To manage large software programs it is often necessary to recompile them and to just focus on the peaces of code that are new. Thus software developers have early on focussed on building software components and libraries that can be separately compiled and integrated in the overall program executable through for example libraries.

Unfortunately, this comes also at a price that the management of such “assembled” software can be quite complex and involves the compilation of code ina particular order or the creation of artifacts during compile time.

To coordinate such execution Makefiles have been popular as they provide the ability to integrate a simple structure in the compile process, while detecting changes to source code that itself invoke actions as part of the make process.

The coordination of the process is specified in a makefile that contains targets that get invoked based on conditions such as that a source file has changed. The target has a body attached with it that will be executed when the precondition to the target is fulfilled.

Through a series of targets relatively sophisticated compile workflows can be specified and often the developer has to just call the command:


In addition make has also the ability to execute the programs in parallel while using the option -j. For large programs this can provide a significant speedup during the program assembly.

A sample Makefile looks as follows:

all: ring

ring: main.o message.o ring.o
        g++ main.o message.o ring.o -o ring

main.o: main.cpp
        g++ -c main.cpp

message.o: message.cpp
        g++ -c message.cpp

ring.o: ring.cpp
        g++ -c ring.cpp

        rm -rf *o ring

This example makefile creates a program with the name ring while integrating the ring.c and the message.c code into a single executable called ring.

On Unix systems one can find out more about make when saying:

man make

Much more detailed information is provided at

Practical Other Applications of Make

If you look at the process on how we create the documentation of this Web page, you will also see a number of Makefiles. Although we do not create c, we do create a web pages based on Sphinx translating rst files to html pages. This indicates the versatility of make.


  1. Write a c++ program that prints “Hello Cloud”. Use a library cloud.o and create the program hello with a Makefile