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Autotools: A Practioner's Guide to GNU Autoconf, Automake, and Libtool [Paperback]

John Calcote
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 23, 2010 1593272065 978-1593272067 1

The GNU Autotools make it easy for developers to create software that is portable across many UNIX-like operating systems. Thousands of open source software packages use the Autotools, but the learning curve is unfortunately steep, and it can be difficult for a beginner to find anything more than basic reference material on using the powerful software suite.

In Autotools, author John Calcote begins with an overview of high-level concepts; then tackles more advanced topics, like using the M4 macro processor with Autoconf, extending the Automake framework, and building Java and C# sources.

You'll learn how to:

  • Master the Autotools build system to maximize your software's portability
  • Generate Autoconf configuration scripts to simplify the compilation process
  • Produce portable makefiles with Automake
  • Build cross-platform software libraries with Libtool
  • Write your own Autoconf macros

Autotools also includes a variety of complete projects that you're encouraged to work through to gain a real-world sense of how to become an Autotools practitioner. For example, you'll turn the FLAIM and Jupiter projects' hand-coded, makefile-based build systems into a powerful Autotools-based build system.

Frequently Bought Together

Autotools: A Practioner's Guide to GNU Autoconf, Automake, and Libtool + Managing Projects with GNU Make (Nutshell Handbooks) + The Art of Debugging with GDB, DDD, and Eclipse
Price for all three: $95.34

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

John Calcote is a Senior Software Engineer at Fusion-io. He's been writing and developing portable networking and system-level software for nearly 20 years and is active in developing, debugging, and analyzing diverse open source software packages. He is currently a project administrator of the OpenSLP, OpenXDAS, and DNX projects (open source software available at, as well as the Novell-sponsored FLAIM database project (open source software available at

Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: No Starch Press; 1 edition (July 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593272065
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593272067
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 7.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #403,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Calcote is currently a Senior Software Engineer at Fusion-io in Salt Lake City. He lives in the Provo, Utah area. He's been writing portable networking software for over 20 years. His interests include open source software and participation in open source communities. He spends some of his free time playing around with Linux and the free software the runs on it. He also enjoys cooking and woodworking as hobbies.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just what the doctor ordered September 23, 2010
If there was ever a tool that needed a book it's Autoconf (and related scripts). Happily, Calcote has done a great job of describing, in detail, a collection of tools that can seem opaque at first glance (also at second glance). This book is vital for anyone who needs to work with Autotools and I wish I'd had it years ago.

The final chapter (A catalog of tips and reusable solutions for creating great projects) is fantastic because it dishes up a collection of practical, real solutions to problems users of Autotools will encounter. Above all, the book shows that it was written by someone who truly understands the set of tools, and thankfully is able to write clearly.

He doesn't shy away from getting into difficult details (like the M4 macro language) and chapters 8 and 9 are an exposition of the use of Autotools for an actual, large project showing what a real-world use of the tools looks like. Those 50 pages are probably the most valuable in the entire book.

Highly recommended for anyone who needs to use Autotools.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear and well written October 12, 2010
To quote the first page of the introduction "... and there are also many developers who hate the Autotools - with a passion". I think that I can safely say that I started out in that camp. In short, I find that autotools projects too oftern do not live up to the aim of being cross platform, and more philosophically, that they encourage non-standard C/C++ "standard" libraries and compilers. But I'm not writing a review of a book about Autotools, not the Autotools themselves.

The book is organized as 2 introductory chapters, then 5 chapters on autoconf/automaka/libtool. That's followed by 2 chapters covering an example of converting a non-trivial project to use Autotools. The last two chapters cover M4, the macro language Autotools is based on, and then a catalog of tips. This isn't a reference book, you won't find an exhaustive list of all the Autotools macros.

