• A makefile is a data base that tells the make utilit how to recompile a system. In the default use case, $: make <filename> checks whether filename is out of date and, if so, recompiles it. In the way I use makefiles, $: make <rule> executes a predefined rule to accomplish a certain task like cleaning a particular dataset.

  • Rules consist of a target (the name of a file to be modified), prerequisites (other files on which the target depends on), and commands to be run in order to update the traget based on changes in the prerequisites.

  • A rule tells make when a target is out of date and how to update it. A target is out of date if it doesn’t exist or is older then one of its prerequisite files.

  • $: make executes the first specified rule, $: make <rule> executes a particular rule.

  • A normal prerequisite makes both an order statement and a dependency statement: the order statement ensures that all commands needed to produce the prerequisete are fully executed before any commands to produce the target, while the dependency statement ensures that the target is updated every time a prerequisite changes. Occasionally, we want a prerequisite to invoke the order without the dependency statement (i.e. target is not udpated when the prerequisite changes, but when target is being updated, then the prerequisite commandas are run first). We can do this by writing the rule as target: normal-prerequisites | order-only-prerequisites.

  • make does its work in two phases: during the read-in phase, it reads the makefile and internalises variables and rules to construct a dependency graph of all targets and their prerequisies; during the target-update phase, it determines what rules to update in what order and executes the commandas to do so.

  • As a result, variable and function expansion can happen either immediately (during the read-in phase) or deferred (after the read-in phase), and gives rise to two flavours of variables: recursively expanded variables, defined by varname = value are expanded at the time the variable is substituted during the target-update phase. Before that point, varname contains the content of value verbatim (e.g. if value is $(othervar), then that last string is the value of varname). In contrast, simply expanded variables, defined by varname := value is expanded immediately when the variable is defined during the read-in phase (and varname would be bound to the value of othervar in the above example).

  • To define a variable containing all csv files in a directory, do csvs := $(wildcard *.csv). The wildcard function is needed here so that the wildcard gets expanded during function creation (as opposed to creating the variable with value *.csv). I could also create a list containing the same files but with a parquet extensions like so: `parqs := $(patsubst %.csv,%.parquet,$(wildcard *.csv)).

  • Automatic variables: $^ is a list of all prerequisites, $@ is the target, $< the first prerequisite.

  • If a target is an action to be performed rather than a file to be updated, then it’s called a phony target. In this case, telling make that we’re using a phone target explicitly by prepending the rule with a line like .PHONY : nameofrule is useful for two reasons: make doesn’t think of a file called nameofrule as the target (which, if it did, would mean that our rule never gets run because it has no prerequisites so that make would think of nameofrule as always up to date) and it doesn’t check for implicit commands to update the target, which improves performance.

  • Commands begin with a tab and, unless specified otherwise, are executed by bin/sh. You can set a different shell by changing the value of the SHELL variable (I usually use SHELL := /bin/bash. Each line that begines with a tab and appears within a rule context (anything between the start of one rule and another) is interpreted as a command and sent to the shell.

  • The only thing make does with commands is to check for \ before newline, and for variables to expand (if you want $ to appear in the command, use $$). To prevent make from echoing a command, prepend it with @.

  • Prepend a command with - if you want make to continue regardless of errors. This can be useful for commands like -rm tempfile.csv, where you probaby want to continue even if the file didn’t exist and could thus not be removed.

Best practices

Define a phony target:

.PHONY: clean
    rm *.csv

Make $: make run all rules:

.PHONY: all
all : rule1 rule2

.PHONY: rule1
    mkdir hello

.PHONY: rule2
    rm -rf hello