Adam Tuttle

My Ongoing Love Affair With GNU Make

I've written previously about my love for Make. The longer I use it, the more complex my desires become, and the more I learn about the awesome features (and hacks) available.

Since that previous article, my team has been using a heck of a lot of Makefiles to work on automations, and combining them with GitHub Actions for things like testing and deployment automations. We developed some patterns, and as developers do, we started thinking about making that code reusable.

Rather than having to update 23 makefiles every time we come up with a process improvement, what if we could update 1 place and they would automatically (or at least easily) inherit it?! I found an article covering exactly that. Basically, you can add include somefile at the top of your makefile and it will be imported and treated as if it were already there.

Given the hammers that were already in our hands, our first approach was to create a dedicated GitHub Repo with that "base" makefile, and treat it as an npm module. We already use npm and node modules extensively, and given these two choices for import lines:

include base.Makefile

or

include node_modules/alumniq_devops/base.Makefile

... Who cares?

So we started down that path. Unfortunately, that's also where we hit a snag. Not every one of our projects uses node.js and npm. And to have to add a package.json and require an npm ci step so that we can then run make does have a bit of a bad smell to it. And in the worst case an npm ci was required to get the base makefile, so that make could run, which would then need to run another npm ci. There's a lot to like about node.js, but the speed of npm isn't really one of them.

Our next thought was to try and access the base.Makefile directly from raw.githubusercontent.com, hoping that we could use http-basic auth with an oauth token, like you can for private git-url based npm modules, to download the file; skipping the npm install step (and not even requiring node or npm, just curl).

Sure, we could publish the base makefile in a public repo, but we keep most of our code private, and we would prefer that this base Makefile be no different. It contains some private things like our ECR repository URL. It wouldn't be catastrophic if it were shared, but it's not something we want to volunteer, either. Keeping the file contents private is a pretty high priority.

My next thought was to try a gist, because those can be private but you only need the URL to access it, no credentials. In addition, on a complete lark, I hoped that Make would see that the file was missing and check to see if there is a target that could create it. Amazingly, this works!

include base.Makefile

base.Makefile:
@curl https://gist.githubusercontent.com/atuttle/507151305ad440902c64df2f24145c90/raw/7ae6f3068921cd4dd77396d1541f9abef613ea9d/ -o base.Makefile 2>/dev/null

But this approach has its own problem: when the gist gets updated, that url doesn't go to the new revision, it's pointing directly to the old revision. The whole point of this exercise was to be able to update the base makefile and have all of the projects using it automatically get the update.

The solution I came up with isn't a full automatic-update, but it's darn close. Having recently made my own url shortener, I knew that I could create a permanent URL that would redirect to the current gist URL, and I could update it as I see fit. Of course that's not how URL shorteners are supposed to work, but nobody using this URL would prefer to get the old URL, so it's fine.

include base.Makefile

base.Makefile:
@curl https://tutt.xyz/def-not-a-fake-url -o base.Makefile 2>/dev/null

I tried to add the curl command to the root of the file, but you can't have commands there (other than include?), so that doesn't work.

So you might be asking yourself what about updates? One of the targets in base.Makefile is:

update:
@curl https://tutt.xyz/def-not-a-fake-url -o base.Makefile 2>/dev/null

Holy Inheritance, Batman! #

The other awesome thing I learned about Makefiles this week was an even better approach to overriding targets. Much of the initial work on figuring out these details was done by my teammate Adam Crump, so, thanks Adam!

If you start with a base.Makefile:

foo:
@echo "parent-foo"

And this is your Makefile:

include base.Makefile

foo:
@echo "child-foo"

If you run $ make foo then you can see here that it works, but you get some unsightly warnings:

Makefile:4: warning: overriding commands for target `foo'
base.Makefile:2: warning: ignoring old commands for target `
foo'
child-foo

It turns out, there's a neat hack to make those warnings go away, and it also allows you to call the version from the base makefile from the child, if you happened to want to. For example, you might want to run an npm ci before you call the target.

At the bottom of your base.Makefile, add this:

%: %-super
@ true

Basically this is a wildcard match. If no other targets match the requested target, then the wildcard target runs, and it depends on the target of the same name with the -super suffix.

So... then add the suffix: -super to all of the targets in your base.Makefile:

foo-super:
@echo "parent-foo"

bar-super:
@echo "parent-bar"

baz-super:
@echo "parent-baz"

%: %-super
@ true

And if you want to override one, but then also run the original implementation, you can call it directly with the make target-super full name. So in this example, make bar will also call make bar-super:

include base.Makefile

foo:
@echo "child-foo"

bar:
@echo "child-bar"
@make bar-super

And now, you can run all three of these targets (foo, bar, and baz) with no warnings. Note that baz is NOT overridden, and only exists with the -super prefix, but I can still run it with the command make baz

$ make foo
child-foo

$ make bar
child-bar
parent-bar

$ make baz
parent-baz

I'm super excited about the possibilities this opens up for my team.

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