Top: Autoconf, Automake, and Libtool
Contents: Table of Contents
Index: Index
About: About this document


This book is published on paper by New Riders (ISBN 1-57870-190-2), their webpage on the book is at Technical reviewers of the paper book were Akim Demaille, Phil Edwards, Bruce Korb, Alexandre Oliva, Didier Verna, Benjamin Koznik and Jason Molenda. The paper book includes Acknowlegements to: Richard Stallman and the FSF, Gord Matzigkeit, David Mackenzie, Akim Demaille, Phil Edwards, Bruce Korb, Alexandre Oliva, Didier Verna, Benjamin Koznik, Jason Molenda, the Gnits group, and the New Riders staff.

From the paper book, quoted from "About the Authors":

"Gary V. Vaughan spent three years as a Computer Systems Engineering undergraduate at the University of Warwick and then two years at Coventry Unversity studying Computer Science. He has been employed as a professional C programmer in several industry sectors for the past seven years, but most recently as a scientist for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. Over the past 10 years or so, Gary has contributed to several free software projects, including AutoGen, Cygwin, Enlightenment, and GNU M4. He currently helps maintain GNU Libtool for the Free Software Foundation.

Ben Elliston works at Red Hat Inc., telecommuting from his home in Canberra, Australia. He develops instruction set simulators and adapts the GNU development tools to new microprocessors. He has worked with GNU tools for many years and is a past maintainer of GNU Autoconf. He has a bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Canberra.

Tom Tromey works at Red Hat Inc., where he works on GCJ, the Java front end to the GNU Compiler Collection. Patches of his appear in GCC, emacs, Gnome, Autoconf, GDB, and probably other packages he has forgotten about. He is the primary author of GNU Automake.

Ian Lance Taylor is co-founder and CTO of Zembu Labs. Previously, he worked at Cygnus Solutions, where he designed and wrote features and ports for many free software programs, including the GNU Compiler Collection and the GNU binutils. He was the maintainer of the GNU binutils for several years. He is the author of GNU/Taylor UUCP. He was one of the first contributors to Autoconf, and has also made significant contributions to Automake and Libtool."

Until 2001-09-05, this package was maintained by Gary V. Vaughan, Tom Tromey, Ian Lance Taylor and Ben Elliston. It was (and is) available via anonymous CVS:

cvs -d login
Password is anoncvs
cvs -d co autobook

The sources there would build autobook-0.5a.tar.gz .

Furthermore,, a tarball containing html pages, is linked to from

I've made some changes to the sources I've found in the CVS (see ChangeLog), and maintain the sources via CVS on I maintain a webpage on, the package can be downloaded from there. It also has instructions on how to get informed about changes to the autobook package.

This package is not blessed by the maintainers of the official autobook-1.4.tar.gz. Therefore, I take responsiblity for all errors you might find in this package. Of course, all credit should go to Vaughan, Tromey, Taylor and Elliston for their excellent work.

Beware! The Autobook is getting somewhat obsolete, I'm afraid: the text has not been updated (apart from minor corrections) since 2001-09. Autobook talks likely about autoconf version 2.13, automake version 1.4 and libtool version 1.3.5 (see Appendix A.2: Downloading GNU Autotools). As of january 2005, released are autoconf 2.59a, automake 1.9.4 and libtool 1.5.6. Therefore, regard the texinfo documentation shipped with these tools as the authoritive source of information.

See the unofficial Autobook webpage at for pointers to other sources of information on the GNU Autotools.

Joost van Baal
January 2005

Magic Happens Here

Do you remember the 1980s? Veteran users of free software on Unix could testify that though there were a lot of programs distributed as source code back then (over USENET), there was not a lot of consistency in how to compile and install it. The more complicated a package was, the more likely it was to have its own unique build procedure that had to be learned first. And there were no widely used approaches to portability problems. Each software author handled them in a different way, if they did at all.

Fast forward to the present. A de facto standard is in widespread use for solving those problems, and it's not just free software packages that are using it; some proprietary programs from the largest computer companies are built using this software. It even does Windows.

As it evolved in the 1990s it demonstrated the power of some good ideas: sharing expertise, automating repetitive work, and having consistency where it is helpful without sacrificing flexibility where it is helpful.

What is "it"? The GNU Autotools, a group of utilities developed in the 1990s for the GNU Project. The authors of this book and I were some of its principal developers, but it turned out to help solve many other peoples' problems as well, and many other people contributed to it. It is one of the many projects that developed by cooperation while making what is now often called GNU/Linux. The community made the GNU Autotools widespread, as people adopted it for their own programs and extended it where they found that was needed. The creation of Libtool is that type of contribution.

Autoconf, Automake, and Libtool were developed separately, to make tackling the problem of software configuration more manageable by partitioning it. But they were designed to be used as a system, and they make more sense when you have documentation for the whole system. This book stands a level above the software packages, giving the expertise of its authors in using this whole system to its fullest. It was written by people who have lived closest to the problems and their solutions in software.

Magic happens under the hood, where experts have tinkered until the GNU Autotools engine can run on everything from jet fuel to whale oil. But there is a different kind of magic, in the cooperation and sharing that built a widely used system over the Internet, for anyone to use and improve. Now, as the authors share their knowledge and experience, you are part of the community, too. Perhaps its spirit will inspire you to make your own contributions.

David MacKenzie
Germantown, Maryland
June 2000

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