Autotools Mythbuster! A guide!

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and now I thought it was the time to implement it and make it public: I’d like to write some complete and clean documentation about autotools: autoconf, automake, libtool and all the others. Something that can show more practical information about autotools rather than the references shipping with them, and a way to collect the good information out of my blog.

Since this kind of task is, though, quite complex and time-consuming, I just can’t afford to get to it as it is in my spare time. Since I have little spare time and the one I have I’d rather not spend entirely on free software-related tasks or my health would likely get bad again. I already devote a lot of my spare time to Gentoo and at least a bit of it has to stay for myself. But, since I have been asked about this many times, I decided to take a stake to it.

Although I certainly would have loved to see it become a book, especially since that would have helped me pay for bills, hardware and everything else related to my work on Free Software and not, I’m afraid that is unlikely to ever happen. O’Reilly have it explicit in their guidelines that only native English speakers are welcome to submit their proposal. Alas, I’m not a native speaker (and if you’re one of the many still wondering whether I’m Spanish or whatever else, I’m Italian; yes I know the name Diego sounds Spanish).

So my idea is to work on it on a donation basis; that is if people are interested in getting it written down, I’ll work on it, otherwise I’ll just add some stuff now and then and keep writing the interesting bits on my blog. My idea is to get donations, and starting from €50 dedicate a given time a week to writing (Edit: I didn’t make it clear before, the €50 needs not to come from a single person at a single time, it’s just the point where I start to write it, donations stack up over different people and times). The documentation would still be available to everybody for free, under a CreativeCommons BY-NC-SA license (but still open to relicensing for other uses if you ask me — I know there was a site that had a way to declare that explicitly but I forgot the name, I remember it having to do with pineapples though).

But since I already have a lot of sparse documentation about autotools in this blog, to the point I often use it as reference for patches I submit around and bugs I open, why would you care if I were to write it in a comprehensive documentation? Well, as it is the documentation is very sparse, which means that you have to search around the blog to find it. Even though I do embed a Google Custom Search widget on the pages, it’s not really easy to find what you need most of the times.

Also, the blog posts suffer from their nature: I don’t go around editing them, if I have committed mistakes I usually correct them by posting something new; I also tend to write opinionated entries, so you can have me writing snarky remarks about KDE and CMake in a post that is supposed to provide information on porting to autoconf 2.64, without feeling bad at all: it’s my blog after all, but this also means that it’s not “professional” to link to that entry as a reference article. At the same time I don’t think this is material for articles, because they also suffer from the problem of being mostly “set in stone”, while autotools are not set in stone, and new useful tricks can be added easily.

I’m basically not asking anybody to pay me to tell you guys new useful tricks for autotools, or how to avoid mistakes or how to fix bugs. I’m going to continue doing that, I’m going to continue posting on the blog. What I’m actually asking to be paid for is, well, the editing in a form that can be easily searched and referenced. I’m also still going to answer to enquiries and help requests, so don’t worry about that, and I’m also going to pour the same amount of effort in what I do like I do every day.

So where is the beef? For now it’s really just one section ported from the post I already linked above, together with an explanation of how the thing is (hopefully) going to work, and you can find it on my site . I’m going to add at least two more sections this week, compatibly with the time I got; for anything more, feel free to chip in.

And before you tell me, yes I know that it’s a bit evil to also add the Google AdSense to the page. On the other hand if you use the AdBlock Plus extension for Firefox, or anything similar, you won’t notice it at all, since the container is set to disappear in that case. Please don’t think I made much money with that, but every bit helps, considering that out of 14 hours a day I spend in front of the computer, in the past month I probably had an average of 11 spent for Gentoo and other Free Software work, not paid for, if not for the few guys who thought of me (thank you! once again!).

Post Scriptum: the sources aren’t available yet since I have to check one thing out first, they’ll also go online later this week anyway, there are some useful pieces of reusable DocBook trickery in there. And I already fixed a bug in app-text/docbook-xsl-ns-stylesheets while preparing that up. Basically, they’ll get released together with a decent style (thanks Gilles for it).

3 thoughts on “Autotools Mythbuster! A guide!

  1. The major pain with the autotools is perl dependency with automake.There are alternatives but none acheive the quality of the autotools (some are even written in C++–>*bad* for basic system dev tools).The best compromise would be something with ksh/bash… but when you look at the complexity of libtool… make a cautomake…

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  2. There are other technical publishers besides O’Reilly … two relatively popular ones are No Starch Press and APress.

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