Make hacks: embedded version info, detecting non timestamp change and automatically generated dependencies

For the purposes of traceability you may wish to embed the version of a program into it. If you’re using full on CI, you very much shouldn’t need this. If your CI system doesn’t record such things, then you need to fix it now.

But if you’re hacking around locally, especially for research it can be really useful to know where that executable came from or more specifically where some results came from, because it’s easy to lose track of that. An easy way to do this is to embed the git hash of the repository into the executable so it can be written alongside the data.

Essentially if git status --porcelain prints nothing then the repository is entirely clean. With that in mind, here’s a short script which generates a C++ source file with the git hash if the repository is clean, and prints a loud, red warning if it is not clean. Here is

git_hash=`git rev-parse HEAD`

if [[ "$(git status --porcelain)" != "" ]]
	echo -e "\033[31mThere are uncommitted changes. This means that the build" 1>&2
	echo -e "Will not represent a traceable version.\033[0m" 1>&2
	time=`date +%s`

cat <<FOO
namespace version{
	const char* version_string = "$version";

It’s easy enough to use from make:

	bash >

and of course make your program depend on versioninfo.o. But it’s not very clean; this will rebuild and then re-link every single time. The key is to make the FORCE dependency depend on whether anything has changed.

This script (, reruns and compares it to the existing If there’s a change, it prints the target (FORCE), otherwise it prints nothing.

if ! diff -q <( bash 2> /dev/null ) > /dev/null 2>&1
        echo FORCE

You then need to plumb this into make using the shell command:

version_target=$(shell bash
.PHONY: FORCE $(version_target)
	bash >

This will now only re-generate (and hence the .o and the final executables) if the git hash changes.

With the basics in place, you can make the version info as detailed as you like, for example you could record any tags and branch names, so you could record those and if it’s an actual point release etc. The downside of the shell commands is that they run every time make is called so you will want to make them fast otherwise incremental rebuilds will become annoyingly slow.

Using this mechanism, make can be much more malleable than expected. This is an immensely powerful feature. But remember: