o: %.cpp %.cflags
        $(CXX) `cat $(stem).cflags` -c $(inputs) -o $(output)

You may also have several pattern targets. For example, : %.y
        yacc -d $(input)
        mv $(stem).tab.h
        mv $(stem).tab.c

Ordinarily, pattern rules only look for files in the current directories. You can force them to search in the current directory and all directories beneath it by using the command line option --percent-subdirs, or by specifying

    percent_subdirs := 1

before the first pattern rule in your makefile.

Static pattern rules

A static pattern rule is a pattern rule that is applied only to a limited set of files:

    $(SPECIAL_MODULES).o : %.o : %.cpp
        $(CX) -c $(input) -o 

This says that the pattern rule applies only to the files in $(SPECIAL_MODULES).o.

This is mostly for compatibility with GNU make; foreach rules (see below) are a more powerful way of doing the same thing.

Foreach rules

The above pattern rule syntax is powerful enough to support almost all builds, but occasionally it is necessary to do something more complicated. Makepp provides a more powerful syntax: the :foreach clause for the rule.

    target_expression : dependency_expression : foreach file-list

The simplest kind of foreach rule is just a pattern rule whose application is restricted to a specific list of files. For example, suppose you have a pattern rule that tells makepp how to compile all .c files. However, you have a list of .c files for which you want to do something different. You could do something like this:

    # Here's the rule that applies to everything:
    %.o : %.c
        $(CC) $(CFLAGS) -c $(input) -o $(output)

    %.o : %.c : foreach $(SPECIAL_MODULES)
        $(CC) $(SPECIAL_CFLAGS) -c $(input) -o $(output)

An even more powerful use of foreach rules takes advantage of the fact that the variable $(foreach) is set in turn to each file matching the file list and the target and dependency expressions are evaluated. The file-list may contain wildcards, and these match even files which don't exist yet but which can be built (see "Wildcards" in makepp_rules).

This is an unwieldy syntax but it is extremely flexible, because the $(foreach) variable may appear in any way in the expression. First, note that pattern rules are in fact a special case of foreach rules; the pattern rule

     %.o : %.c
        $(CC) $(CFLAGS) -c $(input) -o $(output)

is exactly equivalent to:

    $(patsubst %.c, %.o, $(foreach)) : $(foreach) : foreach *.c
        $(CC) $(CFLAGS) -c $(input) -o $(output)

(In fact, it's converted to approximately that internally.)

As an example of how you would use a :foreach clause where a pattern rule isn't sufficient, suppose you have some .c files which are built using some kind of preprocessor which takes as input files with a .k extension. You want to compile those .c files with a different set of compilation options than the usual .c files which are ordinary source files. You could do something like this:

    # Rule for ordinary .c files:
    %.o : %.c
        $(CC) $(CFLAGS) -c $(input) -o $(output)

    # Rule to make .c files from .k files:
    %.c : %.k
        $(preprocessor) $(input) > $(output)

    # Special build rules for .c files which are made from .k files:
    $(foreach:%.k=%.o) : $(foreach:%.c=%.k) : foreach *.k
        $(CC) $(SPECIAL_CFLAGS) -c $(input) -o $(output)

(This uses the slightly more concise substitution reference syntax rather than calling patsubst explicitly.)

Note that if all you want to do is to change the value of a variable (CFLAGS in this case) it's sometimes more convenient to use target-specific variables.

Legacy suffix rules

For backward compatibility, makepp supports the old-style suffix rules.


is equivalent to

    %.suffix2: %.suffix1

but much harder to remember. (Which suffix comes first?) This is usually done like this:

        $(CC) $(CFLAGS) -c $*.c -o $*.o

which is exactly equivalent to

    %.o : %.c
        $(CC) $(CFLAGS) -c $(input) -o $(output)

Conflicting rules

When there is more than one way to make a file, makepp uses a simple procedure to determine which rule to use.

Rule options

Sometimes it is necessary to supply additional options to modify how makepp executes the rule. These options are specified as :optionname value, either on the line containing the dependencies, or separated on subsequent lines.

Supplying the options on separate lines may make it possible for you to use the same makefile with makepp and a traditional make. For example, target : dependencies : signature target_newer actions

will work fine with a traditional unix make, because it interprets the : signature line as a shell command, and a command beginning with a colon does nothing.

signature signature_method

     target : dependencies
            : signature target_newer

This tells makepp what algorithm to use to determine if the file is out of date. See makepp_signatures for more details. Signature methods which are included with the makepp distribution are are exact_match, target_newer, md5, and c_compilation_md5. This overrides any signature method specified with the -m or --signature-method command line options, or with the signature statement.

scanner name

This tells makepp how to scan for include files. Usually, makepp guess how to do this based on the words in the command itself (see makepp_scanning for details). However, if makepp guesses wrongly, you may want to explicitly indicate the scanner, like this:

        : scanner c_compilation
        action here

This causes makepp to perform the same scanning that it does for C/C++ build commands, even if it doesn't recognize the action as a C compilation.

Legal values for :scanner are (currently):


Don't bother scanning the command or any files at all. Makepp will not know about any dependencies or targets other than those explicitly listed in the rule. This is the default for all commands that makepp does not recognize.


Uses thes scanner for C/C++ compilation, which looks for include files.

The default scanner depends on the command. If you do not specify a :scanner option, then the first word of the command is examined. If it looks like a compile or link command, then makepp will use the c_compilation scanner; otherwise it usese the none scanner. For more details on this, or if you want to write your own scanner or change makepp's default scanners, see makepp_scanning.

Special characters

Makepp can support filenames that have special characters in them like a colon or a space. Suppose, for example, you want to create a file called a:thing from the file b:thing. You can't write the rule this way:

    a:thing : b:thing       # This is a syntax error
        cat $(input) > $(output)

because makepp won't know which colons separate targets from dependencies and which are part of the filenames. Instead, simply enclose the name in quotes, like this:

    "a:thing" : "b:thing"
        cat $(input) > $(output)

Now the rule is unambiguous.

Makepp's quoting rules are quite similar to the shell's. You can, for example, use single quotes instead of double quotes, or you can escape special characters with a backslash:

    a\:thing : 'b:thing'
        cat $(input) > $(output)

Suppose, for example, that your filename is '"!;\$. Now why you'd want such a filename I don't know, but here are several ways you could specify it to makepp (and the shell):


Note that (unlike the shell) variables beginning with $ are expanded even inside single quotes. Dollar signs cannot be protected by quotes or backslashes. To get a literal dollar sign, use a double dollar sign.

Generally, you should be able to deal with just about any special character by quoting it in some way. This includes spaces, control characters, etc. However, be aware that at present, makepp's comment stripping is somewhat simplistic, and any # characters preceded by whitespace will be interpreted as comments no matter how they are quoted.

When a target or dependency name is put into an automatic variable like $(output), then the quotes and any backslashes are stripped. This means that if you want to reference the filename in the actions, you will probably have to quote it again, like this:

    "a file name with spaces":
        echo "Special contents" > "$@"

If you don't put the quotes around $@, then the shell will see the command

    echo "Special contents" > a file name with spaces

which writes the string "Special contents file name with spaces" to the file called a. This is probably not what you want.


Gary Holt (

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