Definition of Autotools

Autotools is a collection of tools used in software development to automate the process of building and installing software packages. It consists of tools such as Autoconf, Automake, and Libtool. These tools simplify the creation of Makefiles and configuration scripts, allowing developers to easily build, test, and distribute their software across different platforms.


The phonetic pronunciation of the keyword “Autotools” is: /ˈɔːtoʊtuːlz/

Key Takeaways

  1. Autotools is a collection of tools (including Autoconf, Automake, and Libtool) used to help in creating portable and efficient software build systems.
  2. It simplifies the build process by automatically generating configuration scripts and Makefiles, allowing for easy compilation and installation across different operating systems and architectures.
  3. Autotools makes it simpler to manage complex projects with multiple dependencies and distributed source code, ensuring a consistent and maintainable build process.

Importance of Autotools

The technology term “Autotools” is important because it refers to a collection of tools – including Autoconf, Automake, and Libtool – designed for managing the software build process, mainly in Unix and Unix-like systems.

Autotools simplifies the steps involved in software compilation and installation, ensuring portability across various platforms and compatibility with diverse system environments.

By automatically generating makefiles and managing dependencies, Autotools enhances developer productivity, reduces potential errors, and ensures a more streamlined deployment process.

As a result, it plays a significant role in boosting the efficiency, maintainability, and broad dissemination of open-source software.


Autotools is a collection of tools designed to simplify the process of building, installing, and packaging software across different platforms and environments. One of the main purposes of Autotools is to facilitate the development of portable software by generating platform-specific build configurations that cater to various operating systems and architectures. By offering a consistent, standardized method to create and manage build scripts, Autotools provides developers with the ability to produce software that can be easily compiled and installed on a wide range of systems, thereby increasing the accessibility and reach of the software.

The core components of Autotools – Autoconf, Automake, and Libtool – work together to achieve this goal. Autoconf generates shell scripts that can identify system-specific features, such as the availability of libraries or the presence of certain header files, and produces portable configure scripts. These configure scripts are used to customize the build process for the target system and ensure that the software can work seamlessly with the target platform’s requirements.

Automake, on the other hand, generates Makefile templates, used to direct the actual compilation process. Lastly, Libtool assists with the creation and management of shared libraries, making it easier to build and maintain software that relies on these libraries. By utilizing Autotools, developers can streamline the software build process and provide users with software that can be effortlessly built on diverse platforms with minimal modifications.

Examples of Autotools

The GNU Compiler Collection (GCC): Autotools is extensively used in the development of the GNU Compiler Collection, which is a set of compilers for different programming languages such as C, C++, Objective-C, Fortran, Ada, D, and others. The build system for GCC uses Autotools to generate configure scripts and Makefiles, which help in automatically detecting system specifics, providing platform-independent configuration, and ensuring an efficient build process for diverse operating systems and environments.

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program): GIMP is a well-known open-source image editing software that utilizes Autotools for its build process. The software is designed to run on multiple operating systems, such as Linux, macOS, and Windows, which makes Autotools an ideal choice. It enables GIMP’s developers to maintain a consistent cross-platform build system while ensuring compatibility with different library versions and hardware configurations.

Inkscape: Inkscape is a popular vector graphics editor that relies on Autotools for its build and configuration management. The software supports a range of operating systems, including Linux, Windows, and macOS, and uses Autotools to provide a unified and efficient build system. With the help of Autotools, the developers can easily test, package, and distribute Inkscape across various platforms and environments while ensuring seamless compatibility and user experience.

Autotools FAQ

1. What are Autotools?

Autotools is a group of tools used for generating portable and standardized build systems for software projects. The primary goal of Autotools is to simplify the process of compiling and package management for software developers. It consists of several tools like Autoconf, Automake, and Libtool, which work together to create a flexible and maintainable build system.

2. What is Autoconf?

Autoconf is one of the main tools included in Autotools. It’s a shell-based tool designed to create portable configure shell scripts that adapt a software package to the system it will be installed on. Autoconf generates the famous `./configure` script, which is widely used in many software projects for detecting system specifics such as libraries, headers, and other build dependencies.

3. What is Automake?

Automake is another essential tool within Autotools. It generates files that conform to a standard format and are portable across different platforms. Users can create simple, high-level input files called “” that describe a project’s build requirements. Automake takes these files and generates files compatible with the GNU Make system.

4. What is Libtool?

Libtool is a tool within Autotools that helps developers manage the creation of shared and static libraries across various platforms. It simplifies processes like updating and building libraries, enabling users to work with shared libraries in a standard, portable way.

5. Why should I use Autotools?

Autotools can save significant time and effort when developing software. The tools help make your software project portable, maintainable, and reliable, which is advantageous if your project will be compiled on various platforms. Additionally, it follows widely recognized conventions, making it easier for users who are familiar with these standards to build and install your software.

6. Can I use Autotools for non-C/C++ projects?

Yes, Autotools can be used with other programming languages apart from C/C++. However, some of its features are more tailored to C/C++ projects. Though not preconfigured for non-C/C++ projects, you can modify or extend Autotools configuration scripts to support different languages or environments.

Related Technology Terms

  • Autoconf
  • Automake
  • Libtool
  • M4 Macro Processor
  • Makefile

Sources for More Information


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