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Chapter 18  The ocamlbuild compilation manager

(Chapter written by Berke Durak and Nicolas Pouillard)



ocamlbuild is a tool automating the compilation of most OCaml projects with minimal user input. Its use is not restricted to projects having a simple structure – the extra effort needed to make it work with the more complex projects is in reasonable proportion with their added complexity. In practice, one will use a set of small text files, and, if needed, an OCaml compilation module that can fine-tune the behaviour and define custom rules.

18.1  Features of ocamlbuild

This section is intended to read like a sales brochure or a datasheet.

18.2  Limitations

Not perfect nor complete yet, but already pretty damn useful.

We were not expecting to write the ultimate compilation tool in a few man-months, however we believe we have a tool that solves many compilation problems, especially our own, in a satisfactory way. Hence there are a lot of missing features, incomplete options and hideous bugs lurking in ocamlbuild, and we hope that the OCaml community will find our first try at ocamlbuild useful and hopefully help it grow into a tool that satisfies most needs of most users by providing feedback, bug reports and patches.

The plugin API maybe somewhat lacking in maturity, as it has only been tested by a few people. We believe a good API can only evolve under pressure from many peers and the courage to rewrite things cleanly when time is ripe by the developers. Most of the important functions a user will need are encapsulated in the plugin API, which is the Ocamlbuild_plugin module pack. We intend to keep that API backwards compatible. It may happen that intricate projects need features not available in that module – you may then use functions or values directly from the core ocamlbuild modules. We ask you to report such usage to the authors so that we may make the necessary changes to the API; you may also want to isolate calls to the non-API parts of the ocamlbuild library from the rest of your plugin to be able to keep the later when incompatible changes arise.

The way that ocamlbuild handles the command-line options, the _tags file, the target names, names of the tags, and so on, are not expected to change in incompatible ways. We intend to keep a project that compiles without a plugin compilable without modifications in the future.

18.3  Using ocamlbuild

Learn how to use ocamlbuild with short, specific, straight-to-the-point examples.

The amount of time and effort spent on the compilation process of a project should be proportionate to that spent on the project itself. It should be easy to set up a small project, maybe a little harder for a medium-sized project, and it may take some more time, but not too much, for a big project. Ideally setting up a big project would be as easy as setting up a small project. However, as projects grow, modularization techniques start to be used, and the probability of using meta programming or multiple programming languages increases, thus making the compilation process more delicate.

ocamlbuild is intended to be very easy to use for projects, large or small, with a simple compilation process: typing ocamlbuild foo.native should be enough to compile the native version of a program whose top module is foo.ml and whose dependencies are in the same directory. As your project gets more complex, you will gradually start to use command-line options to specify libraries to link with, then configuration files, ultimately culminating in a custom OCaml plugin for complex projects with arbitrary dependencies and actions.

18.3.1  Hygiene & where is my code ?

Your code is in the _build directory, but ocamlbuild automatically creates a symbolic link to the executables it produces in the current directory. ocamlbuild copies the source files and compiles them in a separate directory which is _build by default.

For ocamlbuild, any file that is not in the build directory is a source file. It is not unreasonable to think that some users may have bought binary object files they keep in their project directory. Usually binary files cluttering the project directory are due to previous builds using other systems. ocamlbuild has so-called “hygiene” rules that state that object files (.cmo, .cmi, or .o files, for instance) must not appear outside of the build directory. These rules are enforced at startup; any violations will be reported and ocamlbuild will exit. You must then remove these files by hand or run, with caution, the script sanitize.sh, which is generated in your source directory. This script will contain commands to remove them for you.

To disable these checks, you can use the -no-hygiene flag. If you have files that must elude the hygiene squad, just tag them with precious or not_hygienic.

18.3.2  Hello, world !

Assuming we are in a directory named example1 containing one file hello.ml whose contents are

let _ =
  Printf.printf "Hello, \char045s ! My name is \char045s\n"
    (if Array.length Sys.argv > 1 then Sys.argv.(1) else "stranger")
    Sys.argv.(0)
;;

we can compile and link it into a native executable by invoking ocamlbuild hello.native. Here, hello is the basename of the top-level module and native is an extension used by ocamlbuild to denote native code executables.

