Notes on Make build automation tool.

[ Check out all posts in “makefile” series here. ]

In my previous post, I mentioned the specific cases where I find it suitable to choose make as a starting point, over a modern meta-build system. I will elaborate on the reasons today.

I mentioned that make fits really well to the non-committal stage of a codebase. The stage where you want a streamlined dev-build-test loop, but that’s all you care about for now. But why is it good for that?

First of all, it is a smooth transition from using the compiler driver directly. No “project” or “executable” definition etc. You can move the compile command you were previously typing under a makefile rule, and refactor as you go.

Being fairly declarative, semantics of the make language allows you to concisely express relationships.

Make behaviour can be made very transparent, if you know the settings to make it so.

It naturally focuses you on the minimal set of low level actions that need to take place to get the output you need.

It is fast enough. It is standalone. It is flexible. It is ubiquitous.

You know perfectly well that directly working with make won’t scale well as the project grows. Or if you didn’t, you should really know that. But that is OK if you have no idea whether you will be iterating on that code long enough to care.

Over time, you end up collecting a few snippets that make it easier to remind yourself of the subtleties of make, and also to get better feedback from make.1 Then it becomes really easy to kickstart the prototyping phase of a new project without worrying about build and deployment decisions.

The next post will be the bad parts.

  1. For example, I shared a code snippet to help remember the automated variable bindings a few years ago.