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5.7.3 Communicating Options to a Sub-`make'
Flags such as `-s' and `-k' are passed automatically to the sub-`make'
through the variable `MAKEFLAGS'. This variable is set up
automatically by `make' to contain the flag letters that `make'
received. Thus, if you do `make -ks' then `MAKEFLAGS' gets the value
As a consequence, every sub-`make' gets a value for `MAKEFLAGS' in
its environment. In response, it takes the flags from that value and
processes them as if they had been given as arguments. Summary
of Options Options Summary.
Likewise variables defined on the command line are passed to the
sub-`make' through `MAKEFLAGS'. Words in the value of `MAKEFLAGS' that
contain `=', `make' treats as variable definitions just as if they
appeared on the command line. Overriding Variables Overriding.
The options `-C', `-f', `-o', and `-W' are not put into `MAKEFLAGS';
these options are not passed down.
The `-j' option is a special case ( Parallel Execution
Parallel.). If you set it to some numeric value `N' and your operating
system supports it (most any UNIX system will; others typically won't),
the parent `make' and all the sub-`make's will communicate to ensure
that there are only `N' jobs running at the same time between them all.
Note that any job that is marked recursive ( Instead of Executing
the Commands Instead of Execution.) doesn't count against the total
jobs (otherwise we could get `N' sub-`make's running and have no slots
left over for any real work!)
If your operating system doesn't support the above communication,
then `-j 1' is always put into `MAKEFLAGS' instead of the value you
specified. This is because if the `-j' option were passed down to
sub-`make's, you would get many more jobs running in parallel than you
asked for. If you give `-j' with no numeric argument, meaning to run
as many jobs as possible in parallel, this is passed down, since
multiple infinities are no more than one.
If you do not want to pass the other flags down, you must change the
value of `MAKEFLAGS', like this:
cd subdir && $(MAKE) MAKEFLAGS=
The command line variable definitions really appear in the variable
`MAKEOVERRIDES', and `MAKEFLAGS' contains a reference to this variable.
If you do want to pass flags down normally, but don't want to pass
down the command line variable definitions, you can reset
`MAKEOVERRIDES' to empty, like this:
This is not usually useful to do. However, some systems have a small
fixed limit on the size of the environment, and putting so much
information into the value of `MAKEFLAGS' can exceed it. If you see
the error message `Arg list too long', this may be the problem. (For
strict compliance with POSIX.2, changing `MAKEOVERRIDES' does not
affect `MAKEFLAGS' if the special target `.POSIX' appears in the
makefile. You probably do not care about this.)
A similar variable `MFLAGS' exists also, for historical
compatibility. It has the same value as `MAKEFLAGS' except that it
does not contain the command line variable definitions, and it always
begins with a hyphen unless it is empty (`MAKEFLAGS' begins with a
hyphen only when it begins with an option that has no single-letter
version, such as `--warn-undefined-variables'). `MFLAGS' was
traditionally used explicitly in the recursive `make' command, like
cd subdir && $(MAKE) $(MFLAGS)
but now `MAKEFLAGS' makes this usage redundant. If you want your
makefiles to be compatible with old `make' programs, use this
technique; it will work fine with more modern `make' versions too.
The `MAKEFLAGS' variable can also be useful if you want to have
certain options, such as `-k' ( Summary of Options Options
Summary.), set each time you run `make'. You simply put a value for
`MAKEFLAGS' in your environment. You can also set `MAKEFLAGS' in a
makefile, to specify additional flags that should also be in effect for
that makefile. (Note that you cannot use `MFLAGS' this way. That
variable is set only for compatibility; `make' does not interpret a
value you set for it in any way.)
When `make' interprets the value of `MAKEFLAGS' (either from the
environment or from a makefile), it first prepends a hyphen if the value
does not already begin with one. Then it chops the value into words
separated by blanks, and parses these words as if they were options
given on the command line (except that `-C', `-f', `-h', `-o', `-W',
and their long-named versions are ignored; and there is no error for an
If you do put `MAKEFLAGS' in your environment, you should be sure not
to include any options that will drastically affect the actions of
`make' and undermine the purpose of makefiles and of `make' itself.
For instance, the `-t', `-n', and `-q' options, if put in one of these
variables, could have disastrous consequences and would certainly have
at least surprising and probably annoying effects.
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