LCA: Disintermediating distributions
Posted Feb 7, 2008 0:39 UTC (Thu) by stevenj
In reply to: LCA: Disintermediating distributions
Parent article: LCA: Disintermediating distributions
The autoconf developers go to great lengths to support systems beyond Linux and BSD, and it's simply untrue that the tools break on other systems. I personally work on software that has run for years on everything from HPUX to Tru64 to UNICOS to AIX to MinGW using the autotools.
It's true that many people don't know what to do when configure fails. The usual mistake is to start poring over the configure script (which is essentially object code) rather than RTFM. configure --help gives a clue: most problems can be solved by setting an environment variable on the command line with configure LDFLAGS=... or whatever. The most common problems in my experience are due to libraries installed in nonstandard locations, and in this case there's simply no way around requiring the user to tell you where things are (which in autoconf is done by setting LDFLAGS and CPPFLAGS).
It's also true that some programmers misuse autoconf. e.g. even though the autoconf manual strenuously recommends doing feature tests by actually compiling and linking things, autoconf also provides a macro to get a canonical target name (e.g. i386-linux-gnu) and some programmers take the shortcut of explicitly testing this when they shouldn't. The difficulty is that if you are testing for a feature that does not have a built-in autoconf test, writing a portable feature test is hard, especially if you don't have many platforms to test on—but again, I think this is somewhat intrinsic to the problem and is not really autoconf's fault.
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