Monday, March 26, 2007

Introducing Usman's Law

Back at Electric Cloud I worked with a smart guy named Usman Muzaffar. As part of his job he spent a lot of time dealing with our customers, many of whom used GNU Make other other Make tools to build their software.

One of the constant problems that Usman encountered was that most people had no way to get back to a truly clean build. No matter what they'd put in place for doing a totally scratch, clean build it was hard for everyone because their process often accidentally ommitted to delete something.

I've observed this problem in my own code. Like many people I have a 'make clean' option which deletes all the output files: in my case by rm -rfing an obj directory:

.PHONY: clean
@rm -rf $(OUT)/*

And I make sure that generated things only go under $(OUT). But it's easy to screw up. Consider a program like yacc or bison which'll create temporary source code files in the same place as the source code being analyzed. The truth is you have to be very careful to ensure that everything goes in one deletable place. (Not to mention the difficulties involved if the Makefile output different versions of objects for, say, different processor targets or platforms).

That leads me to Usman's Law: make clean doesn't.

Live by it and you'll be on the look out for poorly coded Makefiles that leave generated files in places they should not.


Barry Kelly said...

I think the key is to tie your cleaning to your source control system. Clean should delete everything that's not checked in.

Amber said...

Indeed, `git clean -dfx .` does the job nicely. I'll leave `git reset --hard` for manual interventions :)