LLVM Makefile Guide


This document provides usage information about the LLVM makefile system. While loosely patterned after the BSD makefile system, LLVM has taken a departure from BSD in order to implement additional features needed by LLVM. Although makefile systems, such as automake, were attempted at one point, it has become clear that the features needed by LLVM and the Makefile norm are too great to use a more limited tool. Consequently, LLVM requires simply GNU Make 3.79, a widely portable makefile processor. LLVM unabashedly makes heavy use of the features of GNU Make so the dependency on GNU Make is firm. If you’re not familiar with make, it is recommended that you read the GNU Makefile Manual.

While this document is rightly part of the LLVM Programmer’s Manual, it is treated separately here because of the volume of content and because it is often an early source of bewilderment for new developers.

General Concepts

The LLVM Makefile System is the component of LLVM that is responsible for building the software, testing it, generating distributions, checking those distributions, installing and uninstalling, etc. It consists of a several files throughout the source tree. These files and other general concepts are described in this section.


The LLVM Makefile System is quite generous. It not only builds its own software, but it can build yours too. Built into the system is knowledge of the llvm/projects directory. Any directory under projects that has both a configure script and a Makefile is assumed to be a project that uses the LLVM Makefile system. Building software that uses LLVM does not require the LLVM Makefile System nor even placement in the llvm/projects directory. However, doing so will allow your project to get up and running quickly by utilizing the built-in features that are used to compile LLVM. LLVM compiles itself using the same features of the makefile system as used for projects.

For further details, consult the Projects page.

Variable Values

To use the makefile system, you simply create a file named Makefile in your directory and declare values for certain variables. The variables and values that you select determine what the makefile system will do. These variables enable rules and processing in the makefile system that automatically Do The Right Thing (C).

Including Makefiles

Setting variables alone is not enough. You must include into your Makefile additional files that provide the rules of the LLVM Makefile system. The various files involved are described in the sections that follow.


Each directory to participate in the build needs to have a file named Makefile. This is the file first read by make. It has three sections:

  1. Settable Variables — Required that must be set first.
  2. include $(LEVEL)/Makefile.common — include the LLVM Makefile system.
  3. Override Variables — Override variables set by the LLVM Makefile system.


Every project must have a Makefile.common file at its top source directory. This file serves three purposes:

  1. It includes the project’s configuration makefile to obtain values determined by the configure script. This is done by including the $(LEVEL)/Makefile.config file.
  2. It specifies any other (static) values that are needed throughout the project. Only values that are used in all or a large proportion of the project’s directories should be placed here.
  3. It includes the standard rules for the LLVM Makefile system, $(LLVM_SRC_ROOT)/Makefile.rules. This file is the guts of the LLVM Makefile system.


Every project must have a Makefile.config at the top of its build directory. This file is generated by the configure script from the pattern provided by the Makefile.config.in file located at the top of the project’s source directory. The contents of this file depend largely on what configuration items the project uses, however most projects can get what they need by just relying on LLVM’s configuration found in $(LLVM_OBJ_ROOT)/Makefile.config.


This file, located at $(LLVM_SRC_ROOT)/Makefile.rules is the heart of the LLVM Makefile System. It provides all the logic, dependencies, and rules for building the targets supported by the system. What it does largely depends on the values of make variables that have been set before Makefile.rules is included.


User Makefiles need not have comments in them unless the construction is unusual or it does not strictly follow the rules and patterns of the LLVM makefile system. Makefile comments are invoked with the pound (#) character. The # character and any text following it, to the end of the line, are ignored by make.


This section provides some examples of the different kinds of modules you can build with the LLVM makefile system. In general, each directory you provide will build a single object although that object may be composed of additionally compiled components.


Only a few variable definitions are needed to build a regular library. Normally, the makefile system will build all the software into a single libname.o (pre-linked) object. This means the library is not searchable and that the distinction between compilation units has been dissolved. Optionally, you can ask for a shared library (.so) or archive library (.a) built. Archive libraries are the default. For example:


says to build a library named mylib with both a shared library (mylib.so) and an archive library (mylib.a) version. The contents of all the libraries produced will be the same, they are just constructed differently. Note that you normally do not need to specify the sources involved. The LLVM Makefile system will infer the source files from the contents of the source directory.

