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Thinking in C++
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Suffix Rules

It becomes tedious to tell make how to invoke the compiler for every single cpp file in your project, when you know it’s the same basic process each time. Since make is designed to be a time-saver, it also has a way to abbreviate actions, as long as they depend on file name suffixes. These abbreviations are called suffix rules. A suffix rule is the way to teach make how to convert a file with one type of extension (.cpp, for example) into a file with another type of extension (.obj or .exe). Once you teach make the rules for producing one kind of file from another, all you have to do is tell make which files depend on which other files. When make finds a file with a date earlier than the file it depends on, it uses the rule to create a new file.

The suffix rule tells make that it doesn’t need explicit rules to build everything, but instead it can figure out how to build things based on their file extension. In this case it says “To build a file that ends in exe from one that ends in cpp, invoke the following command.” Here’s what it looks like for the example above:

CPP = mycompiler
.SUFFIXES: .exe .cpp
        $(CPP) $<

The .SUFFIXES directive tells make that it should watch out for any of the following file-name extensions because they have special meaning for this particular makefile. Next you see the suffix rule .cpp.exe, which says “Here’s how to convert any file with an extension of cpp to one with an extension of exe” (when the cpp file is more recent than the exe file). As before, the $(CPP) macro is used, but then you see something new: $<. Because this begins with a ‘$’ it’s a macro, but this is one of make’s special built-in macros. The $< can be used only in suffix rules, and it means “whatever prerequisite triggered the rule” (sometimes called the dependent), which in this case translates to “the cpp file that needs to be compiled.”

Once the suffix rules have been set up, you can simply say, for example, “make Union.exe,” and the suffix rule will kick in, even though there’s no mention of “Union” anywhere in the makefile.

Thinking in C++
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   Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Eckel, MindView, Inc. Design by Interspire