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4.5.5 Directory Search and Implicit Rules

The search through the directories specified in VPATH or with vpath also happens during consideration of implicit rules (see Using Implicit Rules).

For example, when a file foo.o has no explicit rule, make considers implicit rules, such as the built-in rule to compile foo.c if that file exists. If such a file is lacking in the current directory, the appropriate directories are searched for it. If foo.c exists (or is mentioned in the makefile) in any of the directories, the implicit rule for C compilation is applied.

The recipes of implicit rules normally use automatic variables as a matter of necessity; consequently they will use the file names found by directory search with no extra effort.