Today, I released build, a simple makefile-based build system derived from the
makefiles for XL or ELFE.


Build is a simple build system destined to make it easy to build C or
C++ programs without having to write lengthy makefiles or going
through the complexity of tools such as automake or cmake. It is
well suited for relatively small programs, although it has been used
for at least one much larger program.

  • Compact size (about 500 lines of active makefile code for a typical build)
  • Fast, since short makefiles with few rules are quickly parsed
  • Automatic generation of header-file dependencies
  • Automatic logging of detailed build commands in log files
  • Compact, colorized progress report
  • Summary of errors and warnings at end of build
  • Colorization of error and warning messages
  • Rules to build various targets (optimized, debug, release, profile)
  • Rule modifiers for common build options, e.g. v-debug for verbose debug
  • Personal preferences easily defined with environment variables
  • Built-in help (make help)
  • Pure make, allowing you to use standard Makefile syntax and features
  • Supports parallel builds
  • Supports separate libraries with accelerated build

Using build

To use build, you create a Makefile. A minimal makefile only needs
to specify the name of the SOURCES, the name of the build PRODUCTS,
and include the file, which contains the makefile rules:

SOURCES=my-super-tool.cpp helper.c
include $(BUILD)

That’s all you need to get started. There is a small sample Makefile
in this distribution.

Note that the BUILD variable requires a trailing /. This is a
general convention in build for variables that denote directories
(Rationale: You can leave these variables empty for the current

For consistency across projects, it is recommended to leave build
in the build subdirectory. You can typically add build as a
submodule in your project using:

git submodule add

In order to get a summary of the available build targets, use make help.

Building the products

If you simply type make, a default build is launched. This is what
you should see if you do that in the build directory itself:

build> make
[BEGIN]              opt macosx-clang in [top]/build
[DEPEND]             hello.cpp
[BEGIN]              opt macosx-clang in [top]/build
[COMPILE  1/1]       hello.cpp
[BUILD]              hello
0 Errors, 0 Warnings in ./logs/build-macosx-clang-opt-20170325-144013.log

real    0m3.263s
user    0m0.456s
sys     0m0.133s

The output of the build will be located by default in build/objects.
There are subdirectories corresponding to the build environment and
the build target, so the final product could be for instance under
build/objects/macosx-clang/opt/hello. This is explained below.

The log files will be located by default in build/logs, the latest
one being called make.log.

You can clean the build products with make clean and force a clean
build with make rebuild.

Testing the products

Use make test to test the product. The simplest possible test is to
simply run the generated program. You can do this by adding a TESTS
variable to your Makefile:

include $(BUILD)

If you run make test (or make check) on the sample makefile found in the
distribution directory, you will run the hello program, after
building it if necessary:

 build> make test
 [BEGIN]              opt macosx-clang in [top]/build
 [COMPILE  1/1]       hello.cpp
 [BUILD]              hello
 [TEST]               product
 You successfully built using build
 Output has 35 characters, should be 35

As you can see in the sample Makefile, it is easy to add tests,
simply by adding a rule that ends in .runtest. In the sample file,
it is called count-characters.runtest.

Building for debugging, release or profiling

The default build is an optimized build similar to what you would
achieve by running make opt. It is well optimized, but still retains
some debugging capabilities.

If you need more debugging capabilities, you can create a debug build
by using make debug. This disables most optimizations, making it
easier for the debugger to relate machine code to source code.

If you want to remove all debugging symbols, you can generate a
release build by using make release.

Finally, you can build for profiling using make profile and
benchmark the result using make benchmark. This is still only
partially tested and supported.

This list is likely to evolve over time, most notably with support for
Valgrind and other debug / analysis tools.

Installing the product

To install the product, use make install. This often requires
super-user privileges.

build> make install
[INSTALL]            opt macosx-clang in [top]/build
[INSTALL]            hello in /usr/local/bin

Build modifiers

Several built target modifiers can be used to modify the meaning of a
following target. For example, the v- prefix disables output
filtering, so that you can see the complete build commands:

 build> make v-debug
 [BEGIN]              debug macosx-clang in [top]/build
 g++ -std=gnu++0x                             -DCONFIG_MACOSX -DDEBUG   -g -Wall -fno-inline           -c hello.cpp -o objects/macosx-clang/debug/build/hello.cpp.o
 g++ -o objects/macosx-clang/debug/hello ./objects/macosx-clang/debug/build/hello.cpp.o   -framework CoreFoundation -framework CoreServices  -g
 [END]                debug macosx-clang in [top]/build

Note that this is not normally necessary, since the build commands are
preserved automatically in the build log every time you use make.

The build targets can be used also as build modifiers. For example, if
you do make clean, you only clean opt objects since this is the
default target. If you want to clean debug objects, use make debug-clean.
Similarly, you can do a release install with make release-install.

(Note that you can make debug your default target, see below).

Environment variables

Several environment variables control the behavior of build. The
variables that can be configured are found at the beginning of
Some of the most useful include:

  • BUILDENV specifies the build environment, for example
    macosx-clang when building on MacOSX with Clang. Parameters for
    this build environment are defined in config.$(BUILDENV).mk, for
    example If not set, heuristics defined in are used to try and determine the correct
  • TARGET specifies the default build target, which can be opt,
    debug, release or profile at the moment. If you often build
    debug targets, you only need to export BUILDENV=debug, and
    the default make will become equivalent to make debug.
  • PREFIX specifies the installation location. You can also specify
    the installation location for executables (PREFIX_BIN), libraries
    (PREFIX_LIB) or shared libraries (PREFIX_DLL).

Hierarchical projects

Often, a project is made of several directories or libraries. In
build, this is supported with two makefile variables:

  • SUBDIRS lists subdirectories of the top-level directory that
    must be built every time.
  • LIBRARIES lists libraries, which can be subdirectories or not,
    which the products depends on.

Subdirectories are re-built everytime a top-level build is started,
whereas libraries are re-built only if they are missing. It is
possible to force a re-build of libraries using the d- or deep-
prefix for builds, for example make deep-debug.


One thought on “Releasing ‘build’

  1. Thanks, I found it pretty easy to use. Cloned Lua to test with because it’s straight-forward to build, stepped inside, cloned Build, added build/ to .gitignore, copied the default Build makefile, changed the path to Build, added all the files and one compiler flag, done.

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