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GNU macro processor

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1.1 Introduction to m4

m4 is a macro processor, in the sense that it copies its input to the output, expanding macros as it goes. Macros are either builtin or user-defined, and can take any number of arguments. Besides just doing macro expansion, m4 has builtin functions for including named files, running UNIX commands, doing integer arithmetic, manipulating text in various ways, recursion, etc... m4 can be used either as a front-end to a compiler, or as a macro processor in its own right.

The m4 macro processor is widely available on all UNIXes. Usually, only a small percentage of users are aware of its existence. However, those who do often become commited users. The growing popularity of GNU Autoconf, which prerequires GNU m4 for generating the `configure' scripts, is an incentive for many to install it, while these people will not themselves program in m4. GNU m4 is mostly compatible with the System V, Release 3 version, except for some minor differences. See section 15. Compatibility with other versions of m4 for more details.

Some people found m4 to be fairly addictive. They first use m4 for simple problems, then take bigger and bigger challenges, learning how to write complex m4 sets of macros along the way. Once really addicted, users pursue writing of sophisticated m4 applications even to solve simple problems, devoting more time debugging their m4 scripts than doing real work. Beware that m4 may be dangerous for the health of compulsive programmers.


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