\char045 ls
hello.ml
\char045 ocamlbuild hello.native
Finished, 4 targets (0 cached) in 00:00:00.
\char045 ls -l
total 12
drwxrwx--- 2 linus gallium 4096 2007-01-17 16:24 _build/
-rw-rw---- 1 linus gallium   43 2007-01-17 16:23 hello.ml
lrwxrwxrwx 1 linus gallium   19 2007-01-17 16:24 hello.native -> _build/hello.native*

What’s this funny _build directory ? Well that’s where ocamlbuild does its dirty work of compiling. You usually won’t have to look very often into this directory. Source files are copied into _build and this is where the compilers will be run. Various cache files are also stored there. Its contents may look like this:

\char045 ls -l _build
total 208
-rw-rw---- 1 linus gallium    337 2007-01-17 16:24 _digests
-rw-rw---- 1 linus gallium    191 2007-01-17 16:24 hello.cmi
-rw-rw---- 1 linus gallium    262 2007-01-17 16:24 hello.cmo
-rw-rw---- 1 linus gallium    225 2007-01-17 16:24 hello.cmx
-rw-rw---- 1 linus gallium     43 2007-01-17 16:23 hello.ml
-rw-rw---- 1 linus gallium     17 2007-01-17 16:24 hello.ml.depends
-rwxrwx--- 1 linus gallium 173528 2007-01-17 16:24 hello.native*
-rw-rw---- 1 linus gallium    936 2007-01-17 16:24 hello.o
-rw-rw---- 1 linus gallium     22 2007-01-17 16:24 ocamlc.where

18.3.3  Executing my code

You can execute your code the old-fashioned way (./hello.native). You may also type

ocamlbuild hello.native -- Caesar

and it will compile and then run hello.native with the arguments following --, which should display:

\char045 ocamlbuild hello.native -- Caesar
Finished, 4 targets (0 cached) in 00:00:00.
Hello, Caesar ! My name is _build/hello.native

18.3.4  The log file, verbosity and debugging

By default, if you run ocamlbuild on a terminal, it will use some ANSI escape sequences to display a nice, one-line progress indicator. To see what commands ocamlbuild has actually run, you can check the contents of the _build/_log file. To change the name of the log file or to disable logging, use the -log <file> or -no-log options. Note that the log file is truncated at each execution of ocamlbuild.

The log file contains all the external commands that ocamlbuild ran or intended to run along with the target name and the computed tags. With the -verbose <level> option, ocamlbuild will also write more or less useful debugging information; a verbosity level of 1 (which can also be specified using the -verbose switch) prints generally useful information; higher levels produce much more output.

18.3.5  Cleaning

ocamlbuild may leave a _build directory and symbolic links to executables in that directory (unless when using -no-links). All of these can be removed safely by hand, or by invoking ocamlbuild with the -clean flag.

18.3.6  Where and how to run ocamlbuild?

An important point is that ocamlbuild must be invoked from the root of the project, even if this project has multiple, nested subdirectories. This is because ocamlbuild likes to store the object files in a single _build directory. You can change the name of that directory with the -build-dir option.

ocamlbuild can be either invoked manually from the UNIX or Windows shell, or automatically from a build script or a Makefile. Unless run with the -no-hygiene option, there is the possibility that ocamlbuild will prompt the user for a response. By default, on UNIX systems, if ocamlbuild senses that the standard output is a terminal, it will use a nice progress indicator using ANSI codes, instrumenting the output of the processes it spawns to have a consistent display. Under non-UNIX systems, or if the standard output is not a terminal, it will run in classic mode where it will echo the executed commands on its standard output. This selection can be overridden with the -classic-display option.

18.3.7  Dependencies

Dependencies are automatically discovered.

Most of the value of ocamlbuild lies in the fact that it often needs no extra information to compile a project besides the name of the top-level module. ocamlbuild calls ocamldep to automatically find the dependencies of any modules it wants to compile. These dependencies are dynamically incorporated in the dependency graph, something make cannot do. For instance, let’s add a module Greet that implements various ways of greeting people.

\char045 cat greet.ml
type how = Nicely | Badly;;

let greet how who =
  match how with Nicely -> Printf.printf "Hello, \char045s !\n" who
               | Badly  -> Printf.printf "Oh, here is that \char045s again.\n" who
;;
\char045 cat hello.ml
open Greet

let _ =
  let name =
    if Array.length Sys.argv > 1 then
      Sys.argv.(1)
    else
      "stranger"
  in
  greet
    (if name = "Caesar" then Nicely else Badly)
    name;
  Printf.printf "My name is \char045s\n" Sys.argv.(0)
;;

Then the module Hello depends on the module Greet and ocamlbuild can figure this out for himself – we still only have to invoke ocamlbuild hello.native. Needless to say, this works for any number of modules.

