Make: Sorting and Searching

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I use GNU Make's $(warning) function to print out the result of calling my-sort):

NUMBERS := 1 12 4 6 8 3 4 5 9 10

$(warning $(call my-sort,,$(NUMBERS))

which will output (the Makefile:2: part was generated by $(warning); the rest is the actual sorted list):

Makefile:2: 1 10 12 3 4 4 5 6 8 9

Or you could sort numerically with the -n option:

NUMBERS := 1 12 4 6 8 3 4 5 9 10

$(warning $(call my-sort,-n,$(NUMBERS))

which will output

Makefile:2: 1 3 4 4 5 6 8 9 10 12

Or even numerically, but in reverse order:

NUMBERS := 1 12 4 6 8 3 4 5 9 10

$(warning $(call my-sort,-n -r,$(NUMBERS))

which will output:

Makefile:2: 12 10 9 8 6 5 4 4 3 1

Dealing with duplicates

Since $(sort) always removes duplicates it's unsuitable for use if you need to sort a list but preserve duplicated entries. However, my-sort above works just fine for that purpose. If no options are specified in the first argument of my-sort then duplicates are not removed.

For example, you can sort the list a b a a c with my-sort like this:

DUPS := a b a a c

$(warning $(call my-sort,,$(DUPS)))

and the output is:

Makefile:2: a a a b c

In fact, the only way my-sort will remove duplicates is if the -u option is specified:

DUPS := a b a a c

$(warning $(call my-sort,-u,$(DUPS)))

and the output is:

Makefile:2: a b c

Another way to handle list deduplication is with the GNU Make Standard Library. It includes a function called uniq which removes duplicates from a list without sorting it. The first occurrence of each duplicated element is preserved.

For example, with the GNU Make Standard Library included (see http://gmsl.sf.net/ for more details) using include gmsl , the list b a c a a d can be deduplicated while preserving order:

include gmsl

DUPS := b a c a a d

$(warning $(call uniq,$(DUPS)))

which will output:

Makefile:4: b a c d

Searching for a file

Enough sorting, let's look at searching. First, searching for a file. As with sorting there are two options: use a built-in function and spawn a shell and use a shell program.

The built-in file searching function is called $(wildcard). Its argument is a pattern to search for on the file system and it returns a list of files and directories that match the pattern. It uses the same wild card patterns as the Bourne shell and so it's possible to use *, ? and ranges and character classes.

For example, to return a list of all files ending .c in the current directory you would write $(wildcard *.c) . To search all subdirectories of the current directory for .c files you can write $(wildcard */*.c) and so on.

$(wildcard) can also be used to find directories. If the pattern ends with / then the function only returns directories that match the pattern, and each directory will be suffixed with /. For example, to get a list of all the directories in the current directory do $(wildcard */) .

There are a few of $(wildcard) gotchas though:

1. $(wildcard) does not provide any way to recursively search a tree of directories.

2. $(wildcard) interacts in a surprising way with GNU Make's built-in directory cache mechanism which can mean that $(wildcard) doesn't reflect the actual state of the file system (for more on this see my article The Trouble with $(wildcard)

3. $(wildcard) doesn't work correctly if the pattern has a space

About the author

John Graham-Cumming's picture John Graham-Cumming

John Graham-Cumming is Co-Founder at Electric Cloud, Inc . Prior to joining Electric Cloud, John was a Venture Consultant with Accel Partners, VP of Internet Technology at Interwoven, Inc. (IWOV), VP of Engineering at Scriptics Corporation (acquired by Interwoven), and Chief Architect at Optimal Networks, Inc. John holds BA and MA degrees in Mathematics and Computation and a Doctorate in Computer Security from Oxford University. John is the creator of the highly acclaimed open source POPFile project. He also holds two patents in network analysis and has others pending.

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