The essence of make is this: make is an implementation of constructive logic programming
To be perfectly pedantic, the essence of make is that it is an expert system for traversing a directed acyclic graph (DAG).
It works by constructing a graph of “filenames” (vertices) and the commands required to create those files (directed edges). Using that as it’s knowledge base, make performs a reverse topological sort on the target filename to determine the graph traversal necessary to create it’s target file, and runs each command in the traversal so as to arrive at that target. Since it has a list of all intermediate vertices that must exist before it’s target can exist, make is further able to determine whether it needs to run a command or whether it can use the cached result.
I don’t think the author is doing us any favors by trying to fit make’s behavior in to a constructive logic system. It’s missing operators for doing that, as the author states: “Note that the form of compound propositions allowed is extremely restricted, even by the standards of logic programming.”
I find the author’s conclusions then a mixed bag. They would be good conclusions if make was a constructive logic system, but it’s not, it’s an expert system for traversing a DAG. I think of make as a “workstate” system: do what you need to do to put my build in a particular state, whereas most of the author’s conclusions center around “workflow:” move this unit of work through it’s lifecycle. Make only performs that work incidentally to putting your build in a particular state.
1: The workflow/workstate distinction is not my idea. It’s explored in “Adaptive Software Development” by James A. Highsmith III.