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Kpathsea: A library for path searching

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1.1 History

(This section is for those people who are curious about how the library came about.) (If you like to read historical accounts of software, we urge you to seek out the GNU Autoconf manual and the "Errors of TeX" paper by Don Knuth, published in Software--Practice and Experience 19(7), July 1989.)

[Karl writes.] My first ChangeLog entry for Web2c seems to be February 1990, but I may have done some work before then. In any case, Tim Morgan and I were jointly maintaining it for a time. (I should mention here that Tim had made Web2c into a real distribution long before I had ever used it or even heard of it, and Tom Rokicki did the original implementation. I was using pxp and pc on VAX 11/750's and the hot new Sun 2 machines.)

It must have been later in 1990 and 1991 that I started working on TeX for the Impatient. Dvips, Xdvi, Web2c, and the GNU fontutils (which I was also writing at the time) all used different environment variables, and, more importantly, had different bugs in their path searching. This became extremely painful, as I was stressing everything to the limit working on the book. I also desperately wanted to implement subdirectory searching, since I couldn't stand putting everything in one big directory, and also couldn't stand having to explicitly specify `cm', `pandora', ... in a path.

In the first incarnation, I just hacked separately on each program--that was the original subdirectory searching code in both Xdvi and Dvips, though I think Paul Vojta has completely rewritten Xdvi's support by now. That is, I tried to go with the flow in each program, rather than changing the program's calling sequences to conform to common routines.

Then, as bugs inevitably appeared, I found I was fixing the same thing three times (Web2c and fontutils were always sharing code, since I maintained those--there was no Dvipsk or Xdvik or Dviljk at this point). After a while, I finally started sharing source files. They weren't yet a library, though. I just kept things up to date with shell scripts. (I was developing on a 386 running ISC 2.2 at the time, and so didn't have symbolic links. An awful experience.)

The ChangeLogs for Xdvik and Dvipsk record initial releases of those distributions in May and June 1992. I think it was because I was tired of the different configuration strategies of each program, not so much because of the path searching. (Autoconf was being developed by David MacKenzie and others, and I was adapting it to TeX and friends.)

I started to make a separate library that other programs could link with on my birthday in April 1993, according to the ChangeLog. I don't remember exactly why I finally took the time to make it a separate library; a conversation with david zuhn that initiated it. Just seemed like it was time.

Dviljk got started in March 1994 after I bought a Laserjet 4. (Kpathsea work got suspended while Norm Walsh and I, with Gustaf Neumann's help, implemented a way for TeX to get at all those neat builtin LJ4 fonts ... such a treat to have something to typeset in besides Palatino!)

By spring of 1995, I had implemented just about all the path-searching features in Kpathsea that I plan to, driven beyond my initial goals by Thomas Esser and others. I then started to integrate Web2c with Kpathsea. After the release of a stable Web2c, I hope to be able to stop development, and turn most of my attention back to making fonts for GNU. (Always assuming Micros**t hasn't completely obliterated Unix by then, or that software patents haven't stopped software development by anybody smaller than a company with a million-dollar-a-year legal budget. Which is actually what I think is likely to happen, but that's another story...)

[Olaf writes.] At the end of 1997, UNIX is still alive and kicking, individuals still develop software, and Web2c development still continues. Karl had been looking for some time for someone to take up part of the burden, and I volunteered.


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