Ever since I stumbled across this blog post on auto documented Makefiles, I have been adding the author’s little snippet to every new Makefile that I write.

The snippet, listed below, relies on comments on the same line as the Makefile target beginning with ##. This approach is simple and helps ensure that only the targets which I want to be documented and output for others are documented, rather than attempting to auto-generate a full list of targets from the Makefile.

help: ## Display this help text
	@grep -E '^[a-zA-Z_-]+:.*?## .*$$' $(MAKEFILE_LIST) | sort | awk 'BEGIN {FS = ":.*?## "}; {printf "\033[36m%-30s\033[0m %s\n", $$1, $$2}'

By adding the help target as the .DEFAULT_GOAL, bare invocations of make will output the help information, ensuring that new developers can quickly understand the build system.

➜  otto git:(master) make
build                          Build all components
check                          Run validation tests
clean                          Clean all temporary/working files
depends                        Download all dependencies
help                           Display this help text
parser                         Generate the parser code
prereqs                        Check that this system has the necessary tools to build otto
swagger                        Generate the swagger stubs based on apispecs
➜  otto git:(master)