Did you call them autocrap tools ?

Yes, in fact I did, because they are the worst possible non-solution to a self-inflicted problem.

Back in the 1980’ies, the numerous mini- and micro-computer companies all jumped on the UNIX band-wagon, because it gave them an operating system for their hardware, but they also tried to “distinguish” themselves from the competitors, by “adding value”.

That “value” was incompatibility.

You never knew where they put stuff, what arguments the compiler needed to behave sensibly, or for that matter, if there were a compiler to begin with.

So some deranged imagination, came up with the idea of the configure script, which sniffed at your system and set up a Makefile that would work.

Writing configure scripts was hard work, for one thing you needed a ton of different systems to test them on, so copy&paste became the order of the day.

Then some even more deranged imagination, came up with the idea of writing a script for writing configure scripts, and in an amazing and daring attempt at the “all time most deranged” crown, used an obscure and insufferable macro-processor called m4 for the implementation.

Now, as it transpires, writing the specification for the configure producing macros was tedious, so somebody wrote a tool to…

…do you detect the pattern here ?

Now, if the result of all this crap, was that I could write my source-code and tell a tool where the files were, and not only assume, but actually trust that things would just work out, then I could live with it.

But as it transpires, that is not the case. For one thing, all the autocrap tools add another layer of version-madness you need to get right before you can even think about compiling the source code.

Second, it doesn’t actually work, you still have to do the hard work and figure out the right way to explain to the autocrap tools what you are trying to do and how to do it, only you have to do so in a language which is used to produce M4 macro invocations etc. etc.

In the meantime, the UNIX diversity has shrunk from 50+ significantly different dialects to just a handful: Linux, *BSD, Solaris and AIX and the autocrap tools have become part of the portability problem, rather than part of the solution.

Amongst the silly activities of the autocrap generated configure script in Varnish are:

  • Looks for ANSI-C header files (show me a system later than 1995 without them ?)

  • Existence and support for POSIX mandated symlinks, (which are not used by Varnish btw.)

  • Tests, 19 different ways, that the compiler is not a relic from SYS III days. (Find me just one SYS III running computer with an ethernet interface ?)

  • Checks if the ISO-C and POSIX mandated cos() function exists in libm (No, I have no idea either…)

&c. &c. &c.

Some day when I have the time, I will rip out all the autocrap stuff and replace it with a 5 line shellscript that calls uname -s.

Poul-Henning, 2010-04-20