Makefile for lazy developers

Berlin, Germany

Whatever the size of the software project, I believe in, subscribe to, and promote Continuous Integration. Personally, I rely on GitHub Actions as an automated build system. Even this blog here is built with, and eventually deployed into production using GitHub Actions.

Regardless of whether an automated build system can be set up and used for a project or not, I prefer to be able to run build steps locally. This prevents stress-testing the automated build system and taking away resources from other developers. Also, it gives me more confidence before committing and pushing changes upstream.

The first time I heard of an automated build tool was when I was working on a crowd investment project in 2011. Back then a developer set up Capistrano, and I didn’t understand a thing. Then had used Phing for a while. For a couple of years now I have been using make, after having been introduced to it when working on a project in 2014. While it has its limitations, it’s short and simple, and most of all, it get’s the job done.

Speaking of getting the job done: since I can’t be bothered to set up the basics of a new project from scratch all the time, I have created ergebnis/php-library-template, a GitHub repository template and also a PHP project which I have submitted to Packagist. Doing so allows me to use composer to quickly create a new project. Whether you are working alone or for an organization, I encourage you to provide an easy means set up new projects quickly. For that specific template project, I commit and push directly into the existing branches to keep the templates up to date with my ideas of a great template. Thus, running

$ composer create-project ergebnis/php-library-template composer-normalize

quickly creates a new project in the composer-normalize directory, based on the branch master of ergebnis/php-library-template.

As a starting point, the template contains a Makefile similar to the following:

.PHONY: coverage cs infection integration it test

it: cs test

coverage: vendor
	vendor/bin/phpunit --configuration=test/Unit/phpunit.xml --coverage-text

cs: vendor
	vendor/bin/php-cs-fixer fix --config=.php_cs --diff --verbose

infection: vendor
	vendor/bin/infection --min-covered-msi=80 --min-msi=80

test: vendor
	vendor/bin/phpunit --configuration=test/Unit/phpunit.xml
	vendor/bin/phpunit --configuration=test/Integration/phpunit.xml

vendor: composer.json composer.lock
	composer self-update
	composer validate
	composer install

As you can see, I have defined a few phony targets, which may run any number of commands, or depend on so-called prerequisites.

For example, running

$ make test

will first execute the vendor target, followed by running unit and integration tests. Running

$ make cs

will first execute the vendor target, followed by running php-cs-fixer. You get the idea.

A note on the vendor target: I previously used to have a composer target. After posting this article on Reddit, Nic Wortel provided an excellent suggestion:

I use the following recipe in my Makefiles:

vendor: composer.json composer.lock
	composer install

This will compare the timestamp of the vendor directory with those of composer.json and composer.lock, and will only execute the recipe if either of the composer files is newer than the vendor directory, or if the vendor directory is missing.

Excellent, this saves even more time!

Finally, I have added an it target. Running

$ make it

will execute all of the targets I consider important enough to be run before - as I suggested earlier - increase my confidence to commit and push changes upstream.

Now, you might have noticed that while I have a penchant for keeping things sorted, I have intentionally defined it as the first target. There’s a good reason to it: unless a target has been specified explicitly, the first target defined in the Makefile will be executed. That is, by making it the first target, I can run

$ make

to execute all of the important targets.

Nonetheless, as I have gotten into the habit of running these many, many (dozends? hundreds?) of times throughout the day, it’s still a bit too much typing, right? Therefore, I have created an alias in my shell configuration:

# Makefile
alias m="make"


$ m

achieves the same now. I believe that’s the closest thing to making a build in one step, with only two key strokes.

Hope it helps to increase your productivity!

P.S.: Of course, one can use composer scripts to achieve something similar, but while it is more portable, it also has more limitations in regard to naming (can’t use script names for which commands already exist).