(or emacs irrelevant)

Make it so. file1 -> Makefile -> file2


make-it-so is an old package of mine that I haven't yet highlighted on the blog. This package helps you manage a collection of makefiles that are used to generate new files from existing files using shell commands.

You can think of these makefiles as a directory of shell functions, arranged by the extension of the files that they operate on:

$ cd make-it-so && find recipes -name Makefile

When you call make-it-so on a particular file, you get completion for the recipes that are available for that file extension, along with an option to create a new recipe.

Example 1: convert pdf to txt

Suppose you want to convert a PDF file test.pdf to a text file test.txt.

In case the recipe is in your collection, you don't have to remember the command or the command switches to do it anymore:

  1. Navigate to test.pdf in dired and press , (bound to make-it-so).
  2. Select the recipe you want using completion: to-txt is already provided.
  3. Your file and the makefile recipe are moved to the staging area:

  4. The makefile is opened in a new buffer with the following bindings:

    • f5 (mis-save-and-compile) will run compile, creating test.txt in the current directory.
    • C-, (mis-finalize) will finalize the operation, moving test.pdf and test.txt to the parent directory (where test.pdf was before), and deleting the staging directory.
    • C-M-, (mis-abort) will move test.pdf back to its initial location and delete all generated files. This command is effectively an undo for make-it-so.

It takes a large chunk of text to describe everything, but the key sequence for doing all this is quite short:

  1. , - make-it-so.
  2. RET - select to-txt.
  3. f5 - create test.txt.
  4. C-, - finalize.

Example 2: make a gif from a series of png images

I'll describe the process of creating a high quality gif like this one, which describes the effect of the C key in lispy:


First, I use kazam to take two png screenshots of my Emacs screen:

$ ls -1 *.png
Screenshot 2017-02-25 16:14:49.png
Screenshot 2017-02-25 16:15:10.png

I plan to use gifsicle to sequence the still images into a gif. But it only takes gif as the input format, so first I have to convert my png files to non-animated gif files.

I open the dired buffer where they are located and mark them with m (dired-mark). Then call make-it-so with , and select to-gif recipe. This recipe has no parameters, so there's nothing else to do but f5 C-,. Two new files are created:

$ ls -1 *.png *.gif
Screenshot_2017-02-25 16:14:49.gif
Screenshot_2017-02-25 16:14:49.png
Screenshot_2017-02-25 16:15:10.gif
Screenshot_2017-02-25 16:15:10.png

Note that the file names (the defaults of kazam) are problematic when used with makefiles, since they contain spaces and colons. The Elisp layer of make-it-so takes care of that. It renames the files back and forth so that the logic in the makefiles remains simple.

Next, I mark the two gif files using *% (dired-mark-files-regexp), press , once more and select the gifsicle recipe. I'm presented a makefile with the following contents:

# ——— parameters —————————————————————————————————

# delay between frames in hundredths of a second
delay = 60

# ——— implementation —————————————————————————————
DIRGIF = $(shell ls *.gif | grep -v anime.gif)

all: anime.gif

anime.gif: Makefile $(DIRGIF)
    rm -f anime.gif
    gifsicle --delay=$(delay) --colors=256 --loop $(DIRGIF) > $@
    echo $@ >> provide

    rm -f anime.gif provide

    sudo apt-get install gifsicle

.PHONY: all install-tools clean

The most commonly useful parameter, the delay between frames, is nicely documented at the top. I don't have to remember that the switch name is --delay or that the switch style --delay=60 is used. I simply change the number above until I get the result that I want.

Example 3: add a new recipe

As a sample scenario, assume you want to convert *.svg to *.png.

Step 1

An internet search leads to Stack Overflow and this command:

inkscape -z -e test.png -w 1024 -h 1024 test.svg

Navigate to the file(s) in dired and call make-it-so with ,. No default actions are available, so just type "to-png" and hit RET. The "to-" prefix signifies that this is a conversion, adapting the Makefile to this form:

# This is a template for the Makefile.
# Parameters should go in the upper half as:
#     width = 200
# and be referenced in the command as $(width)

# ____________________________________________

DIRSVG = $(shell dir *.svg)

DIRPNG = $(DIRSVG:.svg=.png)

all: clean Makefile $(DIRPNG)

%.png: %.svg
    echo "add command here"
    echo $@ >> provide

    rm -f *.png provide

# Insert the install command here.
# e.g. sudo apt-get install ffmpeg
    echo "No tools required"

.PHONY: all install-tools clean

If the action name doesn't have a "to-" prefix, the transformation is assumed to be e.g. "svg" -> "out.svg". You can change this of course by editing the Makefile.

Step 2

In case the command needs additional packages in order to work you might want to change echo "No tools required" to the appropriate package install instruction, e.g. sudo apt-get install inkscape.

When you're on a new system, this will serve as a reminder of what you should install in order for the Makefile to work. Simply call:

make install-tools

Step 3

Replace echo "add command here" with:

    inkscape -z -e $@ -w $(width) -h $(height) $^
  • The parameters width and height will go to the top of the Makefile, where they can be customized.

  • $@ refers to the output file, test.png in this case.

  • $^ refers to the input file, test.svg in this case.

That's it. You can see the final Makefile here. Test if the command works with f5 from the Makefile. If you're happy with it, call mis-finalize with C-, from dired. The Makefile will be saved for all future calls to make-it-so.


To summarize the advantages of make-it-so:

  • Write the recipe one time, never have to look up how to do the same thing a few months from now.
  • A chance to write the recipe zero times, if someone in the community has already done it and shared the recipe with you.
  • The Elisp layer takes care of hairy file names.
  • Parallel commands on multiple files, i.e. make -j8, are provided for free.

The most important usage tip: until you're sure that the command and the Makefile work properly make backups. In fact, make backups period. Happy hacking!