18.3.8  Native and byte-code

If we want to compile byte-code instead of native, we just a target name of hello.byte instead of hello.native, i.e., we type ocamlbuild hello.byte.

18.3.9  Compile flags

To pass a flag to the compiler, such as the -rectypes option, use the -cflag option as in:

ocamlbuild -cflag -rectypes hello.native

You can put multiple -cflag options, they will be passed to the compiler in the same order. You can also give them in a comma-separated list with the -cflags option (notice the plural):

ocamlbuild -cflags -I,+lablgtk,-rectypes hello.native

These flags apply when compiling, that is, when producing .cmi, .cmo,.cmx and .o files from .ml or .mli files.

18.3.10  Link flags

Link flags apply when the various object files are collected and linked into one executable. These will typically be include directories for libraries. They are given using the -lflag and -lflags options, which work in the same way as the -cflag and -cflags options.

18.3.11  Linking with external libraries

In our third example, we use one Unix system call and functions from the num library:

\char045 cat epoch.ml
let _ =
  let s = Num.num_of_string (Printf.sprintf "\char045.0f" (Unix.gettimeofday ())) in
  let ps = Num.mult_num (Num.num_of_string "1000000000000") s in
  Printf.printf "\char045s picoseconds have passed since January 1st, 1970.\n"
    (Num.string_of_num ps)
;;

This requires linking with the unix and num modules, which is accomplished by using the -lib unix and -lib num flags, or, alternatively, -libs unix,num:

\char045 ocamlbuild -libs nums,unix epoch.native --
Finished, 4 targets (4 cached) in 00:00:00.
1169051647000000000000 picoseconds have passed since January 1st, 1970.

You may need to add options such as -cflags -I,/usr/local/lib/ocaml/ and -lflags -I,/usr/local/lib/ocaml/ if the libraries you wish to link with are not in OCaml’s default search path.

18.3.12  The _tags files

Finer control over the compiler flags applied to each source file, such as preprocessing, debugging, profiling and linking options, can be gained using ocamlbuild’s tagging mechanism.

Every source file has a set of tags which tells ocamlbuild what kind of file it is and what to do with it. A tag is simply a string, usually lowercase, for example ocaml or native. The set of tags attached to a file is computed by applying the tagging rules to the filename. Tagging rules are defined in _tags files in any parent directory of a file, up to the main project directory.

Each line in the _tags file is made of a glob pattern (see subsection 18.3.13) and a list of tags. More than one rule can apply to a file and rules are applied in the order in which they appear in a file. By preceding a tag with a minus sign, one may remove tags from one or more files.

Example: the built-in _tags file

     <**/*.ml> or <**/*.mli> or <**/*.mlpack> or <**/*.ml.depends>: ocaml
     <**/*.byte>: ocaml, byte, program
     <**/*.odoc>: ocaml, doc
     <**/*.native>: ocaml, native, program
     <**/*.cma>: ocaml, byte, library
     <**/*.cmxa>: ocaml, native, library
     <**/*.cmo>: ocaml, byte
     <**/*.cmi>: ocaml, byte, native
     <**/*.cmx>: ocaml, native

Two special tags made from the path name of the file relative to the toplevel of the project are automatically defined for each file. For a file foo/bar.ml those tags will be file:foo/bar.ml, and extension:ml.

If you do not have subdirectories, you can put *.ml instead of **/*.ml.

18.3.13  Glob patterns and expressions

Glob patterns have a syntax similar to those used by UNIX shells to select path names (like foo_*.ba?). They are used in ocamlbuild to define the files and directories to which tags apply. Glob expressions are glob patterns enclosed in brackets < and > combined using the standard boolean operators and, or, not. This allows one to describe sets of path names in more concise and more readable ways.

Please note that file and directory names are supposed to be made of the following characters: a, …, z, A, …, Z, 0, …, 9, _, - and .. This is called the pathname alphabet P.


