This section contains information you need to know in order to
understand and modify the GHC build system. The build system is
non-standard in various ways (to be explained shortly), and is
decidedly non-trivial: do not attempt to modify it without having a
grasp of the concepts that follow!
It's difficult to document a system that is full of details and subject to constant change. The approach we've adopted here is to split the documentation in two:
The high-level architectural design, the stuff that is less likely to change, is documented here. Occasionally we'll include direct links to source files to illustrate the details.
The low-level technical details, such as the order of arguments to a macro, and the names of
specific variables, are documented as comments in the build-system code. Hopefully this way the
documentation is more likely to stay up to date.
Historical note: this is the third major revision of the GHC build
system. The first incarnation was based on jmake, a derivative of
X11's own imake, which is based on using the C preprocessor to add macro
capabilities and #include to plain make. The second incarnation
used GNU make's extensions for including makefiles (but lost the
ability to use macros, since at the time GNU make didn't have support
for general macros). In this third revision, we use even more of GNU
make's extensions, and we make a fundamental change to the design, as
described in the next section. Another (fourth) revision based on Shake is
currently being attempted; see Building/Shake for more details.
Overall structure and important files
The following are a few of the most important files in the build system. For a more complete overview of the source-tree layout, see Commentary/SourceTree.
This is where you should start reading: ghc.mk is the main file in
the build system which ties together all the other build-system
files. It uses make's include directive to include all the
files in mk/*.mk, rules/*.mk, and all the other ghc.mk files
elsewhere in the tree.
Most subdirectories of the source tree have a ghc.mk file which
contains the instructions for building the components in that
directory. Note: these ghc.mk files cannot be invoked
individually, they should only be included by the top-level
Each of the following subsections describes one of the idioms that
we use in the build system. There are a handful of such idioms, and
when you've understood them all you'll be able to understand most of
the code you'll find in the build system. We'll describe the idioms
first, and then get on to the specifics of how we build GHC.