The LOADABLE_MODULE=1 directive can be used in conjunction with SHARED_LIBRARY=1 to indicate that the resulting shared library should be openable with the dlopen function and searchable with the dlsym function (or your operating system’s equivalents). While this isn’t strictly necessary on Linux and a few other platforms, it is required on systems like HP-UX and Darwin. You should use LOADABLE_MODULE for any shared library that you intend to be loaded into an tool via the -load option. Pass documentation has an example of why you might want to do this.

Loadable Modules

In some situations, you need to create a loadable module. Loadable modules can be loaded into programs like opt or llc to specify additional passes to run or targets to support. Loadable modules are also useful for debugging a pass or providing a pass with another package if that pass can’t be included in LLVM.

LLVM provides complete support for building such a module. All you need to do is use the LOADABLE_MODULE variable in your Makefile. For example, to build a loadable module named MyMod that uses the LLVM libraries LLVMSupport.a and LLVMSystem.a, you would specify:

LINK_COMPONENTS := support system

Use of the LOADABLE_MODULE facility implies several things:

  1. There will be no “lib” prefix on the module. This differentiates it from

    a standard shared library of the same name.

  2. The SHARED_LIBRARY variable is turned on.

  3. The LINK_LIBS_IN_SHARED variable is turned on.

A loadable module is loaded by LLVM via the facilities of libtool’s libltdl library which is part of lib/System implementation.


For building executable programs (tools), you must provide the name of the tool and the names of the libraries you wish to link with the tool. For example:

TOOLNAME = mytool
USEDLIBS = mylib
LINK_COMPONENTS = support system

says that we are to build a tool name mytool and that it requires three libraries: mylib, LLVMSupport.a and LLVMSystem.a.

Note that two different variables are used to indicate which libraries are linked: USEDLIBS and LLVMLIBS. This distinction is necessary to support projects. LLVMLIBS refers to the LLVM libraries found in the LLVM object directory. USEDLIBS refers to the libraries built by your project. In the case of building LLVM tools, USEDLIBS and LLVMLIBS can be used interchangeably since the “project” is LLVM itself and USEDLIBS refers to the same place as LLVMLIBS.

Also note that there are two different ways of specifying a library: with a .a suffix and without. Without the suffix, the entry refers to the re-linked (.o) file which will include all symbols of the library. This is useful, for example, to include all passes from a library of passes. If the .a suffix is used then the library is linked as a searchable library (with the -l option). In this case, only the symbols that are unresolved at that point will be resolved from the library, if they exist. Other (unreferenced) symbols will not be included when the .a syntax is used. Note that in order to use the .a suffix, the library in question must have been built with the BUILD_ARCHIVE option set.

JIT Tools

Many tools will want to use the JIT features of LLVM. To do this, you simply specify that you want an execution ‘engine’, and the makefiles will automatically link in the appropriate JIT for the host or an interpreter if none is available:

TOOLNAME = my_jit_tool
USEDLIBS = mylib

Of course, any additional libraries may be listed as other components. To get a full understanding of how this changes the linker command, it is recommended that you:

% cd examples/Fibonacci
% make VERBOSE=1

Targets Supported

This section describes each of the targets that can be built using the LLVM Makefile system. Any target can be invoked from any directory but not all are applicable to a given directory (e.g. “check”, “dist” and “install” will always operate as if invoked from the top level directory).

Target Name Implied Targets Target Description
all Compile the software recursively. Default target.
all-local Compile the software in the local directory only.
check Change to the test directory in a project and run the test suite there.
check-local Run a local test suite. Generally this is only defined in the Makefile of the project’s test directory.
clean Remove built objects recursively.
clean-local Remove built objects from the local directory only.
dist all Prepare a source distribution tarball.
dist-check all Prepare a source distribution tarball and check that it builds.
dist-clean clean Clean source distribution tarball temporary files.
install all Copy built objects to installation directory.
preconditions all Check to make sure configuration and makefiles are up to date.
printvars all Prints variables defined by the makefile system (for debugging).
tags Make C and C++ tags files for emacs and vi.
uninstall Remove built objects from installation directory.

all (default)

When you invoke make with no arguments, you are implicitly instructing it to seek the all target (goal). This target is used for building the software recursively and will do different things in different directories. For example, in a lib directory, the all target will compile source files and generate libraries. But, in a tools directory, it will link libraries and generate executables.