Formal syntax ExampleMatchesDoes not match Meaning (formal meaning)
u
A string of pathname characters
foo.ml foo.ml fo.ml, bar/foo.ml The exact string u ({ u }, where uP*)
*
The wild-card star
* ε, foo, bar foo/bar, /bar Any string not containing a slash (P*)
?
The joker
? a, b, z /, bar Any one-letter string, excluding the slash
**/
The prefix inter-directory star
**/foo.ml foo.ml, bar/foo.ml, bar/baz/foo.ml foo/bar, /bar The empty string, or any string ending with a slash (ε ∪ P*/)
/**
The suffix inter-directory star
foo/** foo, foo/bar bar/foo Any string starting with a slash, or the empty string (ε ∪ /P*)
/**/
The infix inter-directory star
bar/**/foo.ml bar/foo.ml, bar/baz/foo.ml foo.ml Any string starting and ending with a slash (ε ∪ /P*/)
[ r1 r2rk ] where ri is either c or c1c2 (1 ≤ ik)
The positive character class
[a-fA-F0-9_.] 3, F, . z, bar Any one-letter string made of characters from one of the ranges ri (1 ≤ in). (L(r1) ∪ ⋯ ∪ L(rn))
[^r1 r2rk ] where ri is either c or c1c2 (1 ≤ ik)
The negative character class
[^a-fA-F0-9_.] z, bar 3, F, . Any one-letter string NOT made of characters from one of the ranges ri (1 ≤ in). (Σ* ∖ (L(r1) ∪ ⋯ ∪ L(rn)))
p1 p2
A concatenation of patterns
foo* foo, foob, foobar fo, bar Any string with a prefix matching p1 and the corresponding suffix matching p2, ({ uvuL(p1), vL(p2) })
{ p1 , p2 ,, pk }
A union of patterns
toto.{ml,mli} toto.ml, toto.mli toto. Any string matching one of the patterns pi for 1 ≤ ik. (L(p1) ∪ ⋯ ∪ L(pk))
Table 18.1: Syntax and semantics of glob patterns.


Formal syntax Example Meaning (formal meaning)
<p> <foo.ml> Pathnames matching the pattern p
e1   or   e2 <*.ml> or <foo/bar.ml> Pathnames matching at least one of the expressions e1 and e2
e1   and   e2 <*.ml> and <foo_*> Pathnames matching both expressions e1 and e2
not   e not <*.mli> Pathnames not matching the expression e
true true All pathnames
false false No pathnames
Table 18.2: Syntax and semantics of glob expressions.

18.3.14  Subdirectories

If the files of your project are held in one or more subdirectories, ocamlbuild must be made aware of that fact using the -I or -Is options or by adding an include tag. For instance, assume your project is made of three subdirectories, foo, bar and baz containing various .ml files, the main file being foo/main.ml. Then you can either type:

\char045 ocamlbuild -Is foo,bar,baz foo/main.native

or add the following line in the _tags file

<foo> or <bar> or <baz>: include

and call

\char045 ocamlbuild foo/main.native

There are then two cases. If no other modules named Bar or Baz exist elsewhere in the project, then you are done. Just use Foo, Foo.Bar and Foo.Baz in your code. Otherwise, you will need to use the plugin mechanism and define the mutual visibility of the subdirectories using the Pathname.define_context function.

Note on subdirectory traversal

ocamlbuild used to traverse by default any subdirectory not explicitly excluded. This is no longer the case. Note that you can still have a fine grained control using your _tags file and the traverse tag.

There is no longer the true: traverse tag declaration by default. To make ocamlbuild recursive use one of these:

  1. Give the -r flag to ocamlbuild.
  2. Have a _tags or myocamlbuild.ml file in your top directory.

18.3.15  Grouping targets with .itarget

You can create a file named foo.itarget containing a list of targets, one per line, such as

main.native
main.byte
stuff.docdir/index.html

Requesting the target foo.otarget will then build every target listed in the file foo.itarget. Blank lines and lines starting with a sharp (#) are ignored.

18.3.16  Packing subdirectories into modules

OCaml’s -pack option allows you to structure the contents of a module in a subdirectory. For instance, assume you have a directory foo containing two modules bar.ml and baz.ml. You want from these to build a module Foo containing Bar and Baz as submodules. In the case where no modules named Bar or Baz exist outside of Foo, to do this you must write a file foo.mlpack, preferably sitting in the same directory as the directory Foo and containing the list of modules (one per line) it must contain:

Bar
Baz

Then when you will request for building foo.cmo the package will be made from bar.cmo and baz.cmo.

