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m4 applications may be built over a common base
containing hundreds of definitions and other costly initializations.
Usually, the common base is kept in one or more declarative files,
which files are listed on each
m4 invocation prior to the
user's input file, or else,
include'd from this input file.
Reading the common base of a big application, over and over again, may
be time consuming. GNU
m4 offers some machinery to speed up
the start of an application using lengthy common bases. Presume the
user repeatedly uses:
m4 base.m4 input.m4
with a varying contents of `input.m4', but a rather fixed contents for `base.m4'. Then, the user might rather execute:
m4 -F base.m4f base.m4
once, and further execute, as often as needed:
m4 -R base.m4f input.m4
with the varying input. The first call, containing the
option, only reads and executes file `base.m4', so defining
various application macros and computing other initializations. Only
once the input file `base.m4' has been completely processed, GNU
m4 produces on `base.m4f' a frozen file, that is, a
file which contains a kind of snapshot of the
m4 internal state.
Later calls, containing the
-R option, are able to reload
the internal state of
m4's memory, from `base.m4f',
prior to reading any other input files. By this mean,
instead of starting with a virgin copy of
m4, input will be
read after having effectively recovered the effect of a prior run.
In our example, the effect is the same as if file `base.m4' has
been read anew. However, this effect is achieved a lot faster.
Only one frozen file may be created or read in any one
invocation. It is not possible to recover two frozen files at once.
However, frozen files may be updated incrementally, through using
-F options simultaneously. For example, if
some care is taken, the command:
m4 file1.m4 file2.m4 file3.m4 file4.m4
could be broken down in the following sequence, accumulating the same output:
m4 -F file1.m4f file1.m4 m4 -R file1.m4f -F file2.m4f file2.m4 m4 -R file2.m4f -F file3.m4f file3.m4 m4 -R file3.m4f file4.m4
Some care is necessary because not every effort has been made for
this to work in all cases. In particular, the trace attribute of
macros is not handled, nor the current setting of
Also, interactions for some options of
m4 being used in one call
and not for the next, have not been fully analyzed yet. On the other
end, you may be confident that stacks of
are handled correctly, so are
undefine'd or renamed builtins,
changed strings for quotes or comments.
m4 run is to be frozen, the automatic undiversion
which takes place at end of execution is inhibited. Instead, all
positively numbered diversions are saved into the frozen file.
The active diversion number is also transmitted.
A frozen file to be reloaded need not reside in the current directory.
It is looked up the same way as an
include file (see section 8.2 Searching for include files).
Frozen files are sharable across architectures. It is safe to write
a frozen file one one machine and read it on another, given that the
second machine uses the same, or a newer version of GNU
These are simple (editable) text files, made up of directives,
each starting with a capital letter and ending with a newline
(NL). Wherever a directive is expected, the character
# introduces a comment line, empty lines are also ignored.
In the following descriptions, lengths always refer to
corresponding strings. Numbers are always expressed in decimal.
The directives are:
V number NL
C length1 , length2 NL string1 string2 NL
Q length1 , length2 NL string1 string2 NL
F length1 , length2 NL string1 string2 NL
pushdef, a definition for string1 expanding to the function whose builtin name is string2.
T length1 , length2 NL string1 string2 NL
pushdef, a definition for string1 expanding to the text given by string2.
D number, length NL string NL
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