Don’t try autoconf 2.66 at home just yet!

I have to thank Arfrerver for making me notice this with the bug about Ruby 1.9 he reported.

The GNU project released autoconf 2.66 two days ago. Very few notable changes are present in it, just like a few were listed before, so I didn’t go out of my way to test it beforehand. My bad! Indeed there is one big nasty change with it for which I’d say to all of you to put off the update until I write it so. Hopefully it won’t get unmasked in Gentoo for a while either.

There are two main problems with this release; the first is due to the implementation of a stricter macro to ensure the parameters given to it is not variable over executions:

**** The macro AS_LITERAL_IF is slightly more conservative; text containing shell quotes are no longer treated as literals. Furthermore, a new macro, AS_LITERAL_WORD_IF, adds an additional level of checking that no whitespace occurs in literals.

well, whatever the idea about this was, it seems to have broken the AC_CHECK_SIZEOF macro: if you pass it [void*] as parameter, it’ll report it not being a literal (while it is) causing the following error:

flame@yamato test % cat
AC_INIT([foo], [0])



flame@yamato test % autoconf error: AC_CHECK_SIZEOF: requires literal arguments
../../lib/autoconf/types.m4:765: AC_CHECK_SIZEOF is expanded from... the top level
autom4te-2.66: /usr/bin/m4 failed with exit status: 1

This would be bad enough. But the nastier surprise I got when running autoreconf over the feng sources, the build system of which I wrote myself, and if I may say so, is very well engineered:

flame@yamato feng % autoreconf -fis
configure:6275: error: possibly undefined macro: AS_MESSAGE_LOG_FDdnl
      If this token and others are legitimate, please use m4_pattern_allow.
      See the Autoconf documentation.
autoreconf-2.66: /usr/bin/autoconf-2.66 failed with exit status: 1

The problem here is almost obvious, and it’s related to the dnl entry at end of the macro name; the dnl keyword is used as (advanced) comment delimiter in autoconf scripts, meaning “Discard up to New Line” and is often used to keep on multiple lines commands that should be kept togever, like is in many languages. A quick check at the configure files brings in this:

        as_fn_error $? "Package requirements (glib-2.0 >= 2.16 gthread-2.0) were not met:


Consider adjusting the PKG_CONFIG_PATH environment variable if you
installed software in a non-standard prefix.

Alternatively, you may set the environment variables GLIB_CFLAGS
and GLIB_LIBS to avoid the need to call pkg-config.
See the pkg-config man page for more details." "$LINENO" AS_MESSAGE_LOG_FDdnl

You can easily see that the problem here is with the pkg-config macros (pkg.m4). Funnily enough there is no change related to the errors reporting that is listed in the autoconf news file so I wasn’t expecting this. The problem is further down the path of pkg-config files but it’s not important to fully debug it right now, it’s actually quite easy to fix, in pkg-config itself, but here’s the catch.

Since the pkg.m4 macro file is way too often bundled with the upstream packaging, and its presence overrides the copy from the system, even fixing pkg-config will not fix all the software that carries outdated copies of the macro file.

This is almost the same problem with libtool 1 vs libtool 2 macro files with the difference that this is going to be much much more common. If you’re a package maintainer, you can do something already before this even hits the users: remove the pkg.m4 file during the src_prepare() phase; you’re already depending on pkg-config in the ebuild for it to work at build-time, and since we don’t split the macro file from the command itself, you can simply rely on its presence on the system.

In the mean time, I’m not sure if I want to start testing with it just yet or if we should be waiting for 2.67…

2 thoughts on “Don’t try autoconf 2.66 at home just yet!

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