18.3.17  Making an OCaml library

In a similar way than for packaged modules you can make a library by putting it’s contents in a file (with the mllib extension). For instance, assume you have a two modules bar.ml and baz.ml. You want from these to build a library foo.cmx?a containing Bar and Baz modules. To do this you must write a file foo.mllib containing the list of modules (one per line) it must contain:

Bar
Baz

Then when you will request for building foo.cma the library will be made from bar.cmo and baz.cmo.

18.3.18  Making an OCaml toplevel

Making a toplevel is almost the same thing than making a packaged module or a library. Just write a file with the mltop extension (like foo.mltop) and request for building the toplevel using the top extension (foo.top in this example).

18.3.19  Preprocessor options and tags

You can specify preprocessor options with -pp followed by the preprocessor string, for instance ocamlbuild -pp camlp4o.opt -unsafe would run your sources through CamlP4 with the -unsafe option. Another way is to use the tags file.

TagPreprocessor commandRemark
pp(cmd...)cmd...Arbitrary preprocessor command1
camlp4ocamlp4oOriginal OCaml syntax
camlp4rcamlp4rRevised OCaml syntax
camlp4ofcamlp4ofOriginal OCaml syntax with extensions
camlp4rfcamlp4rfRevised OCaml syntax with extensions

18.3.20  Debugging byte code and profiling native code

The preferred way of compiling code suitable for debugging with ocamldebug or profiling native code with ocamlprof is to use the appropriate target extensions, .d.byte for debugging or .p.native.

Another way is to add use the debug or profile tags. Note that these tags must be applied at the compilation and linking stages. Hence you must either use -tag debug or -tag profile on the command line, or add a

true: debug

line to your _tags file. Please note that the byte-code profiler works in a wholly different way and is not supported by ocamlbuild.

18.3.21  Generating documentation using ocamldoc

Write the names of the modules whose interfaces will be documented in a file whose extension is .odocl, for example foo.odocl, then invoke ocamlbuild on the target foo.docdir/index.html. This will collect all the documentation from the interfaces (which will be build, if necessary) using ocamldoc and generate a set of HTML files under the directory foo.docdir/, which is actually a link to _build/foo.docdir/. As for packing subdirectories into modules, the module names must be written one per line, without extensions and correctly capitalized. Note that generating documentation in formats other than HTML or from implementations is not supported.

18.3.22  The display line

Provided ocamlbuild runs in a terminal under a POSIX environment, it will display a sophisticated progress-indicator line that graciously interacts with the output of subcommands. This line looks like this:

00:00:02 210  (180 ) main.cmx                             ONbp--il /

Here, 00:00:02 is the elapsed time in hour:minute:second format since ocamlbuild has been invoked; 210 is the number of external commands, typically calls to the compiler or the like, that may or may not have been invoked; 180 is the number of external commands that have not been invoked since their result is already in the build directory; main.cmx is the name of the last target built; ONbp--il is a short string that describes the tags that have been encountered and the slash at the end is a frame from a rotating ticker. Hence, the display line has the following structure:

HH:MM:SS JOBS (CACHED) PATHNAME                           TAGS TICKER

The tag string is made of 8 indicators which each monitor a tag. These tags are ocaml, native, byte, program, pp, debug, interf and link. Initially, each indicator displays a dash -. If the current target has the monitored tag, then the indicator displays the corresponding character (see table 18.3) in uppercase. Otherwise, it displays that character in lowercase. This allows you to see the set of tags that have been applied to files in your project during the current invocation of ocamlbuild.

Hence the tag string ONbp--il means that the current target main.cmx has the tags ocaml and native, and that the tags ocaml, native, byte, program, interf and link have already been seen.


TagDisplay character
ocamlO
nativeN
byteB
programP
ppR
debugD
interfI
linkL
Table 18.3: Relation between the characters displayed in the tag string and the tags.

18.3.23  ocamllex, ocamlyacc and menhir

ocamlbuild knows how to run the standard lexer and parser generator tools ocamllex and ocamlyacc when your files have the standard .mll and .mly extensions. If you want to use menhir instead of ocamlyacc, you can either launch ocamlbuild with the -use-menhir option or add a

true: use_menhir

line to your _tags file. Note that there is currently no way of using menhir and ocamlyacc in the same execution of ocamlbuild.

