What's the meaning of .PHONY in a Makefile?

TLDR: What does .PHONY actually do?

.PHONY is used to mark a target as phony. That means a target that doesn't take into consideration for execution any file that matches its name.

Let's say we have a target called clear-cache, which removes the cache of an application

	rm -rf cache/*

Which results in the following command:

The cache removal cli command will be run fine most of the time, but let's check what happens if we add a file with the same name as the target at the same level as the Makefile

Now when running make clear-cache again we get:

The Makefile says basically that it has the target file already and doesn't need to execute

This default behavior is not what we expect in this case and we want to override it. This is when the .PHONY directive comes to the rescue. Let's update our example to use it

.PHONY: clear-cache
	rm -rf cache/*

Pro tip. Another way to mark the targets as phony is to have them all in place list rather than above each of them like:

	rm -rf cache/*
	rm -rf build/*

.PHONY: clear-cache clear-build

After doing this, the command behaves as expected


In order to override the default behavior in Makefile and use some targets like command runners you can use .PHONY.