Makefile recipes for Node.js packages

When you write code for Node.js you certainly will have a couple of things in your build-test-release cycle to automate. I use make utility for that, mainly because it is simple and concise.

To start using make you should create a Makefile file in your project root directory. Makefile contains variable and tasks declarations (below I’ll give the examples). To perform some task you just call make <task name> from a command line. Easy!

Below is my generic Makefile from which I usually start a new Node.js or Browserify project. I’ll go step by step through it.

First thing is to define some useful variables: I store sources in src and compiled code in lib (yes, I use CoffeeScript but feel free to customize template to any language you like).

BIN = ./node_modules/.bin
SRC = $(wildcard src/*.coffee)
LIB = $(SRC:src/

SRC will contain a list of .coffee files in src directory and LIB — a list of corresponding (but not-yet-existent) .js files in lib directory — the $(VAR:pattern1=pattern2) form allows to specify a transformation on each item stored in a variable.

So if we have src/ src/ in filesystem then SRC will capture them and LIB will contain lib/index.js lib/mod.js correspondingly.

BIN points to a directory with executables of local Node modules installation.


Now let’s define our first task called build and state that it depends on all files stored in LIB variable.

build: $(LIB)

Easy, right? $(LIB) syntax is just a way make dereferences variables.

After running make build the utility will try to ensure all files in LIB are in place and up to date. But how we tell make on how to get all these files in LIB from corresponding files in SRC?

The next snippet defines a so called wildcard rule which is applicable to files matched by a given pattern, in this case — lib/%.js — exactly this pattern will match files in LIB variable.

lib/%.js: src/
  @mkdir -p $(@D)
  @$(BIN)/coffee -bcp $< > $@

This rule tells make that file lib/%.js depends on corresponding src/ file and so make will rebuild the former file if the latter is changed.

How it works? First it creates a directory for a target file ($(@D) denotes such directory, it is a make magic variable), then it calls CoffeeScript compiler on corresponding .coffee file denoted by $< which writes result into target file denoted by $@.

Note the @-prefixed lines — by default make prints all lines it executes, but lines prefixed with @ will not be printed.

Enough for a build process — make build will rebuild all outdated (and only those) files in lib directory from corresponding files in src directory.


Test task is very easy

test: build
  @$(BIN)/mocha -b specs

We just specify that test depends on build — we want to run tests on fresh code — and run our test runner of choice, mocha in this case.

Auxiliary tasks

Next go auxiliary tasks — clean which removes all compiled code:

  @rm -f $(LIB)

and install and link tasks which simply run corresponding subcommand of npm:

install link:
  @npm $@

Note the trick with $@ variable and how it allows use propagate task name into a subcommand of npm.


Next thing is releases.

The following snippet may seem a bit magical but actually it’s really simple. It defines a parametrized macro for doing patch, minor and major releases and it is used by tasks below.

define release
  VERSION=`node -pe "require('./package.json').version"` && \
  NEXT_VERSION=`node -pe "require('semver').inc(\"$$VERSION\", '$(1)')"` && \
  node -e "\
    var j = require('./package.json');\
    j.version = \"$$NEXT_VERSION\";\
    var s = JSON.stringify(j, null, 2);\
    require('fs').writeFileSync('./package.json', s);" && \
  git commit -m "release $$NEXT_VERSION" -- package.json && \
  git tag "$$NEXT_VERSION" -m "release $$NEXT_VERSION"

In short, it rewrites package.json with a new incremented version (which part of version is incremented is defined via $1 variable which is a macro parameter) then it creates a corresponding git commit and a git tag.

Next up just call a release macro with patch, minor and major parameters to create correspondingly release-patch, release-minor and release-major tasks which in turn depend on build and test tasks. That way we cannot make releases if we fail on build or test phases.

release-patch: build test
  @$(call release,patch)

release-minor: build test
  @$(call release,minor)

release-major: build test
  @$(call release,major)

The final point is a publish task which just pushes commits into a repo and publish package on npm.

  git push --tags origin HEAD:master
  npm publish

Now to make a new minor release you just need to execute make release-minor publish from a command line — minor version in package.json will be incremented, new commit and tag will be created and pushed into a repo and, finally, package will be published on npm.

The entire Makefile is available here.