Build template

1 minute read

I don’t like make.

The syntax is clunky, the semantics are unintuitive, it’s hard to get parallel builds to work well, and there are a million ways to shoot yourself in the foot.

Nevertheless, I stick with it, because it’s ubiquitous and it’s the simplest solution for what I do.

A simple Makefile might look like this:

all: main

OBJS = \
  Foo.o \
  Bar.o \

main: $(OBJS)
  $(CXX) $(LDFLAGS) $^ -o $@

This says main depends on Foo.o, Bar.o, and Baz.o; each of these is built using one of the builtin rules.

I often want some extra build flags for debugging or optimization, so I add:

CFLAGS += -ggdb
CXXFLAGS += -fno-inline

If I’m using GCC and I want automatic dependency generation, I add this:

DEP_FILES = $(patsubst %.o,%.d,$(OBJS))
-include $(DEP_FILES)

Now whenever I build Foo.o from Foo.cpp (or Foo.c), g++ will generate Foo.d at the same time. The next time I type make, it will read Foo.d to determine what Foo.o depends on.

And just in case something gets borked, I usually want a clean rule:


.PHONY: clean

Now none of this is intuitive (I learned it all from trial-and-error), and there’s a whole lot more that build systems need to do (building shared libraries, finding where libraries are located on a system, etc.), but this really does solve 90% of the problems I hit in small-to-medium projects. I’ve even used a setup like this in a medium-large project (> 200K lines of code) with success.

Please, tell me why I should switch? I despise make just as much as the next guy, but it’s simple, and it works.