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4.3 Types of Prerequisites

There are actually two different types of prerequisites understood by GNU make: normal prerequisites such as described in the previous section, and order-only prerequisites. A normal prerequisite makes two statements: first, it imposes an order of execution of build commands: any commands necessary to build any of a target's prerequisites will be fully executed before any commands necessary to build the target. Second, it imposes a dependency relationship: if any prerequisite is newer than the target, then the target is considered out-of-date and must be rebuilt.

Normally, this is exactly what you want: if a target's prerequisite is updated, then the target should also be updated.

Occasionally, however, you have a situation where you want to impose a specific ordering on the rules to be invoked without forcing the target to be updated if one of those rules is executed. In that case, you want to define order-only prerequisites. Order-only prerequisites can be specified by placing a pipe symbol (|) in the prerequisites list: any prerequisites to the left of the pipe symbol are normal; any prerequisites to the right are order-only:

     targets : normal-prerequisites | order-only-prerequisites

The normal prerequisites section may of course be empty. Also, you may still declare multiple lines of prerequisites for the same target: they are appended appropriately. Note that if you declare the same file to be both a normal and an order-only prerequisite, the normal prerequisite takes precedence (since they are a strict superset of the behavior of an order-only prerequisite).