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GNU Autoconf, Automake, and Libtool Paperback – October 16, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-1578701902 ISBN-10: 1578701902 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The success of "open-source" software is dependent on programmers around the world being able to develop software that runs on many flavors of Unix and Linux. The GNU autoconf, automake, and libtool "autotools" are powerful tools that simplify writing software on different platforms. GNU Autoconf, Automake, and Libtool is a technically adept and expert guide to using these utilities effectively. Any C/C++ or script programmer who writes software under Unix/Linux will want to have a copy of this book to make better use of these powerful and sometimes obscurely documented tools.

This text is filled with the nuts-and-bolts details of running these three utilities, including command-line switches and the actual, generated files that automate the build process and help programmers port code between different environments. As such, this title will be appreciated by those at their workstations who want a hands-on guide to using the autotools.

There's a danger of missing the forest for the trees here, with all of this necessary detail, but the middle sections of this book pull back a little with several useful chapters on the bigger picture of code "portability." Chapters on both C and C++ portability explore language features that likely will cause trouble when code is moved between different versions of Unix (or even between Unix and Windows). A similar section also discusses the issues when developing portable shell scripts.

Readers will appreciate also sections that are devoted to actual source code that's built with the autotools. Starting out simply, the authors also provide examples of more complex source-code modules (including projects that make use of dynamic loading and cross-platform builds). The genius of the autotools utilities is certainly in the details of command-line switches, and the expert tips that are offered here. But it's good also to get a perspective on why you use these tools, and what they do for the working Unix developer.

By covering both the nitty-gritty and the higher level issues of "portability" in a broader sense, this title succeeds as both a hands-on reference and as a guide to understanding how to write more portable code generally. It'll be a virtual must-have for any serious Unix C/C++ programmer. Although it's not a book you necessarily read from cover to cover, it's chock-full of useful advice that can save considerable time for anyone who writes software for Unix and Linux. --Richard Dragan

Topics covered:

  • Introduction and history of Unix and configuration tools
  • The configure tool
  • Makefile and dependencies
  • GNU autotools used for a simple program
  • Porting options and configure.in
  • Bootstrapping techniques
  • Comprehensive introduction to the GNU libtool utility (building and linking options)
  • Using libtool with configure.in andmakefile.am
  • A larger GNU autotools project
  • Distributing files in tarballs
  • Installing and uninstalling packages
  • Strategies and tips for writing portable C code with the GNU autotools (including data types, cross-Unix and Unix/Windows portability issues)
  • Guide to C++ portability (includes issues with variable scoping, exceptions, template, and the Standard Template Library)
  • Dynamic loading and the GNU libltdll tool
  • Advanced automake tips
  • A complex GNU autotools example (including dynamic linking)
  • Introduction to M4 (the underlying language of the autotools)
  • Script portability issues for the Bourne shell and its variants
  • Cygnus's Cygwin and the GNU autotools
  • Cross-compilation techniques
  • Reference for installing the GNU autotools
  • Review

    A useful resource for portability information, tips, and issues, it documents time-tested methods for solid coding which are rarely written down anywhere. -- Jason Molenda, Technical Yahoo, Yahoo!

    These highly regarded experts in the use of Autoconf have provided information that is both authoritative and up to date. -- Ross Johnson, Software Services Manager, University of Canberra, Australia

    This book stands a level above the software packages, giving the expertise of its authors in using this whole system to its fullest. -- David Mackenzie, Principle designer and author of Autoconf
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    Product Details

    • Paperback: 432 pages
    • Publisher: Sams Publishing; 1 edition (October 16, 2000)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 1578701902
    • ISBN-13: 978-1578701902
    • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 8.9 inches
    • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
    • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
    • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #699,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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    Customer Reviews

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    Most Helpful Customer Reviews

