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Fast and highly configurable GNU Make build and testing tool for Erlang.
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Common Makefile rules for building and testing Erlang applications.

Also features support for dependencies and a package index.


A number of reasons might push someone to use instead of an Erlang-based build tool, including but not limited to the following:

  • You want a very fast compilation and test cycle
  • You want the full power of Unix at your disposal when hooking into your build tool
  • You want to be able to easily edit the damn build tool and fix it when it fails
  • You want to use the deps mechanism with non-Erlang Makefile-based projects
  • Your project will be part of a larger make or automake based environment

Requirements requires GNU Make and expects to be ran in a standard unix environment with Erlang installed and in the $PATH. uses wget for downloading the package index file. will NOT work if the path contains spaces. This is a limitation of POSIX compatible make build tools.


Add the file to your project, then use the following base Makefile:

PROJECT = my_project

Alternatively you can use the following command to generate a skeleton of an OTP application:

$ make -f bootstrap

To generate a skeleton of an OTP library:

$ make -f bootstrap-lib

Finally if you are going to create a release of this project you may want to also use the bootstrap-rel target.

You can combine targets to perform many operations. For example, the shell command make clean app will have the effect of recompiling the application fully, without touching the dependencies.

A common workflow when editing a file would be to run make regularly to see if it compiles (or less often make clean app if you want to recompile everything), followed by make dialyze to see if there are any type errors and then make tests to run the test suites. The result of the test runs can be browsed from the logs/index.html file.

Getting help

You can use make help to get help about or its plugins.


A package index functionality is included with

To use a package, you simply have to add it to the DEPS variable in your Makefile. For example this depends on Cowboy:

PROJECT = my_project
DEPS = cowboy

If you need to specify multiple dependencies, you can specify each of them separated by spaces:

PROJECT = my_project
DEPS = cowboy gun

If the project you want is not included in the package index, or if you want a different version, a few options are available. You can edit the package file and contribute to it by opening a pull request. You can use a custom package file, in which case you will probably want to set the PKG_FILE2 variable to its location. Or you can put the project information directly in the Makefile.

In the latter case you need to create a variable dep_* with the asterisk replaced by the project name, for example cowboy. This variable must contain three things: the fetching method used, the URL and the version requested. These lines must be defined before the include line.

The following snippet overrides the Cowboy version required:

DEPS = cowboy
dep_cowboy = git 1.0.0

They will always be compiled using the command make. If the dependency does not feature a Makefile, then will be used for building.

For subversion dependencies, the url specifies trunk, branch or tag. To specify a particular revision, use @revision at the end of the url. No separate specification of branch, tag, or revision is required or possible.

DEPS = ex1 ex2
dep_ex1 = svn
dep_ex2 = svn svn://

You can also specify test-only dependencies. These dependencies will only be downloaded when running make tests. The format is the same as above, except the variable TEST_DEPS holds the list of test-only dependencies.

TEST_DEPS = ct_helper
dep_ct_helper = git master

Please note that the test dependencies will only be compiled once when they are fetched, unlike the normal dependencies.


The autopatch features allows you to automatically fix packages that are not compatible with It can also be used to convert compatible packages to use itself for building when used as dependency.

The patching occurs only once, immediately after the package has been fetched. defines a number of packages to be patched. You can add more packages to the list by appending the AUTOPATCH variable.

AUTOPATCH += gproc


If a relx.config file is present, will download relx automatically and build the release into the _rel folder. This is the default command when the file exists.

No special configuration is required for this to work.


A custom may be created by editing the build.config file and then running make. Only the core package handling and erlc support are required.

If you need more functionality out of your Makefile, you can add extra targets after the include line, or create an plugin.

Defining a target before the include line will override the default target all.

The rest of this README starts by listing the core functionality and then details each plugin individually.

Core functionality

The following targets are standard:

all is equivalent to deps app rel.

deps fetches and compiles the dependencies.

app compiles the application.

rel builds the release.

docs generates the documentation.

tests runs the test suites.

clean deletes the output files.

distclean deletes the output files but also any intermediate files that are usually worth keeping around to save time, and any other files needed by plugins (for example the Dialyzer PLT file).

help gives some help about using

You may add additional operations to them by using the double colons. Make will run all targets sharing the same name when invoked.

    @rm anotherfile

You can enable verbose mode by calling Make with the variable V set to 1.

