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12.9 The Make Macro SHELL

Posix-compliant make internally uses the $(SHELL) macro to spawn shell processes and execute Make rules. This is a builtin macro supplied by make, but it can be modified by a makefile or by a command-line argument.

Not all make implementations define this SHELL macro. Tru64 make is an example; this implementation always uses /bin/sh. So it’s a good idea to always define SHELL in your makefiles. If you use Autoconf, do

SHELL = @SHELL@

If you use Automake, this is done for you.

Do not force SHELL = /bin/sh because that is not correct everywhere. Remember, ‘/bin/sh’ is not Posix compliant on many systems, such as FreeBSD 4, NetBSD 3, AIX 3, Solaris 10, or Tru64. Additionally, DJGPP lacks /bin/sh, and when its GNU make port sees such a setting it enters a special emulation mode where features like pipes and redirections are emulated on top of DOS’s command.com. Unfortunately this emulation is incomplete; for instance it does not handle command substitutions. Using @SHELL@ means that your makefile will benefit from the same improved shell, such as bash or ksh, that was discovered during configure, so that you aren’t fighting two different sets of shell bugs between the two contexts.

Posix-compliant make should never acquire the value of $(SHELL) from the environment, even when make -e is used (otherwise, think about what would happen to your rules if SHELL=/bin/tcsh).

However not all make implementations have this exception. For instance it’s not surprising that Tru64 make doesn’t protect SHELL, since it doesn’t use it.

$ cat Makefile
SHELL = /bin/sh
FOO = foo
all:
        @echo $(SHELL)
        @echo $(FOO)
$ env SHELL=/bin/tcsh FOO=bar make -e   # Tru64 Make
/bin/tcsh
bar
$ env SHELL=/bin/tcsh FOO=bar gmake -e  # GNU make
/bin/sh
bar

Conversely, make is not supposed to export any changes to the macro SHELL to child processes. Again, many implementations break this rule:

$ cat Makefile
all:
        @echo $(SHELL)
        @printenv SHELL
$ env SHELL=sh make -e SHELL=/bin/ksh   # BSD Make, GNU make 3.80
/bin/ksh
/bin/ksh
$ env SHELL=sh gmake -e SHELL=/bin/ksh  # GNU make 3.81
/bin/ksh
sh

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