    38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 28, 2003
    Format: Paperback
    First off, the book is very non-linear and very disorganized. The subject material is extremely difficult and non-linear, so this was probably a very difficult book to write, and I sympathize with the authors. I couldn't have done a better job.
    However, as of Nov 2003, the versions of autoconf, automake and libtool that the book uses are very out of date and very deprecated. It's not a matter of "some things have changed", it's a matter of "they're completely different".
    The main ideas and concepts remain the same, but as for the details... you will NOT be able to use autoconf / automake / libtool after reading the book. You'll be floundering in "did I do something wrong or is this just because I'm using a newer version?".
    Do not buy this book until the authors update it. You will NOT learn the subject material and will be very sorry you spent the money.
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    21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By P. Antoniades on December 5, 2003
    Format: Paperback
    if you had three books on the GNU build system and were ready to delve into the arcane details, this would be an excellent book.
    if you are looking to learn how to use automake and autoconf to manage a small to midsized project, this book is worthless. the authors jump from the basics to esoteric problem cases and back frequently, and there is no help for those who do not already know the system well.
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    19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Theodore D. Sternberg on April 12, 2003
    Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
    As a guide to Gnu autoconf, automake and libtool, this book is quite useless. It is utterly and totally disorganized, and much essential information is just not there at all. There is amazingly little in the way of examples. So don't bother with it if you want to learn about any of those subjects. The book is not entirely without merit, however. Its redeeming features are scattered sensible comments about software portability and software architecture.

    The authors are obviously very knowledgable and experienced about software. I encourage them to "throw this one away" and try a rewrite from scratch. Short of that, they could provide a road map through their book; first read this chapter, then skip to the second half of that one, etc.

    The sad news is that there may not be any good guide to autoconf etc anywhere yet. Like the DNA in your body, all autoconf files are very likely descended by an evolutionary process from a few original viable specimens.
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    12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 10, 2001
    Format: Paperback
    ...get this book! If you have ever downloaded some Linux / Unix source code and wanted to understand just what the "configure" script and makefiles do --- get this book!!
    More to the point, if you want to distribute your source code and allow users to compile it on many different systems, this book offers you a step by step understanding of what needs to be done to make that happen.
    I got this book because I was looking to 'cross-compile' some programs. (That is, compile a program on one machine but run it on another) Thanks to the intelligent layout - I was able to get the program compiled and going in a couple of hours.
    One caveat, this is not for the 'newbie' or faint-at-heart. You will need to at least understand the concepts of compilers, linkers, libraries, etc. in order to comprehend this book. However, you don't have to be a programming-guru. I think that even administrators will get alot out of this book. Particularly, helping them understand how to set the options needed to get pesky software installed.
    Overall, a *very* good book!
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    7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By john christian on June 12, 2001
    Format: Paperback
    I had originally bought this book so that I could maintain a GNU autotools based build system for a company I was doing CM for at the time. I was basically a kid, and didn't have any professional C development background, and after reading the first several chapters, I was thinking to myself "This book is unnecessairly hard to understand, I just want to know how to use autoconf, show me a listing of the macros, etc, not this other, preipheral sic shell stuff!"
    Months later, and after doing some actual Linux C development myself (a command interpreter, no less), I came back to this book, and was able to get a lot more out of it. Just be aware that it is geared toward someone doing really involved open-source/GPL'd C development.
    This book may have been better if each feature of the autotools were discussed in a more abstract way, without following the development of this sic shell. It is interesting, but that kind of orginisation forces you to read it from front to end to effectively understand it, which of course you SHOULD do, but it's at the expense of being a solid reference. It's no biggie, though, because the free GNU documentation fills that gap.
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    10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Tom Verbeure on May 27, 2001
    Format: Paperback
    ... I bought this book with the hope that random shunks of information that I already knew would be pieced together in a coherent story, based on a good foundation. Unfortunately, I found this book to be a complete unorganized mess, totally lacking a logical structure. The number of references to later chapters for essential information are just impossible to count. Concepts are suddenly used without any explanation. For me, this looked like a book written by an expert for other experts. Two stars because it is the only one available about the subject.
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    6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 10, 2001
    Format: Paperback
    I found this book _very_ poorly organized. As one reviewer mentioned, it continually refers to later chapters.
    After being perplexed by this book, I read the freely available manuals and got a much better understanding.
    I give it one star because I like the cover.
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