This target is the same as all but it operates only on the current directory instead of recursively.


This target can be invoked from anywhere within a project’s directories but always invokes the check-local target in the project’s test directory, if it exists and has a Makefile. A warning is produced otherwise. If TESTSUITE is defined on the make command line, it will be passed down to the invocation of make check-local in the test directory. The intended usage for this is to assist in running specific suites of tests. If TESTSUITE is not set, the implementation of check-local should run all normal tests. It is up to the project to define what different values for TESTSUTE will do. See the Testing Guide for further details.


This target should be implemented by the Makefile in the project’s test directory. It is invoked by the check target elsewhere. Each project is free to define the actions of check-local as appropriate for that project. The LLVM project itself uses the Lit testing tool to run a suite of feature and regression tests. Other projects may choose to use lit or any other testing mechanism.


This target cleans the build directory, recursively removing all things that the Makefile builds. The cleaning rules have been made guarded so they shouldn’t go awry (via rm -f $(UNSET_VARIABLE)/* which will attempt to erase the entire directory structure).


This target does the same thing as clean but only for the current (local) directory.


This target builds a distribution tarball. It first builds the entire project using the all target and then tars up the necessary files and compresses it. The generated tarball is sufficient for a casual source distribution, but probably not for a release (see dist-check).


This target does the same thing as the dist target but also checks the distribution tarball. The check is made by unpacking the tarball to a new directory, configuring it, building it, installing it, and then verifying that the installation results are correct (by comparing to the original build). This target can take a long time to run but should be done before a release goes out to make sure that the distributed tarball can actually be built into a working release.


This is a special form of the clean clean target. It performs a normal clean but also removes things pertaining to building the distribution.


This target finalizes shared objects and executables and copies all libraries, headers, executables and documentation to the directory given with the --prefix option to configure. When completed, the prefix directory will have everything needed to use LLVM.

The LLVM makefiles can generate complete internal documentation for all the classes by using doxygen. By default, this feature is not enabled because it takes a long time and generates a massive amount of data (>100MB). If you want this feature, you must configure LLVM with the –enable-doxygen switch and ensure that a modern version of doxygen (1.3.7 or later) is available in your PATH. You can download doxygen from here.


This utility target checks to see if the Makefile in the object directory is older than the Makefile in the source directory and copies it if so. It also reruns the configure script if that needs to be done and rebuilds the Makefile.config file similarly. Users may overload this target to ensure that sanity checks are run before any building of targets as all the targets depend on preconditions.


This utility target just causes the LLVM makefiles to print out some of the makefile variables so that you can double check how things are set.


This utility target will force a reconfigure of LLVM or your project. It simply runs $(PROJ_OBJ_ROOT)/config.status --recheck to rerun the configuration tests and rebuild the configured files. This isn’t generally useful as the makefiles will reconfigure themselves whenever its necessary.



Use with caution!

This utility target, only available when $(PROJ_OBJ_ROOT) is not the same as $(PROJ_SRC_ROOT), will completely clean the $(PROJ_OBJ_ROOT) directory by removing its content entirely and reconfiguring the directory. This returns the $(PROJ_OBJ_ROOT) directory to a completely fresh state. All content in the directory except configured files and top-level makefiles will be lost.


This target will generate a TAGS file in the top-level source directory. It is meant for use with emacs, XEmacs, or ViM. The TAGS file provides an index of symbol definitions so that the editor can jump you to the definition quickly.


This target is the opposite of the install target. It removes the header, library and executable files from the installation directories. Note that the directories themselves are not removed because it is not guaranteed that LLVM is the only thing installing there (e.g. --prefix=/usr).


Variables are used to tell the LLVM Makefile System what to do and to obtain information from it. Variables are also used internally by the LLVM Makefile System. Variable names that contain only the upper case alphabetic letters and underscore are intended for use by the end user. All other variables are internal to the LLVM Makefile System and should not be relied upon nor modified. The sections below describe how to use the LLVM Makefile variables.

Control Variables

Variables listed in the table below should be set before the inclusion of $(LEVEL)/Makefile.common. These variables provide input to the LLVM make system that tell it what to do for the current directory.

