Sometimes you inherit or even create a huge Makefile which is unwieldly and difficult to understand. The longer it is, the more complicated it can be to find out which targets are available and what they do.

This post covers an effective way to add a help target to a Makefile which will give an overview of what targets are available.

Basic Makefile

I’m going to use a really basic but real Makefile as a starting example. It runs a suite of tests, creates a dockerised environment for testing against or can stop the env.

 test:
 ## test: Run the test suite then shut down
   docker-compose up --abort-on-container-exit --exit-code-from tests

 dev:
 ## dev: Create an environment in docker to develop against
   docker-compose -f docker-compose-local.yml up -d

 stop:
 ## stop: Stop the docker instances for dev
   docker-compose down

Lets imagine that there are another 20 targets available including dependency management, build, build with unit tests, package, publish etc. Getting this as a new joiner, I’d have to open the file and read it through to get an idea of what options were available and what each one did.

Adding Help

To add a help section, we can put a comment under each of the targets with details of the action, then use a simple hand full of commands including sed and column in the help target.

 test:
 ## test: Run the test suite then shut down
   docker-compose up --abort-on-container-exit --exit-code-from tests

 dev:
 ## dev: Create an environment in docker to develop against
   docker-compose -f docker-compose-local.yml up -d

 stop:
 ## stop: Stop the docker instances for dev
   docker-compose down

 help:
 ## help: This helpful list of commands
   @echo "Usage: \n"
   @sed -n 's/^##//p' ${MAKEFILE_LIST} | column -t -s ':' | sed -e 's/^/-/'

What this target does is find all of the entries starting ## in all of the Makefiles that have been loaded (this is stored in the MAKEFILE_LIST env var). Once the comment lines have been gathered, they are piped to column to format into a table, splitting on the colon :. Finally, the front of the line is replaces with a dash, to get the breakdown of comments.

Running Make with help

Now we can run make help to get more information about the available targets.

This will give us the result;

$ make help
Usage:

- test   Run the test suite then shut down
- dev    Create an environment in docker to develop against
- stop   Stop the docker instances for dev
- help   this helpful list of command

That’s it, the more tasks there are, the more that this can be useful. Ultimately, it is only as useful as the quality and accuracy of the comments.

Are you confused about the ever growing number of services in AWS and Azure? Why not checkout these super useful glossaries that are always up to date!
There is one for AWS and one for Azure
Top

Share

Comments