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A simple build tool for small projects.

Project description


A simple build tool for small projects, usable by mortals.



BuildIt is a simple build tool and make replacement, meaning it builds files based on other files, given your instructions. When original source files are modified, bld will recreate the final products dependent on them. Conversely, if nothing has been changed, nothing is done. This type of utility is important to avoid unnecesary work (and the resulting wasted time) that would occur had one used a “dumb” script or batch file to automate a lengthy operation with intermediate steps.

Examples of this sort of thing would be the well-known compilelink steps of programs, or the lintminifycompress deployment steps of Javascript and CSS files. BuildIt is focused on these simple use cases.


BuildIt attempts to be usable for humans, i.e., newcomers, IT folk, and designers, while still useful enough for developers creating small projects. Not only today, but obvious nine months from now.


…not use make? Well, good question. I’ve used it over the years, but like many never cared for it much due to its strange ways. It feels arcane when you haven’t used it recently. It’s tedious to have to consult the manual every time you use a tool, because things aren’t obvious. make gives off a faint whiff of masochism and ‘80’s resource constraints. ;)

Likewise I looked into scons and cmake, but they are complex for simple use cases and require reading a book to get started (if you want to understand rather than cut & paste). Also tried Eckel’s and found it nifty. Python though, while great for logic and string manipulation, is clumsy at running commands… which is most of what I need for small projects. Interactive shells like bash are optimized for this kind of thing however.

Even though these programs are quite robust, they unfortunately tend to make the easy things difficult. Preferably, I’ve been looking for something like the following.

Design Goals

  • Easy to use & remember later, with

    • A simple file format already known, and

    • A choice of scripting languages, already known,

    • That works like make when it makes sense.

  • Where a few complex operations are possible, but defers early to more sophisticated tools. Doesn’t need to solve every problem.

  • With few-to-no dependencies.

  • With good feedback as to what decisions were made during the build.

To detect changes BuildIt currently compares timestamps of files, which is sufficient on filesystems used in a local context. This includes remote logins via ssh.


If necessary, first install pip:

sudo apt-get install python-pip  # s/apt-get/yum/


sudo pip install buildit

If using a Python version below 2.7, this will install ordereddict as well. Under 3.0, it will install ushlex. (This packagage does not currently support Python 3.)

Linux-only for now. It should work on Windows/OSX in theory, though I have not yet tried it.


File format

BuildIt uses the ini file format, encoded in UTF-8. Despite its limitations, ini is a perfect fit for describing items with attributes that need to be read and written by humans. The format is an extended version (as implemented by Python’s ConfigParser) which adds variables. One notable change is that it has been modified to use simpler %name (or pre%{name}post) shell-style variable expansion rather than the more cumbersome %(printf)s style.

As seen below, an .ini file is a list of section names in square brackets, each of which has a mapping of names to values (aka attributes) following. Comments start with a # or ; character at the beginning of a line:

# Below, a section with two attributes,
# the second using variable expansion:

attribute_one = 1
attribute_two = attribute_one is equal to %attribute_one
attribute_three = To continue to additional lines,
    --> make sure to indent them like this.

Note attribute_two above. The text %attribute_one will be replaced with its value at load-time. These values are substituted first before anything else happens, and unknown variables will raise an Error.


Therefore, an ini-file with build rules suitable for BuildIt may be called a buildfile or build script. A simple one to concatenate and compress javascript might look like the next example. Each section name is a “target file” that we want to build and underneath it the various attributes that together make up the rule to create it.

An exception is the optional [vars] section which holds global variables that are available to all rules. It must be the first section:

[vars]                      │ Comments:
basejs = foo.js             │ Global variable.
[foo.js.gz]                 │ This target file needs to be built,
deps = %basejs foo2.js      │ using these input files,
exec = gzip -c %deps > %me  │ in this manner.
[clean]                     │ A dummy target.
exec = rm -f foo.js.gz      │

Note the “dummy” target at the bottom, named clean. It has no “deps,” aka dependencies, and always runs when passed as an argument at the command-line, just like make.


Several attribute names are reserved:

  • me - Not set by the user. The target-file/section name is available for use in other attributes.

  • deps - The list of files the target is dependent on, separated by whitespace. Names with spaces must therefore be quoted.

  • extends - Inherits the attributes from another target, similar to a base-class, AKA Don’t Repeat Yourself. If you find yourself cutting and pasting, stop and use extends = TARGET instead.

  • workdir - Selects a different working directory for the current target.

There must be at least one (exec or deps) attribute in every rule.


The following names are also reserved.

  • preexec - Setup script

  • exec - Main script

  • postexec - Exit stage left

The execution attributes of the rule are special since they can take a suffix containing the name of the desired shell, (which by default is sh). To choose a different shell (for example bash), one would set the following attribute instead:

exec.bash = line1...
    line2... etc.

These may be whatever shell you’d like, just add its name to the end. There are shortcuts for python and perl (py, pl): = print "hello world!"

If BuildIt decides a target needs to be built, its execution attributes will be run.

  • Use of %deps and %me variables are very important since they make it more difficult to author rules with missing, untracked, or obsolete dependencies.

  • Use of %me also helps prevent errors from corrupting a previously successful target file. When using %me, output files will be written with a .tmp extension first, and not moved over to the final filename until the script has completed without error (returned an exit-status code of 0).

  • To prevent the file parser from attempting to expand variables meant to be passed to the shell, double any percent characters to escape them:

    exec.bash = stat -c %%y foo.txt

Generic Rules

If you have many files, creating a rule for every one gets tedious quickly. This is when generic rules come in handy. The following demonstrates how to build every dependency with a filename ending in .o without specifying them individually:

deps = *.c
exec = %CC %CFLAGS %deps -o %me

See below for full examples.

Running It

$ bld -h
$ bld [target]
$ bld

Help (-h) prints usage information, options, as well as available targets. Running bld with no arguments will run the first target section in the file ./buildit.ini like make. Therefore it’s a good place to put an “all” target.

Example Run

$ bld
‣ foo.js.gz
    ❗ foo.js
    ❗ foo2.js
    ⚙ exec:
        + gzip -c foo.js foo2.js
    ✔ exit: 0

Good. Once more for good measure:

$ bld
✔ foo.js.gz
    ✔ foo.js
    ✔ foo2.js

Return Codes

  • 0 - All clear

  • N - Command execution errors

  • NN - Error codes from BuildIt, see cat /usr/include/sysexits.h


BuildIt is licensed under the GPL, version 3+.


  • Full examples can be found under the examples folder.

  • BuildIt is designed to be complementary to the deployment and configuration management tool pave.

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