18.3.24  Changing the compilers or tools

As ocamlbuild is part of your OCaml distribution, it knows if it can call the native compilers and tools (ocamlc.opt, ocamlopt.opt...) or not. However you may want ocamlbuild to use another ocaml compiler for different reasons (such as cross-compiling or using a wrapper such as ocamlfind). Here is the list of relevant options:

18.3.25  Interaction with version control systems

Here are tips for configuring your version control system to ignore the files and directories generated by ocamlbuild.

The directory _build and any symbolic links pointing into _build should be ignored. To do this, you must add the following ignore patterns to your version control system’s ignore set:

_build
*.native
*.byte
*.d.native
*.p.byte

For CVS, add the above lines to the .cvsignore file. For Subversion (SVN), type svn propedit svn:ignore . and add the above lines.

18.3.26  A shell script for driving it all?

To shell or to make ? Traditionally, makefiles have two major functions. The first one is the dependency-ordering, rule-matching logic used for compiling. The second one is as a dispatcher for various actions defined using phony targets with shell script actions. These actions include cleaning, cleaning really well, archiving, uploading and so on. Their characteristic is that they rely little or not on the building process – they either need the building to have been completed, or they don’t need anything. As /bin/sh scripts have been here for three to four decades and are not going anywhere, why not replace that functionality of makefiles with a shell script ? We have thought of three bad reasons:

We also have bad reasons for not using an OCaml script to drive everything:

Anyway you are of course free to use a makefile or an OCaml script to call ocamlbuild. Here is an example shell driver script:

#!/bin/sh

set -e

TARGET=epoch
FLAGS="-libs unix,nums"
OCAMLBUILD=ocamlbuild

ocb()
{
  $OCAMLBUILD $FLAGS $*
}

rule() {
  case $1 in
    clean)  ocb -clean;;
    native) ocb $TARGET.native;;
    byte)   ocb $TARGET.byte;;
    all)    ocb $TARGET.native $TARGET.byte;;
    depend) echo "Not needed.";;
    *)      echo "Unknown action $1";;
  esac;
}

if [ $# -eq 0 ]; then
  rule all
else
  while [ $# -gt 0 ]; do
    rule $1;
    shift
  done
fi

18.4  Appendix: Motivations

This inflammatory appendix describes the frustration that led us to write ocamlbuild.

Many people have painfully found that the utilities of the make family, namely GNU Make, BSD Make, and their derivatives, fail to scale to large projects, especially when using multi-stage compilation rules, such as custom pre-processors, unless dependencies are hand-defined. But as your project gets larger, more modular, and uses more diverse pre-processing tools, it becomes increasingly difficult to correctly define dependencies by hand. Hence people tend to use language-specific tools that attempt to extract dependencies. However another problem then appears: make was designed with the idea of a static dependency graph. Dependency extracting tools, however, are typically run by a rule in make itself; this means that make has to reload the dependency information. This is the origin of the make clean; make depend; make mantra. This approach tends to work quite well as long as all the files sit in a single directory and there is only one stage of pre-processing. If there are two or more stages, then dependency extracting tools must be run two or more times - and this means multiple invocations of make. Also, if one distributes the modules of a large project into multiple subdirectories, it becomes difficult to distribute the makefiles themselves, because the language of make was not conceived to be modular; the only two mechanisms permitted, inclusion of makefile fragments, and invocation of other make instances, must be skillfully coordinated with phony target names (depend1, depend2...) to insure inclusion of generated dependencies with multi-stage programming; changes in the structure of the project must be reflected by hand and the order of variable definitions must be well-thought ahead to avoid long afternoons spent combinatorially fiddling makefiles until it works but no one understands why.

These problems become especially apparent with OCaml: to ensure type safety and to allow a small amount of cross-unit optimization when compiling native code, interface and object files include cryptographical digests of interfaces they are to be linked with. This means that linking is safer, but that makefile sloppiness leads to messages such as:

Files foo.cmo and bar.cmo
make inconsistent assumptions over interface Bar

The typical reaction is then to issue the mantra make clean; make depend; make and everything compiles just fine... from the beginning. Hence on medium projects, the programmer often has to wait for minutes instead of the few seconds that would be taken if make could correctly guess the small number of files that really had to be recompiled.

