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11.7 make macro=value and Submakes

A command-line variable definition such as foo=bar overrides any definition of foo in a makefile. Some make implementations (such as GNU make) propagate this override to subsidiary invocations of make. Some other implementations do not pass the substitution along to submakes.

     $ cat Makefile
     foo = foo
             @echo $(foo)
             $(MAKE) two
             @echo $(foo)
     $ make foo=bar            # GNU make 3.79.1
     make two
     make[1]: Entering directory `/home/adl'
     make[1]: Leaving directory `/home/adl'
     $ pmake foo=bar           # BSD make
     pmake two

You have a few possibilities if you do want the foo=bar override to propagate to submakes. One is to use the -e option, which causes all environment variables to have precedence over the makefile macro definitions, and declare foo as an environment variable:

     $ env foo=bar make -e

The -e option is propagated to submakes automatically, and since the environment is inherited between make invocations, the foo macro is overridden in submakes as expected.

This syntax (foo=bar make -e) is portable only when used outside of a makefile, for instance from a script or from the command line. When run inside a make rule, GNU make 3.80 and prior versions forget to propagate the -e option to submakes.

Moreover, using -e could have unexpected side effects if your environment contains some other macros usually defined by the makefile. (See also the note about make -e and SHELL below.)

Another way to propagate overrides to submakes is to do it manually, from your makefile:

     foo = foo
             @echo $(foo)
             $(MAKE) foo=$(foo) two
             @echo $(foo)

You need to foresee all macros that a user might want to override if you do that.

  Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License Design by Interspire