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What is a Makefile?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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Makefiles are a form of configuration file that is utilized by the make utility in order to identify the location of source files that will be used in an application. The makefile helps to not only locate the source files, but also helps to define how they will be compiled and linked to one another in order to enable an executable program to launch and function. The creation of a makefile is an essential process with just about all types of computer programming.

Because the makefile helps to define the direction and function of various programs, it is an essential part of the script that is part of all make utility protocols. Make utilities may vary somewhat from one programming application to another. However, it is important to note that just about all make utility variations will carry the same basic components found in such well regarding utilities, such as Unix.

In general, the makefile will be made up of several lines of text that will define a file or a set of files. Each of the definitions of the files will have to do with the intended function of that file within the operation of the program. For example, output files will be marked in the lines of text in such a way that the dependence of those files on source files is both obvious and logical. Each dependency listed in the lines of text will include subsets of tab indented text that help to define the process from output to input, and vice versa.

The usage of the make utility and the creation of a makefile makes it relatively to map out the steps involved in large and often detailed applications. However, it should be noted that a makefile can be employed with just about any type of compiled language application. Because of the nature of the construction of a makefile, it is relatively easy for a programmer to inject additional lines of text at strategic points when an enhancement to the programming is desirable.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including EasyTechJunkie, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon37014 — On Jul 16, 2009

Can you add an example Makefile as part of this? Would help

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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