# Some Reasons I Dislike Autotools

January 10, 2009

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not in love with the autotools (autoconf, automake, libtool, etc), but they often get the job done. I spent a few hours trying to move the libstrophe build system from SCons to autotools, and it reminded me of why I dislike this tool chain so much.

• I dislike recursive makes; they are much slower. I suppose one advantage of them is that you can run make from any subdirectory, but SCons managed to solve this without recursion, as does every VCS system on the planet.
• automake uses concise input files, but generates a build that is extremely noisy. I have a hard time seeing any compiler warnings or other such messages as my screen is full of junk like verbose -D options that I did not ask for.
• libtool is just horrid. It has the same noise problem as automake, but even more so. It took me a bit of tinkering to figure out how to generate an ltmain.sh which it kept complaining was missing. Once the file was there, I know longer saw any normal gcc lines during the build.
• libtool adds so much extra output to configure I though I must have run ./configure in the wrong directory. It sent from a simple screen full, to about 3. Why must it check for a compiler for every language? I’m happy to inform you if I need the f77 compiler, thanks.

I ended up getting a libtool-free system up and running, after trying desperately to get something else besides autotools working.

Some things have gotten better though. Specifically dealing with external dependencies in autoconf is much nicer than I remember now that pkg-config is basically standard. That used to be a mess back in 2001 or so.

I think that, in general, automake has the right idea; something should be generating native build machinery for make or various IDEs from simple input files. It’s just unfortunate that the result is a big mess.

Some Reasons I Dislike Autotools - January 10, 2009 - Jack Moffitt