While it does seem that they’re a little out of fashion these days, in some circles anyway, I’m still an avid fan of make and make files. Even in environments where I don’t need a Makefile to actually build anything, I’ll use one (or more) to help create handy shortcuts for getting stuff done.

Looking at the main Makefile for one of my major work projects, there’s 45 targets that help fire off various jobs (all of them self-documenting using a variation on an approach I read a while back).

In most cases the targets aren’t real targets. That’s to say, they don’t build the thing they’re called. They are phony targets. So, as makes sense, I make a point of marking them all as such. I follow the convention that has the .PHONY marker appear on the line before the target; this feels cleaner to me and easier to follow and maintain.

But…. I’m lazy. And I use Emacs. Typing out .PHONY foo all the time feels like far too much work. So, some time ago, I quickly threw together make-phony.el.

With this I could be really lazy. I could type out the Makefile target and then, with my cursor on it, press a key combination and have the .PHONY marker put in place.

Does it save much time? Yeah, probably not really. But it was a fun little exercise and an excuse to write a little bit of Emacs Lisp.

There’s one thing I made a point of doing in the heart of this too: using rx. For anyone who doesn’t know of it, think of it as a very Lispy way of writing regular expressions. I won’t even try and explain it all here because others have done an excellent job already. What I will do is say this: if you’re in the habit of writing some Emacs Lisp, or even tinkering with your configuration, and you find yourself writing a regular expression, consider looking at rx – it’s well worth the time to get to know it.

Slowly, as time goes on, I’m weeding out “vanilla” regular expressions from my config and code and moving over to using rx. I feel, quite rightly I think, that something like this:

  ;; Ignore hidden files.
  (group bol ".")
  ;; I never want to edit the desktop.
  (group "Desktop/" eol)
  ;; Ignore compiled files.
  (group "." (or "pyc" "elc") eol)
  (group ".egg-info/" eol)))

is much easier to write, read and maintain, than this:


I mean, even if the regular expression above can be written in a more efficient way (and I imagine it can), as someone working in a Lisp environment, I’d much sooner write and work with the rx version.