Chapter 27. External plugins

It is often convenient to be able to keep the build files used by all your projects in one place. Those files could be Makefiles, configuration files, templates and more. allows you to automatically load plugins from dependencies. Plugins can do anything, including defining new variables, defining file templates, hooking themselves inside the normal processing or even adding new rules.

You can load plugins using one of two methods. You can either load all plugins from a dependency, or just one. We will also cover conventions about writing external plugins.

27.1. Loading all plugins from a dependency

To load plugins from a dependency, all you need to do is add the dependency name to DEP_PLUGINS in addition to the list of dependencies.

For example, if you have cowboy in DEPS, add cowboy in DEP_PLUGINS also:

DEPS = cowboy
DEP_PLUGINS = cowboy

This will load the file in the root folder of the Cowboy repository.

27.2. Loading one plugin from a dependency

Now that we know how to load all plugins, let’s take a look at how to load one specific plugin from a dependency.

To do this, instead of writing only the name of the dependency, we will write its name and the path to the plugin file. This means that writing DEP_PLUGINS = cowboy is equivalent to writing DEP_PLUGINS = cowboy/

Knowing this, if we were to load the plugin mk/ from Cowboy and no other, we would write the following in our Makefile:

DEPS = cowboy
DEP_PLUGINS = cowboy/mk/

27.3. Writing external plugins

The file is a convention. It is meant to load all the plugins from the dependency. The code for the plugin can be written directly in or be separate.

If you are providing more than one plugin with your repository, the recommended way is to create one file per plugin in the mk/ folder in your repository, and then include those individual plugins in

For example, if you have two plugins mk/ and mk/, you could write the following file:

THIS := $(dir $(realpath $(lastword $(MAKEFILE_LIST))))
include $(THIS)/mk/
include $(THIS)/mk/

The THIS variable is required to relatively include files.

This allows users to not only be able to select individual plugins, but also select all plugins from the dependency in one go if they wish to do so.

Plugins can include some help text by extending the target help-plugins:

    $(verbose) printf "%s\n" "" "Run benchmark: $(MAKE) perfs"

27.4. Early-stage plugins

Plugins declared in DEP_PLUGINS are loaded near the end of That’s why you have access to all previously initialized variables. However, if you want your plugin to add common dependencies to your applications, a regular is loaded too late in the process. You need to use "Early-stage plugins". They are declared using the DEP_EARLY_PLUGINS variable instead. Plugins listed in this variable are loaded near the beginning of Otherwise, they work exactly the same.

If you only give the name of a dependency, the default file loaded is You can specify a filename exactly like you would have done it with regular plugins.

# In your application's Makefile
BUILD_DEPS = common_deps
DEP_EARLY_PLUGINS = common_deps
# In the plugin's
DEPS += cowboy
TEST_DEPS = ct_helper
dep_ct_helper = git master

27.5. Loading plugins local to the application

If the plugin lives in the same directory or repository as your application or library, then you can load it exactly like an external plugin: the dependency name is simply the name of your application or library.

For example, the following Makefile loads a plugin in the mk subdirectory:


This also works with early-stage plugins:


Like external plugins, if you do not specify the path to the plugin, it defaults to or, located at the root of your application:

# Loads ./
# Loads ./