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Re: Future plans for Autotools

From: Bob Friesenhahn
Subject: Re: Future plans for Autotools
Date: Thu, 21 Jan 2021 13:35:32 -0600 (CST)
User-agent: Alpine 2.20 (GSO 67 2015-01-07)

On Wed, 20 Jan 2021, Nate Bargmann wrote:

Thanks for your effort over this past year, Zack.  As a user of
Autoconf, your work, as is that of all contributors, is much

One strength of the Autotools that I think stands above the rest is the
fact that a user of a distributed package does not need to install any
of the Autotools packages.  On the odd occasion I build a cmake or qmake
based project locally I always need to install those build bootstrap
systems.  This, I think, was a stroke of genius from the start on the
part of Autoconf.  I think this should always be a primary goal of the

This capability to be able to configure and build the tarball package without needing more than a compiler is great. However, this statement is not actually true because a full Unix shell environment is needed in order to run the product of Autotools.

People who prefer CMake continually point out that Autotools is written primarily for "Unix". If they want to build packages using Autotools under Microsoft Windows, then they need to install a Unix emulation environment such as MSYS or Cygwin. Then the user learns that the configure and build seems to take 20x longer than under GNU/Linux.

The desire to support Microsoft Windows as well causes Autotools to be less desireable.

This (and the desire to get rid of m4 and ugly stuff like sed) is why I suggested development of a special slimmed-down portable "shell" which has built in extensions for Autoconf and avoids the need for thousands of fork/exec cycles. Autoconf macros can then be based on libraries of script code rather than libraries of m4 code. Unfortunately, with this approach it may be necessary to install another package (just like with CMake) before starting.

The implementation of Autoconf is over-burdened with syntax. It contains more "syntax" than anything else I have ever seen.

Bob Friesenhahn,
GraphicsMagick Maintainer,
Public Key,

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