Makefiles for Modern Development

1976 in your stack? It’s likelier than you think

Makefiles for modern development

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Shipyard’s role in the software development lifecycle is squarely in the “post-commit” portion. In other words, our work starts the second you push a commit.

What happens “pre-commit” matters, though. That’s the space in which the engineer does their work. So having local workflows line up all of your integrations is very worthwhile, but can be a pain to set up. That’s why we’ve released starter repos as starting points for developers making new apps.

Today, we’ll focus on one of the key pieces of the starter repo: the Makefile.

Why Makefiles?

Languages usually have their own task runners, often embedded in the language’s package manager (e.g. npm for node, poetry for Python). If you use those programs to run the development workflows, though, that means you’ll need to learn a new tool for each language with which you interact.

Using Makefiles as an abstraction above any language-specific tooling allows for easy upgrading of that tooling, without having to teach your team how to use a new CLI. This way, they can just keep running the same Make commands they’re used to.

A more subtle benefit is that Makefiles serve as documentation for the workflows and actions needed for any project.

Finally, Makefiles have been in use since 1976, so they’re as battle-tested as can be.

Makefile example

Let’s take a look at the actual Makefile for our repo, section by section.

1. Main development workflow

develop: clean build migrations.upgrade run

	docker-compose rm -vf

	docker-compose build

	docker-compose up

These are the core functions that developers will be running over and over:

  • make clean to stop any running service
  • make build to re-build your images with updated code
  • make run to run the containers

We can combine each of those actions to form the main command that developers will run over and over:

  • make develop which runs clean, build, and run (and upgrades migrations)

2. Shell commands

	docker-compose run frontend \

	docker-compose run worker \

	docker-compose run worker \
	  poetry run flask shell
  • These are convenience methods to get each of the shells you’ll need for this project:
    • make frontend-shell gets you a Bash shell in the node container
    • make backend-shell gets you a Bash shell in the Python container
    • make python-shell gets you a Python shell in the Python container

3. Database commands clean
	docker volume rm $(VOLUME)_postgres

	docker-compose up -d postgres
	docker-compose exec postgres \
	  sh -c 'while ! nc -z postgres 5432; do sleep 0.1; done'
  • Each of these deals with the database:
    • make to stop containers (notice the stop to the right of the colon) and clears data
    • make postgres.start to start the database in the background, and wait for it to start up

4. Migrations

migrations.blank: postgres.start
	docker-compose run worker \
	  poetry run flask db revision

migrations.create: postgres.start
	docker-compose run worker \
	  poetry run flask db migrate

migrations.upgrade: postgres.start
	docker-compose run worker \
	  poetry run flask db upgrade

migrations.heads: postgres.start
	docker-compose run worker \
	  poetry run flask db heads
  • Finally, each of these handles the usual migration tasks that a developer needs to do (note that each command starts postgres in the background with postgres.start):
    • make migrations.blank creates a blank Alembic migration
    • make migrations.create generates a migration off of any detected schema changes
    • make migrations.upgrade applies any unapplied migrations
    • make migrations.heads shows the latest the latest migration (and any forks in the migration path)

The oldies are great

Makefiles may have been invented over 40 years ago, but that doesn’t make them any less fit for the job. Using Make as the interface for project workflows allows for ease of knowledge sharing, quick onboarding of new developers, and straightforward refactoring use of other CLI tools.

And if you containerize your projects, onboarding engineers into a new project in any language just becomes:

  • Securely sharing credentials
  • Installing Make and Docker
  • Running make develop

So grab one of the starter repos and starting building that new app you’ve been thinking about. And of course, the starter projects are all Shipyard-ready, so start your trial and deploy your project as an ephemeral environment today!

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