Monday, June 18, 2007

Escaping comma and space in GNU Make

Sometimes you need to hide a comma or a space from GNU Make's parser because GNU Make might strip it (if it's a space) or interpret it as an argument separator (for example, in a function invocation).

First the problem. If you wanted to change every , into a ; in a string in GNU Make you'd probably head for the $(subst) function and do the following:

$(subst ,,;,$(string))

See the problem? The argument separator for functions in GNU Make is , and hence the first , (the search text) is considered to be separator. Hence the search text in the above is actually the empty string, the replacement text is also the empty string and the ;, is just preprended to whatever is in $(string).

A similar problem occurs with spaces. Suppose you want to replace all spaces with ; in a string. You get a similar problem with $(subst), this time because the leading space is stripped:

$(subst ,;,$(string))

That extra space isn't an argument it's just extraneous whitespace and hence it is ignored. GNU Make just ends up appending ; to the $(string).

So, how do you solve this?

The answer is define variables that contain just a comma and just a space and use them. Because the argument splitting is done before variable expansion it's possible to have an argument that's a comma or a space.

For a comma you just do:

comma := ,
$(subst $(comma),;,$(string))

And everything works.

For a space you need to get a space into a string, I find the easiest way is like this:

space :=
space +=
$(subst $(space),;,$(string))

That works because += always space separates the value of the variable with the appended text.

Now, GNU Make has really liberal variable naming rules. Pretty much anything goes, so it's possible to define a variable with the name , or even having the name consisting of a space character.

First, here's how to define them:

, := ,
space :=
space +=
$(space) :=
$(space) +=

The first line is clear, it does an immediate define of a , to the variable named ,. The second one is a little more complex. First, I define a variable called space which contains a space character and then I use it to define a variable whose name is that space character.

You can verify that these work using $(warning) (I like to wrap the variable being printed in square brackets for absolute certainty of the content):

$(warning [$(,)])
$(warning [$( )])

$ make
Makefile:1: [,]
Makefile:2: [ ]

Yes, that's pretty odd looking, but it gets stranger. Since GNU Make will interpret $ followed by a single character as a variable expansion you can drop the braces and write:

$(warning [$,])
$(warning [$ ])

Now that starts to look like escaping. In the examples above you can use these variables to make things a little clearer:

$(subst $(,),;,$(string))
$(subst $ ,;,$(string))

Note that you have to use the $(,) form because function argument splitting occurs before the expansion and GNU Make gets confused. In the second line the space is 'escaped' with the $ sign.

You might be wondering about other crazy variable names: here are a few that's possible with GNU Make:

# Defining the $= or $(=) variable which has the value =
equals := =
$(equals) := =

# Define the $# or $(#) variable which has the value #
hash := \#
$(hash) := \#

# Define the $: or $(:) variable which has the value :
colon := :
$(colon) := :

# Define the $($$) variable which has the value $
dollar := $$
$(dollar) := $$

; := ;
% := %

You probably don't need any of those, but you never know...



Blogger madscientist said...

I don't recommend using a space as a variable name. I've toyed with the idea of allowing some special syntactic sugar for user-defined functions, that would allow you to omit the $(call ...) prefix and just invoke the user-defined function directly, like:

$(my-func arg1, arg2)

Obviously the way this works is that if make detects a space in the variable name, it would assume that it is a user-defined function. If this were to happen I'd probaby make whitespace in variable names illegal, just to cut down on confusion and bizarre misbehaviors.

11:24 PM  
Blogger serious said...

@John Graham-Cumming

Thanks a lot guy, it works perfectly well.

11:41 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home