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3.6 Variables reserved for the user

Some Makefile variables are reserved by the GNU Coding Standards for the use of the “user”—the person building the package. For instance, CFLAGS is one such variable.

Sometimes package developers are tempted to set user variables such as CFLAGS because it appears to make their job easier. However, the package itself should never set a user variable, particularly not to include switches that are required for proper compilation of the package. Since these variables are documented as being for the package builder, that person rightfully expects to be able to override any of these variables at build time.

To get around this problem, Automake introduces an automake-specific shadow variable for each user flag variable. (Shadow variables are not introduced for variables like CC, where they would make no sense.) The shadow variable is named by prepending ‘AM_’ to the user variable’s name. For instance, the shadow variable for YFLAGS is AM_YFLAGS. The package maintainer—that is, the author(s) of the and files—may adjust these shadow variables however necessary.

See Flag Variables Ordering, for more discussion about these variables and how they interact with per-target variables.