Profiling every command in a Makefile

Friday, February 25, 2011.

Here's the scenario. I've got a batch data processing pipeline implemented as a Makefile. (Hey! It's only a prototype! Trust me, I'm a make hater just like you!) There's already a lot of data, so an end-to-end full run can take about a day, with some of the individual stages taking hours.

Now I'm thinking, wouldn't it be nice to know how long each rule took? Even better, wouldn't it be nice to get a report of how much cpu it consumed, how much memory it used, how much I/O it performed, etc.? Armed with this information, I could start optimizing poorly performing stages.

So, let's suppose we cook up some wrapper program that runs a subordinate program, collects rusage when it exits, and prints out the interesting info. Fortunately, such a wrapper program basically already exists.

I'd rather not go rewrite every rule in the Makefile, prefixing it with this wrapper program. That wouldn't even work if the rule was a pipeline: since make(1) executes rules by wrapping them with $(SHELL) -c, only the first command in the pipeline would actually run under the wrapper.

The solution is to set the shell in your Makefile to:

SHELL = rusage sh

Where rusage is a wrapper shell script that looks like this:

exec time -f 'rc=%x elapsed=%e user=%U system=%S maxrss=%M avgrss=%t ins=%I outs=%O minflt=%R majflt=%F swaps=%W avgmem=%K avgdata=%D argv="%C"' "$@"

Note that this uses /usr/bin/time, not to be confused with the bash builtin time, which is what you're using probably 90% of the time at the command line.

Note also, this unfortunately only works with GNU time(1). The BSD (and probably Darwin, haven't actually checked) versions of time(1) don't support the -f argument to specify a format string. But on BSD derivatives, you should be able to at least get a human readable dump of the rusage structure by using /usr/bin/time -l. Which looks equivalent to the /usr/bin/time -v output from GNU time. (It's just not as convenient if you plan to analyze the logs later.)

Posted by Alan on Friday, February 25, 2011. (Discuss)

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"After a little while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see."

Illustration for Edgar Allan Poe's story "Descent into the Maelstrom" by Harry Clarke, published in 1919.