$ V=1 make

Parallel execution can be enabled through the use of the -j option. The following output showcases concurrent downloading of dependencies.

$ make -j32
Cloning into '/home/essen/ninenines/cowboy/deps/ranch'...
Cloning into '/home/essen/ninenines/cowboy/deps/cowlib'...

The -O option will ensure that output from different targets is grouped, which is particularly useful when running tests with different frameworks at the same time. The disadvantage of this option however is that there is no output until the target is completed.

The`MAKEFLAGS variable can be used to set it permanently on your system. It can be set in your .zshrc, .bashrc or equivalent file.


Core package functionality

The following targets are specific to packages:

pkg-list lists all packages in the index.

pkg-search n=STRING searches the index for STRING.

Packages are downloaded into DEPS_DIR (./deps/ by default).

The package index file is downloaded from PKG_FILE_URL and saved in PKG_FILE2.

Core compiler functionality will automatically compile the OTP application resource file found in src/$(PROJECT).app.src (do note it requires an empty modules line); Erlang source files found in src/*.erl or any subdirectory; Core Erlang source files found in src/*.core or any subdirectory; Leex source files found in src/*.xrl or any subdirectory; and Yecc source files found in src/*.yrl or any subdirectory.

You can change compilation options by setting the ERLC_OPTS variable. It takes the arguments that will then be passed to erlc. For more information, please see erl -man erlc.

Test target compilation options can be specified in TEST_ERLC_OPTS. It will override ERLC_OPTS.

You can specify a list of modules to be compiled first using the COMPILE_FIRST variable.

You can also use the ERLC_EXCLUDE variable to prevent some modules from being compiled by the core compiler. Note that ERLC_EXCLUDE is a list of module names (i.e., no file extension is required).

If {id, "git"}, is found in your project's .app.src, the extended output of git describe ... will replace it. This can be retrieved at runtime via application:get_key/2.


You can update by running make erlang-mk. This automated update will always take the latest version, compile it and replace the of your project with the updated version.

If your project includes a build.config, will use it when building the updated version.

The ERLANG_MK_BUILD_CONFIG variable can be used to rename the build.config file.

The ERLANG_MK_BUILD_DIR variable contains the path to the temporary directory used to build the updated

Bootstrap plugin

This plugin is available by default. It adds the following targets:

bootstrap generates a skeleton of an OTP application.

bootstrap-lib generates a skeleton of an OTP library.

bootstrap-rel generates the files needed to build a release.

new generate a skeleton module based on one of the available templates.

list-templates lists the available templates.

C/C++ compiler plugin

This plugin is available by default. It is meant to simplify the management of projects that include C and/or C++ source code, like NIFs for example.

If the file $(C_SRC_DIR)/Makefile exists, then the plugin simply calls it when needed. Otherwise it tries to compile it directly.

You can use a different directory than ./c_src by setting the C_SRC_DIR variable.

You can override the output file by setting the C_SRC_OUTPUT variable.

You can override the temporary file containing information about Erlang's environment by setting the C_SRC_ENV variable. This file is automatically generated on first run.

The CC, CXX, CFLAGS, CXXFLAGS, LDLIBS and LDFLAGS variables may be modified or replaced with any value of your choosing. The defaults are system dependent.

Common_test plugin

This plugin is available by default. It adds the following target:

ct runs all test suites for this application.

There is nothing to configure to use it, simply create your test suites in the ./test/ directory and will figure everything out automatically.

You can override the list of suites that will run when using make tests by setting the CT_SUITES variable.

You can add extra ct_run options by defining the CT_OPTS variable. For more information please see erl -man ct_run.

You can run an individual test suite by using the special ct-* targets. For example if you have a common_test suite named spdy and you want to run only this suite and not the others, you can use the make ct-spdy command.

Dialyzer plugin

This plugin is available by default. It adds the following targets:

plt builds the PLT file for this application.

dialyze runs Dialyzer.

The PLT file is built in ./$(PROJECT).plt by default. You can override this location by setting the DIALYZER_PLT variable.

The PLT_APPS variable lists the applications that will be included in the PLT file. There is no need to specify erts, kernel, stdlib or the project's dependencies here, as they are automatically added.

Dialyzer options can be modified by defining the DIALYZER_OPTS variable. The directories to be analyzed can be overriden using the DIALYZER_DIRS variable. It defaults to analyzing source files recursively found in src/. For more information please see erl -man dialyzer.

EDoc plugin

This plugin is available by default.

