Makefile Quickies: How I Make Charts

My current general purpose workhorse is a Chromebook, a first generation Pixel to be exact. As my buddy Goekesmi likes to say, a Chromebook is a knife, an extremely good knife. Unfortunately, it isn’t much else, if I need tcpdump, I drop down to my FreeBSD beast, or my Kali rig, both of which weigh over 4 times as much as my beloved Pixel. Both are toolboxes, very excellent toolboxes, and they indeed contain very excellent knives, but they weigh a great deal. Since 90% of the work I do is on a computer geographically not near me, a Chromebook with an SSH client is more often than not, a very sufficient, and appreciably lightweight tool.

But I am also a huge fan of the UNIX command line way of doing things. I use LaTeX to make most of my documentation, and graphviz to make network diagrams and flowcharts. A Chromebook doesn’t exactly have a full UNIX userland installed, so I can’t just run dot locally. With my pension for working on remote machines in mind, here is how I make charts; I resort to a web server and a Makefile.

Makefiles are great for a variety of tasks, with the added benefit of allowing you to not remember much of anything, you just type make when you want a result. With that in mind, lets examine what led me to this course of action.

Since I cannot run the graphviz suite of awesome locally, I cannot expect to use a local image viewer to view my handiwork. And even if I could, viewing local content on a Chromebook is….. meh at best. It really is designed to be online, all the time, and it shows. The logical solution is to present the images via a web browser, because that is basically what a Chromebook is. I could manually run dot for each chart I make, and enable directory indexes on my apache server, so I can easily find and view them, one by one. Urgh, who wants to type that much, and click that much? Lets create a Makefile that not only generates all my charts, but also creates a simple webpage, so I can F5 to my heart’s content!

So here it is, quite simple, but I think it illustrates an excellent use of a Makefile that is slightly outside the box from their usual task.


That is all there is to it, this is how I make charts and diagrams. I tend to symlink this Makefile into whatever directory I am working on currently, so if I want to view older graphs, I just enter a project directory, and type ‘make’. It cleans up the old mess, and generates images for all the *.dot files in the current working directory. This also means that my base Makefile is consistent across uses, as I have been known to introduce, and usually remove, features from this little bit of scripty fun. At one point, I had it traversing sub directories, and generating a hierarchical series of html documents and images, but it was honestly overkill for my needs.

Hope you found this useful, maybe you’ve decided that the lowly Makefile deserves a closer look. I have found little tricks like this save me a great deal of time. Lets face it, time is the one commodity none of us will ever get back.

Semper Fi, kthanxbai!