Even if you are not going to use autotools extensively, I found the introduction to "make" very clear. In fact, as good an introduction as anything I've read. Though I've read the O'Reilly books on "make" and "GNU make", I still learned a few things about "make". If, like me, you are just an occasional user of Autotools, then you'll find it useful if the "configure" script doesn't work out of the box. As an example, I tried to build CUnit just after reading this book. I followed the "readme.txt", but it didn't work. Running one extra command and adding some command line options sorted it out. If you're going to be using Autotools extensively, then you'll obviously want to read this book.

Calcote does go out of his way to recommend platform-independent practices, even going as far as to accommodate make tools other than GNU make. Example code is marked with numbered dots, which are then referred to in the text.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Autotools March 19, 2011
This is an excellent book! It is aimed at open source package maintainers, however I read it because I just wanted to know how to use
Autoconf and Automake properly. For this objective it was perfect and worth every penny. The book develops a project logically, starting with a hand written makefile, turning this into a template for Autoconf then using Automake and Libtool. In later sections the author gives an account of how he took an existing open source project and converted it to use the Autotools. There is a chapter on m4 and another containing tips and advice from the author's hard won experience. Everything is well explained and the philosophy behind these tools is made clear. There are plenty of useful footnotes to the text and code listings are particularly well referenced in the text.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a book better than the Internet October 24, 2011
By Jeff
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
While it is true that this book contains much content that can be found in other places, i.e. online and for free, the author explains things better than any online source. For example, standard GNU documentation rarely states why a particular design decision was made; this book explains some of these.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You need this book. February 22, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Let me begin by saying that I've never written a review of anything I have purchased on Amazon before. No real reason to do it, until now.

Since 2000 I've been writing makefiles and "makeries" for embedded products. I've been doing this with straight makefiles calling gcc and ld for Cisco and before that Scientific Atlanta. These have been pretty big projects so I feel confident when I say I understand makefiles and embedded make systems.

Some of our latest products we began using Buildroot to configure and use open source projects and that was a crash course in USING autotools to configure and build open source projects. These projects always targeted a non x86 instruction set and utilized the -with-sysroot option. The entire time we did this only once did I have to get inside a projects files to update it to use the latest libtools to fully support cross compiling properly.

What I took away from those projects was that I needed to learn how to instrument some of our in house code projects to use an autotools based make system. If it's good enough for GLIBC it's got to be good enough for what we do.
I searched and scratched around for a good tutorial on how to do a basic autotools based make system and could never find one that had enough information to where I was not going to have to spend months attempting to figure out autotools and I gave up.

Then last month I came across a partial online version of this book and it was EXACTLY what I was looking for. Even before I got through the 3rd chapter I order the book from Amazon. This is one of those books that you will always keep around just to have as a reference.
This book is well thought out and you can tell that A LOT of time went into this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been a better reference tool
This book explains the autotools well in the context of the example "project", but provides little insight beyond the bounds of that project. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Michael
5.0 out of 5 stars The missing manual
This book covers "What am I trying to achieve?" and "How do I do it?" The first section walks through an example of custom-crafting a portable Makefile to lay down... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Perette M. Barella
4.0 out of 5 stars Needed book to clarify autotools web of tools
The autotools-toolset is one of the most widely used tools for building and packaging programs, especially in the unix world. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Bas Vodde
5.0 out of 5 stars Heavy Duty
I found a couple of short tutorial online, enough to get a basic understanding, but if you want to (or have too) dig deeper, this is your book.
Published 22 months ago by Yetanotherguy
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible
I had high hopes for this book but it's the worst I've read in recent memory and I'm very disappointed. Read more
Published on May 4, 2011 by David Barri
5.0 out of 5 stars A much needed refresher on a great toolset.
This book is a wish-come-true for all those looking for an autotools introduction. The author is an experienced software engineer, but, unlike most experienced engineers, takes his... Read more
Published on October 15, 2010 by Piotr Sipika
5.0 out of 5 stars A pick for any programming collection
A recommended choice for programming collections is John Calcote's AUTOTOOLS: A PRACTITIONER'S GUIDE TO GNU AUTOCONF, AUTOMAKE, AND LIBTOOL. Read more
Published on September 18, 2010 by Midwest Book Review
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