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2.4 Automake Development

By 1994, Autoconf was a solid framework for handling the differences between Unix variants. However, program developers still had to write large ‘Makefile.in’ files in order to use it. The ‘configure’ script generated by autoconf would transform the ‘Makefile.in’ file into a ‘Makefile’ used by the make program.

A ‘Makefile.in’ file has to describe how to build the program. In the Imake equivalent of a ‘Makefile.in’, known as an ‘Imakefile’, it is only necessary to describe which source files are used to build the program. When Imake generates a ‘Makefile’, it adds the rules for how to build the program itself. Later versions of the BSD make program also include rules for building a program.

Since most programs are built in much the same way, there was a great deal of duplication in ‘Makefile.in’ files. Also, the GNU project developed a reasonably complex set of standards for ‘Makefile’s, and it was easy to get some of the details wrong.

These factors led to the development of Automake. automake, like autoconf, is a program run by a developer. The developer writes files named ‘Makefile.am’; these use a simpler syntax than ordinary ‘Makefile’s. automake reads the ‘Makefile.am’ files and produces ‘Makefile.in’ files. The idea is that a script generated by autoconf converts these ‘Makefile.in’ files into ‘Makefile’s.

As with Imake and BSD make, the ‘Makefile.am’ file need only describe the files used to build a program. automake automatically adds the necessary rules when it generates the ‘Makefile.in’ file. automake also adds any rules required by the GNUMakefile’ standards.

The first version of Automake was written by David MacKenzie in 1994. It was completely rewritten in 1995 by Tom Tromey.


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