If set to any value, causes an archive (.a) library to be built.
Specifies a set of source files that are generated from other source files. These sources will be built before any other target processing to ensure they are present.
Specifies a set of configuration files to be installed.
If set to any value, causes the build to include debugging symbols even in optimized objects, libraries and executables. This alters the flags specified to the compilers and linkers. Debugging isn’t fun in an optimized build, but it is possible.
Specifies a set of directories, usually children of the current directory, that should also be made using the same goal. These directories will be built serially.
If set to any value, causes the makefiles to not automatically generate dependencies when running the compiler. Use of this feature is discouraged and it may be removed at a later date.
If set to 1, causes the build to generate optimized objects, libraries and executables. This alters the flags specified to the compilers and linkers. Generally debugging won’t be a fun experience with an optimized build.
If set to 1, causes the build to generate both optimized and profiled objects, libraries and executables. This alters the flags specified to the compilers and linkers to ensure that profile data can be collected from the tools built. Use the gprof tool to analyze the output from the profiled tools (gmon.out).
If set to 1, causes the build to disable assertions, even if building a debug or profile build. This will exclude all assertion check code from the build. LLVM will execute faster, but with little help when things go wrong.
Specify a set of directories that should be built, but if they fail, it should not cause the build to fail. Note that this should only be used temporarily while code is being written.
Specifies the name of a single file that contains a list of the symbols to be exported by the linker. One symbol per line.
Specifies a set of symbols to be exported by the linker.
Specifies additional files that should be distributed with LLVM. All source files, all built sources, all Makefiles, and most documentation files will be automatically distributed. Use this variable to distribute any files that are not automatically distributed.
If set to any value, specifies that when linking executables the makefiles should retain debug symbols in the executable. Normally, symbols are stripped from the executable.
LEVEL (required)
Specify the level of nesting from the top level. This variable must be set in each makefile as it is used to find the top level and thus the other makefiles.
Specify the name of the library to be built. (Required For Libraries)
When specified for building a tool, the value of this variable will be passed to the llvm-config tool to generate a link line for the tool. Unlike USEDLIBS and LLVMLIBS, not all libraries need to be specified. The llvm-config tool will figure out the library dependencies and add any libraries that are needed. The USEDLIBS variable can still be used in conjunction with LINK_COMPONENTS so that additional project-specific libraries can be linked with the LLVM libraries specified by LINK_COMPONENTS.
Specifies the set of libraries from the LLVM $(ObjDir) that will be linked into the tool or library.
If set to any value, causes the shared library being built to also be a loadable module. Loadable modules can be opened with the dlopen() function and searched with dlsym (or the operating system’s equivalent). Note that setting this variable without also setting SHARED_LIBRARY will have no effect.
Specifies that the build products of the directory should not be installed but should be built even if the install target is given. This is handy for directories that build libraries or tools that are only used as part of the build process, such as code generators (e.g. tblgen).
Specify a set of directories that may be built, if they exist, but it is not an error for them not to exist.
Specify a set of directories to build recursively and in parallel if the -j option was used with make.
If set to any value, causes a shared library (.so) to be built in addition to any other kinds of libraries. Note that this option will cause all source files to be built twice: once with options for position independent code and once without. Use it only where you really need a shared library.
SOURCES (optional)
Specifies the list of source files in the current directory to be built. Source files of any type may be specified (programs, documentation, config files, etc.). If not specified, the makefile system will infer the set of source files from the files present in the current directory.
Specifies a set of filename suffixes that occur in suffix match rules. Only set this if your local Makefile specifies additional suffix match rules.
Specifies the name of the LLVM code generation target that the current directory builds. Setting this variable enables additional rules to build .inc files from .td files.
Specifies the directory of tests to run in llvm/test.
Specifies the name of the tool that the current directory should build.
Implies VERBOSE and also tells each tool invoked to be verbose. This is handy when you’re trying to see the sub-tools invoked by each tool invoked by the makefile. For example, this will pass -v to the GCC compilers which causes it to print out the command lines it uses to invoke sub-tools (compiler, assembler, linker).
Specifies the list of project libraries that will be linked into the tool or library.
Tells the Makefile system to produce detailed output of what it is doing instead of just summary comments. This will generate a LOT of output.

Override Variables

Override variables can be used to override the default values provided by the LLVM makefile system. These variables can be set in several ways:

  • In the environment (e.g. setenv, export) — not recommended.
  • On the make command line — recommended.
  • On the configure command line.
  • In the Makefile (only after the inclusion of $(LEVEL)/Makefile.common).

