Next: , Previous: Directory Search, Up: Rules

4.6 Phony Targets

A phony target is one that is not really the name of a file; rather it is just a name for a recipe to be executed when you make an explicit request. There are two reasons to use a phony target: to avoid a conflict with a file of the same name, and to improve performance.

If you write a rule whose recipe will not create the target file, the recipe will be executed every time the target comes up for remaking. Here is an example:

             rm *.o temp

Because the rm command does not create a file named clean, probably no such file will ever exist. Therefore, the rm command will be executed every time you say ‘make clean’. The phony target will cease to work if anything ever does create a file named clean in this directory. Since it has no prerequisites, the file clean would inevitably be considered up to date, and its recipe would not be executed. To avoid this problem, you can explicitly declare the target to be phony, using the special target .PHONY (see Special Built-in Target Names) as follows:

     .PHONY : clean

Once this is done, ‘make clean’ will run the recipe regardless of whether there is a file named clean.

Since it knows that phony targets do not name actual files that could be remade from other files, make skips the implicit rule search for phony targets (see Implicit Rules). This is why declaring a target phony is good for performance, even if you are not worried about the actual file existing.

Thus, you first write the line that states that clean is a phony target, then you write the rule, like this:

     .PHONY: clean
             rm *.o temp

Another example of the usefulness of phony targets is in conjunction with recursive invocations of make (for more information, see Recursive Use of make). In this case the makefile will often contain a variable which lists a number of subdirectories to be built. One way to handle this is with one rule whose recipe is a shell loop over the subdirectories, like this:

     SUBDIRS = foo bar baz
             for dir in $(SUBDIRS); do \
               $(MAKE) -C $$dir; \

There are problems with this method, however. First, any error detected in a submake is ignored by this rule, so it will continue to build the rest of the directories even when one fails. This can be overcome by adding shell commands to note the error and exit, but then it will do so even if make is invoked with the -k option, which is unfortunate. Second, and perhaps more importantly, you cannot take advantage of make's ability to build targets in parallel (see Parallel Execution), since there is only one rule.

By declaring the subdirectories as phony targets (you must do this as the subdirectory obviously always exists; otherwise it won't be built) you can remove these problems:

     SUBDIRS = foo bar baz
     .PHONY: subdirs $(SUBDIRS)
     subdirs: $(SUBDIRS)
             $(MAKE) -C $@
     foo: baz

Here we've also declared that the foo subdirectory cannot be built until after the baz subdirectory is complete; this kind of relationship declaration is particularly important when attempting parallel builds.

A phony target should not be a prerequisite of a real target file; if it is, its recipe will be run every time make goes to update that file. As long as a phony target is never a prerequisite of a real target, the phony target recipe will be executed only when the phony target is a specified goal (see Arguments to Specify the Goals).

Phony targets can have prerequisites. When one directory contains multiple programs, it is most convenient to describe all of the programs in one makefile ./Makefile. Since the target remade by default will be the first one in the makefile, it is common to make this a phony target named ‘all’ and give it, as prerequisites, all the individual programs. For example:

     all : prog1 prog2 prog3
     .PHONY : all
     prog1 : prog1.o utils.o
             cc -o prog1 prog1.o utils.o
     prog2 : prog2.o
             cc -o prog2 prog2.o
     prog3 : prog3.o sort.o utils.o
             cc -o prog3 prog3.o sort.o utils.o

Now you can say just ‘make’ to remake all three programs, or specify as arguments the ones to remake (as in ‘make prog1 prog3’). Phoniness is not inherited: the prerequisites of a phony target are not themselves phony, unless explicitly declared to be so.

When one phony target is a prerequisite of another, it serves as a subroutine of the other. For example, here ‘make cleanall’ will delete the object files, the difference files, and the file program:

     .PHONY: cleanall cleanobj cleandiff
     cleanall : cleanobj cleandiff
             rm program
     cleanobj :
             rm *.o
     cleandiff :
             rm *.diff