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makedepend is a Unix tool used to generate dependencies of C source files.



makedepend was developed as part of MIT's Project Athena. It was used extensively in building X11 and ancillary packages, but has since become superseded by the dependency generation facilities of various compilers, and is now used primarily as a worst-case fallback, e.g. by depcomp and GNU Automake.


makedepend is invoked with a list of sourcefiles:

makedepend [options] foo.c bar.c ...

However, it is more often invoked as a target from a makefile, typically under the depend target, such that make depend will invoke makedepend on all source files in the project. One such example target would be as follows:

SRCS = file1.c file2.c ...
CFLAGS = -O -DHACK -I../foobar -xyz
        makedepend -- $(CFLAGS) -- $(SRCS)


When building C language projects, it is imperative for incremental compilation (and useful for clean compilation) to be able to track dependencies between compilation units. C expresses interfaces between compilation units via header files; as such, it is often necessary to rebuild a compilation unit when a header it includes is changed. make needs to be informed of these dependencies.

makedepend solves this problem by parsing the code of C source files to generate a list of dependencies (those header files included directly and indirectly). It is able to understand conditional compilation constructs so as to not generate excessive dependencies. It then appends rules expressing the dependencies to the Makefile.


Most modern compilers provide a flag (often -M) that uses the compiler's own source parser to generate a list of dependencies. This may be preferred to makedepend because it reduces the likelihood of the dependencies generated being at odds with the compiler's own behaviour.

Since compilers accept different flags for dependency generation, and may behave differently in outputting dependency information, it is desirable to use a wrapper script that can invoke the compiler appropriately (and fall back to makedepend if necessary). One popular such wrapper script is depcomp, which is distributed with and used by GNU Automake.[1]


  1. Dependency Tracking in Automake, Automake Manual


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