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15.1 General Conventions for Makefiles

Every Makefile should contain this line:

     SHELL = /bin/sh

to avoid trouble on systems where the SHELL variable might be inherited from the environment. (This is never a problem with GNU make.)

Different make programs have incompatible suffix lists and implicit rules, and this sometimes creates confusion or misbehavior. So it is a good idea to set the suffix list explicitly using only the suffixes you need in the particular Makefile, like this:

     .SUFFIXES:
     .SUFFIXES: .c .o

The first line clears out the suffix list, the second introduces all suffixes which may be subject to implicit rules in this Makefile.

Don't assume that . is in the path for command execution. When you need to run programs that are a part of your package during the make, please make sure that it uses ./ if the program is built as part of the make or $(srcdir)/ if the file is an unchanging part of the source code. Without one of these prefixes, the current search path is used.

The distinction between ./ (the build directory) and $(srcdir)/ (the source directory) is important because users can build in a separate directory using the ‘--srcdir’ option to configure. A rule of the form:

     foo.1 : foo.man sedscript
             sed -f sedscript foo.man > foo.1

will fail when the build directory is not the source directory, because foo.man and sedscript are in the source directory.

When using GNU make, relying on ‘VPATH’ to find the source file will work in the case where there is a single dependency file, since the make automatic variable ‘$<’ will represent the source file wherever it is. (Many versions of make set ‘$<’ only in implicit rules.) A Makefile target like

     foo.o : bar.c
             $(CC) -I. -I$(srcdir) $(CFLAGS) -c bar.c -o foo.o

should instead be written as

     foo.o : bar.c
             $(CC) -I. -I$(srcdir) $(CFLAGS) -c $< -o $@

in order to allow ‘VPATH’ to work correctly. When the target has multiple dependencies, using an explicit ‘$(srcdir)’ is the easiest way to make the rule work well. For example, the target above for foo.1 is best written as:

     foo.1 : foo.man sedscript
             sed -f $(srcdir)/sedscript $(srcdir)/foo.man > $@

GNU distributions usually contain some files which are not source files—for example, Info files, and the output from Autoconf, Automake, Bison or Flex. Since these files normally appear in the source directory, they should always appear in the source directory, not in the build directory. So Makefile rules to update them should put the updated files in the source directory.

However, if a file does not appear in the distribution, then the Makefile should not put it in the source directory, because building a program in ordinary circumstances should not modify the source directory in any way.

Try to make the build and installation targets, at least (and all their subtargets) work correctly with a parallel make.