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3.3 Including Other Makefiles

The include directive tells make to suspend reading the current makefile and read one or more other makefiles before continuing. The directive is a line in the makefile that looks like this:

     include filenames...

filenames can contain shell file name patterns. If filenames is empty, nothing is included and no error is printed. Extra spaces are allowed and ignored at the beginning of the line, but a tab is not allowed. (If the line begins with a tab, it will be considered a command line.) Whitespace is required between include and the file names, and between file names; extra whitespace is ignored there and at the end of the directive. A comment starting with ‘#’ is allowed at the end of the line. If the file names contain any variable or function references, they are expanded. See How to Use Variables.

For example, if you have three .mk files,,, and, and $(bar) expands to bish bash, then the following expression

     include foo *.mk $(bar)

is equivalent to

     include foo bish bash

When make processes an include directive, it suspends reading of the containing makefile and reads from each listed file in turn. When that is finished, make resumes reading the makefile in which the directive appears.

One occasion for using include directives is when several programs, handled by individual makefiles in various directories, need to use a common set of variable definitions (see Setting Variables) or pattern rules (see Defining and Redefining Pattern Rules).

Another such occasion is when you want to generate prerequisites from source files automatically; the prerequisites can be put in a file that is included by the main makefile. This practice is generally cleaner than that of somehow appending the prerequisites to the end of the main makefile as has been traditionally done with other versions of make. See Automatic Prerequisites. If the specified name does not start with a slash, and the file is not found in the current directory, several other directories are searched. First, any directories you have specified with the ‘-I’ or ‘--include-dir’ option are searched (see Summary of Options). Then the following directories (if they exist) are searched, in this order: prefix/include (normally /usr/local/include 1) /usr/gnu/include, /usr/local/include, /usr/include.

If an included makefile cannot be found in any of these directories, a warning message is generated, but it is not an immediately fatal error; processing of the makefile containing the include continues. Once it has finished reading makefiles, make will try to remake any that are out of date or don't exist. See How Makefiles Are Remade. Only after it has tried to find a way to remake a makefile and failed, will make diagnose the missing makefile as a fatal error.

If you want make to simply ignore a makefile which does not exist and cannot be remade, with no error message, use the -include directive instead of include, like this:

     -include filenames...

This acts like include in every way except that there is no error (not even a warning) if any of the filenames do not exist. For compatibility with some other make implementations, sinclude is another name for -include.


[1] GNU Make compiled for MS-DOS and MS-Windows behaves as if prefix has been defined to be the root of the DJGPP tree hierarchy.