12 Features of GNU `make'
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.
* The `VPATH' variable and its special meaning. Searching
Directories for Prerequisites Directory Search. 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 `VPATH'
* Included makefiles. Including Other Makefiles Include.
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 Environment.
* Options passed through the variable `MAKEFLAGS' to recursive
invocations of `make'. Communicating Options to a
* The automatic variable `$%' is set to the member name in an
archive reference. Automatic Variables.
* The automatic variables `$@', `$*', `$<', `$%', and `$?' have
corresponding forms like `$(@F)' and `$(@D)'. We have generalized
this to `$^' as an obvious extension. Automatic Variables.
* Substitution variable references. Basics of Variable
* The command-line options `-b' and `-m', accepted and ignored. In
System V `make', these options actually do something.
* Execution of recursive commands to run `make' via the variable
`MAKE' even if `-n', `-q' or `-t' is specified. Recursive
Use of `make' Recursion.
* Support for suffix `.a' in suffix rules. Archive Suffix
Rules. This feature is obsolete in GNU `make', because the
general feature of rule chaining ( Chains of Implicit Rules
Chained Rules.) allows one pattern rule for installing members in
an archive ( Archive Update) to be sufficient.
* The arrangement of lines and backslash-newline combinations in
commands is retained when the commands are printed, so they appear
as they do in the makefile, except for the stripping of initial
The following features were inspired by various other versions of
`make'. In some cases it is unclear exactly which versions inspired
* Pattern rules using `%'. This has been implemented in several
versions of `make'. We're not sure who invented it first, but
it's been spread around a bit. Defining and Redefining
Pattern Rules Pattern Rules.
* Rule chaining and implicit intermediate files. This was
implemented by Stu Feldman in his version of `make' for AT&T
Eighth Edition Research Unix, and later by Andrew Hume of AT&T
Bell Labs in his `mk' program (where he terms it "transitive
closure"). We do not really know if we got this from either of
them or thought it up ourselves at the same time. Chains of
Implicit Rules Chained Rules.
* The automatic variable `$^' 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 Instead of Execution.
* 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 Reference. 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 `make' had `patsubst' before SunOS 4 was
* The special significance of `+' characters preceding command lines
( Instead of Executing the Commands Instead of Execution.) is
mandated by `IEEE Standard 1003.2-1992' (POSIX.2).
* The `+=' syntax to append to the value of a variable comes from
SunOS 4 `make'. Appending More Text to Variables Appending.
* The syntax `ARCHIVE(MEM1 MEM2...)' to list multiple members in a
single archive file comes from SunOS 4 `make'. Archive
* The `-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 `make':
* Use the `-v' or `--version' option to print version and copyright
* Use the `-h' or `--help' option to summarize the options to `make'.
* 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 `make' Recursion.
* Use the `-C' or `--directory' command option to change directory.
Summary of Options Options Summary.
* Make verbatim variable definitions with `define'. Defining
Variables Verbatim Defining.
* Declare phony targets with the special target `.PHONY'.
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 Phony Targets.
* Manipulate text by calling functions. Functions for
Transforming Text Functions.
* Use the `-o' or `--old-file' option to pretend a file's
modification-time is old. Avoiding Recompilation of Some
Files Avoiding Compilation.
* Conditional execution.
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
* Specify a search path for included makefiles. Including
Other Makefiles Include.
* Specify extra makefiles to read with an environment variable.
The Variable `MAKEFILES' MAKEFILES Variable.
* Strip leading sequences of `./' from file names, so that `./FILE'
and `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
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 `make' Recursion.
* Provide any goals given on the command line in the variable
`MAKECMDGOALS'. Arguments to Specify the Goals Goals.
* Specify static pattern rules. Static Pattern Rules Static
* Provide selective `vpath' search. Searching Directories for
Prerequisites Directory Search.
* Provide computed variable references. Basics of Variable
* Update makefiles. How Makefiles Are Remade Remaking
Makefiles. 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 Catalogue of Rules.
* The built-in variable `MAKE_VERSION' gives the version number of
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