Almost all Gnome applications use the same build system
based on the GNU tools
automake, autoconf, and
libtool. GTK+ and Gnome
provide a set of autoconf
macros that make it easy to create a portable,
standards-compliant build setup. Due to the bewildering
array of tools involved, it can be difficult to figure out
how Gnome source trees work; there are manuals available
for each tool, but none describes the "big picture." This
chapter gives you a simple overview that should help you
get started. It also covers some Gnome-specific details,
and tells you how to ship and install your application's
icons, translations, and documentation.
If you're writing a large application, or a library, this
chapter won't have all the information you need; you will
probably need to consult the GNU tools' manuals to get more
details. A complete discussion would fill the entire book.
Beginning with this chapter and continuing throughout Part
2 of the book, a sample application called GnomeHello will be used to demonstrate
Gnome features. The GnomeHello
source code is listed in Appendix E and the entire GnomeHello source tree is
available online. It may be convenient to use it as a
template for your own application's source code.
You may miss the simple
Makefile made possible by the
gtk-config script; there is an equivalent gnome-config script (use gnome-config --help to learn how to use
it). However, these simple makefiles are not adequate for
any real-world application.
Gnome application build trees and distributed tarballs
follow a set of conventions, most of them widespread in
the free software community. Aspects of these conventions
are formalized in documents such as the GNU Project's
Coding Standards (https://www.gnu.org/prep/standards_toc.html)
and the Linux Filesystem Hierarchy Standard (https://www.pathname.com/fhs/). It's worth
using these standards even with non-free
software---partially because they are very good from a
technical standpoint, and partially because "going with
the flow" will save you a lot of trouble, especially if
you're using the GNU toolset. Besides, you might want to
free your software someday.
The GNU toolset, including
automake and autoconf
will make it easy to comply with these standards.
However, sometimes there are reasons not to use the GNU
tools; for example, you may want a unified build that
works on platforms such as Windows and MacOS. (Some of
the tools do work with Windows using the Cygnus "Cygwin"
environment, however; see
If you use autoconf and automake, users are not required
to have these tools in order to build your software. The
purpose of the tools is to build portable shell scripts
and makefiles that will work in the user's environment.
The autoconf package
encompasses the aclocal, autoheader, and autoconf executables. Together, these
tools are used to create a portable shell script called
configure; configure is distributed to users with
your software package. It explores the compilation system
and creates makefiles and a special header called config.h. The files created by configure are adapted to the
specifics of the user's system.
configure creates each Makefile from a template, called
Makefile.in; automake is a tool for creating these
generates Makefile.in from a
You distribute Makefile.in
with your software, and users create a Makefile when they run configure.
The libtool package is the
third important GNU tool; its purpose is to abstract the
idiosyncracies of shared libraries (static library
behavior is fairly uniform across UNIX-like systems, but
shared libraries present major portability issues).
Informally, here are some of characteristics most Gnome
packages have in common:
A file called README that
describes the package.
A file called INSTALL that
explains how to compile and install the package.
A script called configure
that automatically adapts the program to
platform-specific features (or the lack thereof). configure is expected to take
an argument --prefix,
specifying where to install the package.
Standard make targets,
such as clean, etc.
A file called COPYING
containing the package's copyright.
A ChangeLog in which
changes to the software are recorded.
Tar files are traditionally compressed with gzip and their name includes
the package version (for example, foo-0.2.1.tar.gz). They should unpack
into a single directory, named with package and
provided via the GNU
gettext package. A copy of gettext is shipped along with the
application, so users do not have to have one.