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From Tom Tromey <>
Subject Re: conditional HTML
Date Tue, 16 Apr 1996 23:36:22 GMT
Ben> Since I work on a platform that is typically not supported by the
Ben> latest and greatest versions of anything I guess I see configure
Ben> at its worst. And that is pretty bad - I can't think of a single
Ben> large program where I haven't had to hack configure (and usually
Ben> the source, too) and some of them have taken many hours of work.

Ben> The bottom line is that I like the idea of configure but
Ben> experience has taught me that configure doesn't actually
Ben> implement that idea, so I wonder what is the real advantage (as
Ben> opposed to the intellectual advantage) of configure over the
Ben> current hard-wired approach?

Ben> I actually think that the neatest approach would be to find ways
Ben> to autodetect the platform (rather than attempting to detect its
Ben> features) and use that to invoke the appropriate hardwired setup.

Ok, after talking to some of the engineers here at Cygnus (who have a
LOT more experience with autoconf and configuration in general than
I), I think I have some responses to the above.

First, no one here has had your problems using autoconf-based
configure scripts on any machine.  To quote the estimable Ian Taylor:

Ian> I've never seen any Unix like system for which autoconf fails.
Ian> The closest is Lynx, on which /bin/sh isn't good enough and you
Ian> need to force the use of bash.  autoconf configure scripts even
Ian> run on Steve's NT port.

In particular I've heard back that SCO builds generally work ok (at
least for the stuff we do).  If you have details about which programs
failed, and how, I'm sure the maintainers would love to know about
it...  as would I.

Second, the consensus here seems to be that the idea of using the
architecture to select a configuration file is flawed.  Until
relatively recently, gdb did this.  They moved it to autoconf because
people seemed to think that doing feature tests was better.  The idea
is that if you use feature tests, you can port to machines that have
never been seen before, without any editing at all.  Ian tells me that
this isn't just blowing smoke: he maintains a version of UUCP that
works on many systems -- but he has only ever tested on four.

The reference to "Steve's NT port" is also interesting: Steve
Chamberlain works on the "Cygwin32" project, an attempt to provide
POSIX-style functionality on NT/Win95 boxes (URL available if anyone
is interested).  He says he has ported *many* (list appended) programs
to NT with no (or minor) changes.  If all these packages used
architecture-based configuration schemes, he would have had a lot of
work to do (make a config file for each package).

Fred Fish reports something similar:

Fred> They also run unchanged on the Amiga OS when using the Unix
Fred> emulation shared library and tools linked to it.

Not all of the programs thus ported are trivial, either -- "bash" and
"make" are probably both more complex than Apache in terms of both
functionality and portability requirements.  (BTW Steve claims that he
could probably port an autoconfiscated Apache to NT using the Cygwin32
suite with little effort.)

Also, from a maintenance perspective, I think that Autoconf imposes
less of a burden than a architecture-based system.  With Autoconf, if
you make a change that affects portability, you can update the test in
one place and be reasonably confident it will work on all the
supported machines.  With the other system, you must edit every single
machine description and hope you get them all right.

--                 Member, League for Programming Freedom

>From Steve Chamberlain:

These are the FSF packages that I've ported to cygwin32:

bash-1.14.6 bison-1.24 utils-2.7 fileutils-3.12
findutils-4.1 flex-2.5.2 gawk-2.15.6 gawk-3.0.0 grep-2.0 gzip-1.2.4
indent-1.9.1 less-290 m4-1.4 make-3.74 patch-2.1 
sed-2.05 sh-utils-1.12 sharutils-4.1 tar-1.11.8 textutils-1.13
textutils-1.14 time-1.6 v105

In many cases, it was sufficient just to type make, but I do 
have some diffs for others.

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