Managing Projects with GNU Make (Nutshell Handbooks) Review

Managing Projects with GNU Make
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I write a lot of Makefiles.In fact, I write a lot of Makefiles using
GNU Make and finally there's a book to complement the Free Software
Foundation's excellent GNU Make user guide.Also, finally, O'Reilly
has updated what must have been the worst book in their entire line
up: "Managing Projects with make"

Robert Mecklenburg's "Managing Project with GNU Make" is a must have
book if you end up writing or maintaining GNU Make Makefiles with more
than 100 lines in them.You don't need it if all your Makefiles are
created using ./configure, but every serious Makefile hacker should
read this book.

That's not to say that the book is perfect.Far from it.I was
annoyed while reading the book by the author's frequent, annoying
small errors (e.g. on p. 58 the author states that CURDIR contains the
argument of --include-dir when in fact it contains the full path of
the directory where GNU Make is looking for Makefiles) and over use of
the $(eval) (more on $(eval) below).In fact, the number of errors in
the book were surprising for an O'Reilly tome and it looks like the
edition could use a good proof-reading.I've sent in a detailed list
to the O'Reilly folks but nothing appears on their Errata web site

The section that describes the new $(eval) and $(value) functions
available since GNU Make 3.80 is excellent (pp. 82-86).And the book
contains a good discussion of the problems inherent in using recursive
make (pp. 108-116) and how to implement a non-recursive make
(pp. 117-123).The book is worth its cover price just for these three

Where I think the book really goes off track is in trying to shoehorn
too many things into GNU Make.Specifically, the author talks quite a
bit about ANT and spends an entire chapter showing how to replace ANT
with GNU Make.I found some of the things he thinks are wrong with
ANT to be silly: for example, "The Ant task does not invoke
the underlying mkdir program for your system.Instead, it executes
the Java mkdir() method of the class.This may or may
not be what you expect."Sure, if you are a GNU Make user you'd
expect that mkdir is mkdir the command; Java programms a probably
quite familiar with and are likely not to be confused.I
think the book would have been better without this chapter.

The section on parallel and distributed Make is really light.
Although this section describes the issues associated with trying to
parallelize a build, it wold have been nice to have a description of

There are only two books on GNU Make worth reading: this one and the
FSF's GNU Make manual.As I was reading Robert Mecklenburg's book I
couldn't help finding myself comparing it with the FSF manual (which
is the same as the info files installed with GNU Make).

Firstly, this isn't a good book to learn GNU Make from.Although Part
I of the book explains the basics of GNU Make with many examples, the
book does not provide a complete reference to GNU Make's language (for
example, Appendix A's list of command-line options is incomplete), and
has odd digressions (the section describing how += works (pp. 44-45)
makes it sound much more complex than it is) and ommissions (the
section on "Target- and Pattern-Specific Variables" (pp. 50-51) makes
no mention of pattern-specific variables at all).

Secondly, the author lurves the $(eval) function added in GNU Make
3.80.There are three problems with this: GNU Make 3.79.1 is commonly
seen in practice and doesn't contain $(eval), the implementation of
$(eval) in 3.80 has some bugs in it and the author uses $(eval) too
much, using it when it isn't needed.This hammer to crack a nut use
of $(eval) is annoying because it obscures simpler ways of writing

If you get this book and know a thing or two about Make jump directly
to Part II and read about benchmarking of Make, the really useful
debugging ideas and recursive/non-recursive make.Skip back to Part I
when you've got some time on your hands and need to have a fun read;
you'll know most of the material but there are gems worth finding.
When you are done with that have a good laugh about the "extreme Make"
in Appendix B.Skip over the description of the Linux Kernel
Makefile: it seems like it might be interesting, but isn't.

If you can only buy one book about GNU Make, then buy the Free
Software Foundation's GNU Make user guide.You'll be supporting the
people who actually created GNU Make, and you'll get a complete
reference to it.If you've already got the FSF book, then get Robert
Mecklenburg's excellent "advanced user's guide".

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Product Description:

The utility simply known as make is one of the most enduring features of both Unix and other operating systems. First invented in the 1970s, make still turns up to this day as the central engine in most programming projects; it even builds the Linux kernel. In the third edition of the classic Managing Projects with GNU make, readers will learn why this utility continues to hold its top position in project build software, despite many younger competitors.

The premise behind make is simple: after you change source files and want to rebuild your program or other output files, make checks timestamps to see what has changed and rebuilds just what you need, without wasting time rebuilding other files. But on top of this simple principle, make layers a rich collection of options that lets you manipulate multiple directories, build different versions of programs for different platforms, and customize your builds in other ways.

This edition focuses on the GNU version of make, which has deservedly become the industry standard. GNU make contains powerful extensions that are explored in this book. It is also popular because it is free software and provides a version for almost every platform, including a version for Microsoft Windows as part of the free Cygwin project. Managing Projects with GNU make, 3rd Editionprovides guidelines on meeting the needs of large, modern projects. Also added are a number of interesting advanced topics such as portability, parallelism, and use with Java.

Robert Mecklenburg, author of the third edition, has used make for decades with a variety of platforms and languages. In this book he zealously lays forth how to get your builds to be as efficient as possible, reduce maintenance, avoid errors, and thoroughly understand what make is doing. Chapters on C++ and Java provide makefile entries optimized for projects in those languages. The author even includes a discussion of the makefile used to build the book.

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