The override variables are given below:

AR (defaulted)
Specifies the path to the ar tool.
The directory into which the products of build rules will be placed. This might be the same as PROJ_SRC_DIR but typically is not.
The directory which contains the source files to be built.
If set to 1, build examples in examples and (if building Clang) tools/clang/examples directories.
BZIP2 (configured)
The path to the bzip2 tool.
CC (configured)
The path to the ‘C’ compiler.
Additional flags to be passed to the ‘C’ compiler.
Additional flags passed to the C/C++ preprocessor.
Specifies the path to the C++ compiler.
Additional flags to be passed to the C++ compiler.
DATE (configured)
Specifies the path to the date program or any program that can generate the current date and time on its standard output.
DOT (configured)
Specifies the path to the dot tool or false if there isn’t one.
ECHO (configured)
Specifies the path to the echo tool for printing output.
EXEEXT (configured)
Provides the extension to be used on executables built by the makefiles. The value may be empty on platforms that do not use file extensions for executables (e.g. Unix).
INSTALL (configured)
Specifies the path to the install tool.
LDFLAGS (configured)
Allows users to specify additional flags to pass to the linker.
LIBS (configured)
The list of libraries that should be linked with each tool.
LIBTOOL (configured)
Specifies the path to the libtool tool. This tool is renamed mklib by the configure script.
LLVMAS (defaulted)
Specifies the path to the llvm-as tool.
LLVMGCC (defaulted)
Specifies the path to the LLVM version of the GCC ‘C’ Compiler.
LLVMGXX (defaulted)
Specifies the path to the LLVM version of the GCC C++ Compiler.
LLVMLD (defaulted)
Specifies the path to the LLVM bitcode linker tool
LLVM_OBJ_ROOT (configured)
Specifies the top directory into which the output of the build is placed.
LLVM_SRC_ROOT (configured)
Specifies the top directory in which the sources are found.
LLVM_TARBALL_NAME (configured)
Specifies the name of the distribution tarball to create. This is configured from the name of the project and its version number.
MKDIR (defaulted)
Specifies the path to the mkdir tool that creates directories.
If set, specifies the list of tools to build.
The options to provide to the linker to specify that a stripped (no symbols) executable should be built.
RANLIB (defaulted)
Specifies the path to the ranlib tool.
RM (defaulted)
Specifies the path to the rm tool.
SED (defaulted)
Specifies the path to the sed tool.
SHLIBEXT (configured)
Provides the filename extension to use for shared libraries.
TBLGEN (defaulted)
Specifies the path to the tblgen tool.
TAR (defaulted)
Specifies the path to the tar tool.
ZIP (defaulted)
Specifies the path to the zip tool.

Readable Variables

Variables listed in the table below can be used by the user’s Makefile but should not be changed. Changing the value will generally cause the build to go wrong, so don’t do it.

The directory into which executables will ultimately be installed. This value is derived from the --prefix option given to configure.
The name of the type of build being performed: Debug, Release, or Profile.
The directory into which bitcode libraries will ultimately be installed. This value is derived from the --prefix option given to configure.
Additional flags given to the configure script when reconfiguring.
The current directory for which a distribution copy is being made.
The LLVM Makefile System output command. This provides the llvm[n] prefix and starts with @ so the command itself is not printed by make.
Same as Echo but without the leading @.
The directory into which include files will ultimately be installed. This value is derived from the --prefix option given to configure.
The directory into which native libraries will ultimately be installed. This value is derived from the --prefix option given to configure.
The configuration specific directory into which libraries are placed before installation.
Full path of the Makefile.config file.
Full path of the Makefile.config.in file.
The configuration and directory specific directory where build objects (compilation results) are placed.
The complete list of sub-directories of the current directory as specified by other variables.
The complete list of source files.
The directory into which configuration files will ultimately be installed. This value is derived from the --prefix option given to configure.
The configuration specific directory into which executables are placed before they are installed.
The top most directory into which the distribution files are copied.
Use this as the first thing on your build script lines to enable or disable verbose mode. It expands to either an @ (quiet mode) or nothing (verbose mode).

Internal Variables

Variables listed below are used by the LLVM Makefile System and considered internal. You should not use these variables under any circumstances.