It is not surprising that hacking a build tool such as make to include a programming language while retaining the original syntax and semantics gives an improvised and cumbersome macro language of dubious expressive power. For example, using GNU make, suppose you have a list of .mls that you want to convert into a list including both .cmos and .cmis, that is you want to transform a.ml b.ml c.ml into a.cmi a.cmo b.cmi b.cmo c.cmi c.cmo while preserving the dependency order which must be hand specified for linking 2. Unfortunately $patsubst \char045.ml, \char045.cmi \char045.cmo, a.ml b.ml c.ml won’t work since the \char045-sign in the right-hand of a patsubst gets substituted only once. You then have to delve into something that is hardly lambda calculus: an intricate network of foreach, eval, call and defines may get you the job done, unless you chicken out and opt for an external awk, sed or perl call. People who at this point have not lost their temper or sanity usually resort to metaprogramming by writing Makefile generators using a mixture of shell and m4. One such an attempt gave something that is the nightmare of wannabe package maintainers: it’s called autotools.

Note that it is also difficult to write Makefiles to build object files in a separate directory. It is not impossible since the language of make is Turing-complete, a proof of which is left as an exercise. Note that building things in a separate directory is not necessarily a young enthusiast’s way of giving a different look and feel to his projects – it may be a good way of telling the computer that foo.mli is generated by ocamlyacc using foo.mly and can thus be removed.

18.5  Appendix: Summary of default rules

The contents of this table give a summary of the most important default rules. To get the most accurate and up-to-date information, launch ocamlbuild with the -documentation option.

TagsDependenciesTargets
 \char045.itarget\char045.otarget
ocaml\char045.mli \char045.mli.depends\char045.cmi
byte, debug, ocaml\char045.mlpack \char045.cmi\char045.d.cmo
byte, ocaml\char045.mlpack\char045.cmo \char045.cmi
byte, ocaml\char045.mli \char045.ml \char045.ml.depends \char045.cmi\char045.d.cmo
byte, ocaml\char045.mli \char045.ml \char045.ml.depends \char045.cmi\char045.cmo
native, ocaml, profile\char045.mlpack \char045.cmi\char045.p.cmx \char045.p.o
native, ocaml\char045.mlpack \char045.cmi\char045.cmx \char045.o
native, ocaml, profile\char045.ml \char045.ml.depends \char045.cmi\char045.p.cmx \char045.p.o
native, ocaml\char045.ml \char045.ml.depends \char045.cmi\char045.cmx \char045.o
debug, ocaml\char045.ml \char045.ml.depends \char045.cmi\char045.d.cmo
ocaml\char045.ml \char045.ml.depends\char045.cmo \char045.cmi
byte, debug, ocaml, program\char045.d.cmo\char045.d.byte
byte, ocaml, program\char045.cmo\char045.byte
native, ocaml, profile, program\char045.p.cmx \char045.p.o\char045.p.native
native, ocaml, program\char045.cmx \char045.o\char045.native
byte, debug, library, ocaml\char045.mllib\char045.d.cma
byte, library, ocaml\char045.mllib\char045.cma
byte, debug, library, ocaml\char045.d.cmo\char045.d.cma
byte, library, ocaml\char045.cmo\char045.cma
 lib\char045(libname).cliblib\char045(libname).a dll\char045(libname).so
 \char045(path)/lib\char045(libname).clib\char045(path)/lib\char045(libname).a \char045(path)/dll\char045(libname).so
library, native, ocaml, profile\char045.mllib\char045.p.cmxa \char045.p.a
library, native, ocaml\char045.mllib\char045.cmxa \char045.a
library, native, ocaml, profile\char045.p.cmx \char045.p.o\char045.p.cmxa \char045.p.a
library, native, ocaml\char045.cmx \char045.o\char045.cmxa \char045.a
 \char045.ml\char045.ml.depends
 \char045.mli\char045.mli.depends
ocaml\char045.mll\char045.ml
doc, ocaml\char045.mli \char045.mli.depends\char045.odoc
 \char045.odocl\char045.docdir/index.html
ocaml\char045.mly\char045.ml \char045.mli
 \char045.c\char045.o
 \char045.ml \char045.ml.depends\char045.inferred.mli

1
The command must not contain newlines or parentheses.
2
By the way, what’s the point of having a declarative language if make can’t sort the dependencies in topological order for giving them to gcc or whatever ?

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