EDoc options can be specified in Erlang format by defining the EDOC_OPTS variable. For more information please see erl -man edoc.

Elvis plugin

This plugin is available by default. It adds the following target:

elvis runs Elvis style checker for this application.

The ELVIS_CONFIG variable specifies the location of the configuration file which holds the rules to be applied. If there's no elvis.config file the default one will be downloaded. When the ELVIS variable points to a non-existing file then the elvis executable will be downloaded as well. Any other option should go in the ELVIS_OPTS variable.

ErlyDTL plugin

This plugin is available by default. It adds automatic compilation of ErlyDTL templates found in templates/*.dtl or any subdirectory.

By default it ignores names of subdirectories and compiles a/b/templatename.dtl into templatename_dtl.beam. To include subdirectories names in the compiled module name add DTL_FULL_PATH=1 into your Makefile - a/b/templatename.dtl will be compiled into a_b_templatename_dtl.beam.

Escript plugin

This plugin is available by default. It adds the following target:

escript which creates a shell-executable archive named the same as your $(PROJECT), containing the following files from your application and its dependencies:

  • *.beam
  • contents of priv/
  • sys.config for your application

There are a number of optional configuration parameters:

  • ESCRIPT_NAME if a different output file is required
  • ESCRIPT_COMMENT to alter the comment line in the escript header
  • ESCRIPT_BEAMS for the paths searched for *.beam files to include
  • ESCRIPT_SYS_CONFIG defaults to rel/sys.config
  • ESCRIPT_EMU_ARGS for the parameters used to start the VM
  • ESCRIPT_SHEBANG for the line used by your shell to start escript
  • ESCRIPT_STATIC for non-beam directories to be included as well

Refer to for more information on escript functionality in general.

EUnit plugin

This plugin is available by default. It adds the following target:

eunit which runs all the EUnit tests found in ebin or the test directory specified in TEST_DIR.

EUNIT_OPTS can be used to specify EUnit-specific options (e.g. verbose) that will be used when calling eunit:test/2. This configuration parameter is empty by default.. Note that EUnit options are specified as a comma-separated list of options.

Relx plugin

This plugin is available by default.

You can change the location of the relx executable (downloaded automatically) by defining the RELX variable, and the location of the configuration file by defining the RELX_CONFIG variable.

The URL used to download relx can be overriden by setting the RELX_URL variable.

You can change the generated releases location by setting the RELX_OUTPUT_DIR variable. Any other option should go in the RELX_OPTS variable.

If RELX_OPTS includes the -o option (instead of using RELX_OUTPUT_DIR, then that option must be the first in the list, otherwise will fail to find it and will not be able to clean up the release directory.

Shell plugin

This plugin is available by default.

SHELL_DEPS adds the specified modules only when make shell or make build-shell-deps is run. For example, to include a module reloader and TDD test runner, one might add SHELL_DEPS = tddreloader to the Makefile.

You can add extra erl options by defining the SHELL_OPTS variable. For more information please see erl -man erl.

SHELL_PATH adds paths to the shell's library search path. By default this option sets the paths to -pa ../$(PROJECT)/ebin $(DEPS_DIR)/*/ebin.

Triq plugin

This plugin is available by default. It adds the following target:

triq will check all the properties found in ebin or the test directory specified in TEST_DIR.

You can use the t variable to give a specific module or function to run, for example:

$ make triq t=cow_http_hd


$ make triq t=cow_http_hd:prop_parse_accept


You can contribute by providing feedback, creating patches, adding packages to the index or new features as plugins.

To add a package to the index, please use the script. To use it, first fork the repository, then please follow the example below:

$ git clone$YOURUSERNAME/
$ cd
$ ./ cowboy git 1.0.0 "Small, fast and modular HTTP server."
$ git push origin master

Then open a pull request. The arguments given to the script are, in order, the project name, the download method used, the repository URL, the commit/tag/branch/version to pull, a link to the package's website and finally its description. Make sure to put double quotes around the description.

You can submit as many packages as you want in one pull request as long as you follow the instructions above.

For patches or plugins, you have to edit the core/*.mk or plugins/*.mk files and then run make to create an updated If you submit a new plugin, you also need to add it to the build.config file.

Make sure to keep the commit title short, to have a single commit per package/feature/fix and you're good to submit a pull request! And again, please don't forget to run make and to commit the updated or index files along with your other changes. Thanks!


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