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6.1 Basics of Variable References

To substitute a variable’s value, write a dollar sign followed by the name of the variable in parentheses or braces: either ‘$(foo)’ or ‘${foo}’ is a valid reference to the variable foo. This special significance of ‘$’ is why you must write ‘$$’ to have the effect of a single dollar sign in a file name or recipe.

Variable references can be used in any context: targets, prerequisites, recipes, most directives, and new variable values. Here is an example of a common case, where a variable holds the names of all the object files in a program:

objects = program.o foo.o utils.o
program : $(objects)
        cc -o program $(objects)

$(objects) : defs.h

Variable references work by strict textual substitution. Thus, the rule

foo = c
prog.o : prog.$(foo)
        $(foo)$(foo) -$(foo) prog.$(foo)

could be used to compile a C program prog.c. Since spaces before the variable value are ignored in variable assignments, the value of foo is precisely ‘c’. (Don’t actually write your makefiles this way!)

A dollar sign followed by a character other than a dollar sign, open-parenthesis or open-brace treats that single character as the variable name. Thus, you could reference the variable x with ‘$x’. However, this practice can lead to confusion (e.g., ‘$foo’ refers to the variable f followed by the string oo) so we recommend using parentheses or braces around all variables, even single-letter variables, unless omitting them gives significant readability improvements. One place where readability is often improved is automatic variables (see Automatic Variables).

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