How can I have a Makefile automatically rebuild source files that include a modified header file? (In C/C++)

I have the following makefile that I use to build a program (a kernel, actually) that I'm working on. Its from scratch and I'm learning about the process, so its not perfect, but I think its powerful enough at this point for my level of experience writing makefiles.

AS  =   nasm
CC  =   gcc
LD  =   ld

TARGET      =   core
BUILD       =   build
SOURCES     =   source
INCLUDE     =   include
ASM         =   assembly


CFLAGS  =   -Wall -O -fstrength-reduce -fomit-frame-pointer -finline-functions \
            -nostdinc -fno-builtin -I $(INCLUDE)
ASFLAGS =   -f elf

#CFILES     =   core.c consoleio.c system.c
CFILES      =   $(foreach dir,$(SOURCES),$(notdir $(wildcard $(dir)/*.c)))
SFILES      =   assembly/start.asm

SOBJS   =   $(SFILES:.asm=.o)
COBJS   =   $(CFILES:.c=.o)
OBJS    =   $(SOBJS) $(COBJS)

build : $(TARGET).img

$(TARGET).img : $(TARGET).elf
    c:/python26/python.exe stage1 stage2 pad.bin core.elf floppy.img

$(TARGET).elf : $(OBJS)
    $(LD) -T link.ld -o $@ $^

    $(AS) $(ASFLAGS) $< -o $@

%.o: %.c
    @echo Compiling $<...
    $(CC) $(CFLAGS) -c -o $@ $<

#Clean Script - Should clear out all .o files everywhere and all that.
    -del *.img
    -del *.o
    -del assembly\*.o
    -del core.elf

My main issue with this makefile is that when I modify a header file that one or more C files include, the C files aren't rebuilt. I can fix this quite easily by having all of my header files be dependencies for all of my C files, but that would effectively cause a complete rebuild of the project any time I changed/added a header file, which would not be very graceful.

What I want is for only the C files that include the header file I change to be rebuilt, and for the entire project to be linked again. I can do the linking by causing all header files to be dependencies of the target, but I cannot figure out how to make the C files be invalidated when their included header files are newer.

I've heard that GCC has some commands to make this possible (so the makefile can somehow figure out which files need to be rebuilt) but I can't for the life of me find an actual implementation example to look at. Can someone post a solution that will enable this behavior in a makefile?

EDIT: I should clarify, I'm familiar with the concept of putting the individual targets in and having each target.o require the header files. That requires me to be editing the makefile every time I include a header file somewhere, which is a bit of a pain. I'm looking for a solution that can derive the header file dependencies on its own, which I'm fairly certain I've seen in other projects.


As already pointed out elsewhere on this site, see this page:

In short, gcc can automatically create .d dependency files for you, which are mini makefile fragments containing the dependencies of the .c file you compiled. Every time you change the .c file and compile it, the .d file will be updated.

Besides adding the -M flag to gcc, you'll need to include the .d files in the makefile (like Chris wrote above). There are some more complicated issues in the page which are solved using sed, but you can ignore them and do a "make clean" to clear away the .d files whenever make complains about not being able to build a header file that no longer exists.

You could add a 'make depend' command as others have stated but why not get gcc to create dependencies and compile at the same time:

DEPS := $(COBJS:.o=.d)

-include $(DEPS)

%.o: %.c
    $(CC) -c $(CFLAGS) -MM -MF $(patsubst %.o,%.d,$@) -o $@ $<

The '-MF' parameter specifies a file to store the dependencies in.

The dash at the start of '-include' tells Make to continue when the .d file doesn't exist (e.g. on first compilation).

Note there seems to be a bug in gcc regarding the -o option. If you set the object filename to say obj/_file__c.o then the generated _file_.d will still contain _file_.o, not obj/_file_c.o.

This is equivalent to Chris Dodd's answer, but uses a different naming convention (and coincidentally doesn't require the sed magic. Copied from a later duplicate.

