Using the autoconf Utility to Configure Code

The make command is only one of several programming automation utilities included with Ubuntu. There are others, such as pmake (which causes a parallel make), imake (which is a dependency-driven makefile generator that is used for building X11 clients), automake, and one of the newer tools, autoconf, which builds shell scripts that can be used to configure program source code packages.

Building many software packages for Linux that are distributed in source form requires the use of GNU's autoconf utility. This program builds an executable shell script named configure that, when executed, automatically examines and tailors a client's build from source according to software resources, or dependencies (such as programming tools, libraries, and associated utilities), that are installed on the target host (your Linux system).

Many Linux commands and graphical clients for X downloaded in source code form include configure scripts. To configure the source package, build the software, and then install the new program, the root user might use the script like this (after uncompressing the source and navigating into the resulting build directory):

$ ./configure ; make ; sudo make install

The autoconf program uses a file named configure.in that contains a basic ruleset, or set of macros. The configure.in file is created with the autoscan command. Building a properly executing configure script also requires a template for the makefile, named Makefile.in. Although creating the dependency-checking configure script can be done manually, you can easily overcome any complex dependencies by using a graphical project development tool such as KDE's KDevelop or GNOME's Glade. (See the section "Graphical Development Tools," later in this chapter, for more information.)

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