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Autoconf

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2.1 Automake

The ubiquity of make means that a `Makefile' is almost the only viable way to distribute automatic build rules for software, but one quickly runs into make's numerous limitations. Its lack of support for automatic dependency tracking, recursive builds in subdirectories, reliable timestamps (e.g., for network filesystems), and so on, mean that developers must painfully (and often incorrectly) reinvent the wheel for each project. Portability is non-trivial, thanks to the quirks of make on many systems. On top of all this is the manual labor required to implement the many standard targets that users have come to expect (make install, make distclean, make uninstall, etc.). Since you are, of course, using Autoconf, you also have to insert repetitive code in your Makefile.in to recognize @CC@, @CFLAGS@, and other substitutions provided by configure. Into this mess steps Automake.

Automake allows you to specify your build needs in a Makefile.am file with a vastly simpler and more powerful syntax than that of a plain Makefile, and then generates a portable Makefile.in for use with Autoconf. For example, the Makefile.am to build and install a simple "Hello world" program might look like:

 
bin_PROGRAMS = hello
hello_SOURCES = hello.c

The resulting Makefile.in (~400 lines) automatically supports all the standard targets, the substitutions provided by Autoconf, automatic dependency tracking, VPATH building, and so on. make will build the hello program, and make install will install it in `/usr/local/bin' (or whatever prefix was given to configure, if not `/usr/local').

Automake may require that additional tools be present on the developer's machine. For example, the Makefile.in that the developer works with may not be portable (e.g., it might use special features of your compiler to automatically generate dependency information). Running make dist, however, produces a `hello-1.0.tar.gz' package (or whatever the program/version is) with a Makefile.in that will work on any system.

The benefits of Automake increase for larger packages (especially ones with subdirectories), but even for small programs the added convenience and portability can be substantial. And that's not all....


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