In the makefile for a program, many of the rules you need to write often
say only that some object file depends on some header
file. For example, if main.c uses defs.h via an
#include, you would write:
You need this rule so that
make knows that it must remake
main.o whenever defs.h changes. You can see that for a
large program you would have to write dozens of such rules in your
makefile. And, you must always be very careful to update the makefile
every time you add or remove an
To avoid this hassle, most modern C compilers can write these rules for
you, by looking at the
#include lines in the source files.
Usually this is done with the ‘-M’ option to the compiler.
For example, the command:
cc -M main.c
generates the output:
main.o : main.c defs.h
Thus you no longer have to write all those rules yourself. The compiler will do it for you.
Note that such a rule constitutes mentioning main.o in a
makefile, so it can never be considered an intermediate file by
implicit rule search. This means that
make won't ever remove
the file after using it; see Chains of Implicit Rules.
make programs, it was traditional practice to use this
compiler feature to generate prerequisites on demand with a command like
‘make depend’. That command would create a file depend
containing all the automatically-generated prerequisites; then the
makefile could use
include to read them in (see Include).
make, the feature of remaking makefiles makes this
practice obsolete—you need never tell
make explicitly to
regenerate the prerequisites, because it always regenerates any makefile
that is out of date. See Remaking Makefiles.
The practice we recommend for automatic prerequisite generation is to have one makefile corresponding to each source file. For each source file name.c there is a makefile name.d which lists what files the object file name.o depends on. That way only the source files that have changed need to be rescanned to produce the new prerequisites.
Here is the pattern rule to generate a file of prerequisites (i.e., a makefile) called name.d from a C source file called name.c:
%.d: %.c @set -e; rm -f $@; \ $(CC) -M $(CPPFLAGS) $< > $@.$$$$; \ sed 's,\($*\)\.o[ :]*,\1.o $@ : ,g' < $@.$$$$ > $@; \ rm -f $@.$$$$
See Pattern Rules, for information on defining pattern rules. The
‘-e’ flag to the shell causes it to exit immediately if the
$(CC) command (or any other command) fails (exits with a
With the GNU C compiler, you may wish to use the ‘-MM’ flag instead
of ‘-M’. This omits prerequisites on system header files.
See Options Controlling the Preprocessor, for details.
The purpose of the
sed command is to translate (for example):
main.o : main.c defs.h
main.o main.d : main.c defs.h
This makes each ‘.d’ file depend on all the source and header files
that the corresponding ‘.o’ file depends on.
knows it must regenerate the prerequisites whenever any of the source or
header files changes.
Once you've defined the rule to remake the ‘.d’ files,
you then use the
include directive to read them all in.
See Include. For example:
sources = foo.c bar.c include $(sources:.c=.d)
(This example uses a substitution variable reference to translate the
list of source files ‘foo.c bar.c’ into a list of prerequisite
makefiles, ‘foo.d bar.d’. See Substitution Refs, for full
information on substitution references.) Since the ‘.d’ files are
makefiles like any others,
make will remake them as necessary
with no further work from you. See Remaking Makefiles.
Note that the ‘.d’ files contain target definitions; you should
be sure to place the
include directive after the first,
default goal in your makefiles or run the risk of having a random
object file become the default goal.
See How Make Works.