If you are using a GNU compiler, the compiler can assemble a list of dependencies for you. Makefile fragment:

depend: .depend

.depend: $(SOURCES)
        rm -f ./.depend
        $(CC) $(CFLAGS) -MM $^>>./.depend;

include .depend

There is also the tool makedepend, but I never liked it as much as gcc -MM

You'll have to make individual targets for each C file, and then list the header file as a dependency. You can still use your generic targets, and just place the .h dependencies afterwards, like so:

%.o: %.c
        @echo Compiling $<...
        $(CC) $(CFLAGS) -c -o $@ $<

foo.c: bar.h
# And so on...

Over and above what @mipadi said, you can also explore the use of the '-M' option to generate a record of the dependencies. You might even generate those into a separate file (perhaps '') which you then include in the makefile. Or you can find a 'make depend' rule which edits the makefile with the correct dependencies (Google terms: "do not remove this line" and depend).

Basically, you need to dynamically create the makefile rules to rebuild the object files when the header files change. If you use gcc and gnumake, this is fairly easy; just put something like:

$(OBJDIR)/%.d: %.c
        $(CC) -MM -MG $(CPPFLAGS) $< | sed -e 's,^\([^:]*\)\.o[ ]*:,$(@D)/\1.o $(@D)/\1.d:,' >$@

ifneq ($(MAKECMDGOALS),clean)
include $(SRCS:%.c=$(OBJDIR)/%.d)

in your makefile.

None of the answers worked for me. E.g. Martin Fido's answer suggests gcc can create dependency file, but when I tried that it was generating empty (zero bytes) object files for me without any warnings or errors. It might be a gcc bug. I am on

$ gcc --version gcc (GCC) 4.4.7 20120313 (Red Hat 4.4.7-16)

So here's my complete Makefile that works for me; it's a combination of solutions + something that wasn't mentioned by anyone else (e.g. "suffix replacement rule" specified as .cc.o:):

CC = g++
CFLAGS = -Wall -g -std=c++0x
INCLUDES = -I./includes/

# LFLAGS = -L../lib
# LIBS = -lmylib -lm

# List of all source files

# Object files defined from source files
OBJS = $(

# # define the executable file 
MAIN = cache_test

#List of non-file based targets:
.PHONY: depend clean all

##  .DEFAULT_GOAL := all

# List of dependencies defined from list of object files
DEPS := $(OBJS:.o=.d)

all: $(MAIN)

-include $(DEPS)

$(MAIN): $(OBJS)
    $(CC) $(CFLAGS) $(INCLUDES) -o $(MAIN) $(OBJS) $(LFLAGS) $(LIBS)

#suffix replacement rule for building .o's from .cc's
#build dependency files first, second line actually compiles into .o
    $(CC) $(CFLAGS) $(INCLUDES) -c -MM -MF $(patsubst %.o,%.d,$@) $<
    $(CC) $(CFLAGS) $(INCLUDES) -c -o $@ $<

    $(RM) *.o *~ $(MAIN) *.d

Notice I used .cc .. The above Makefile is easy to adjust for .c files.

Also important to note importance of these two lines :

$(CC) $(CFLAGS) $(INCLUDES) -c -MM -MF $(patsubst %.o,%.d,$@) $<
$(CC) $(CFLAGS) $(INCLUDES) -c -o $@ $<

so gcc is called once to build a dependency file first, and then actually compiles a .cc file. And so on for each source file.

Simpler solution: Just use the Makefile to have the .c to .o compilation rule be dependent on the header file(s) and whatever else is relevant in your project as a dependency.

E.g., in the Makefile somewhere:

DEPENDENCIES=mydefs.h yourdefs.h Makefile GameOfThrones.S07E01.mkv

::: (your other Makefile statements like rules 
:::  for constructing executables or libraries)

# Compile any .c to the corresponding .o file:
%.o: %.c $(DEPENDENCIES)
        $(CC) $(CFLAGS) -c -o $@ $<

I believe the mkdep command is what you want. It actually scans .c files for #include lines and creates a dependency tree for them. I believe Automake/Autoconf projects use this by default.

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