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Theory

Autotools are GNU's tools for portably when building C and C++ applications. They support most, if not all, of the UNIX platforms as well as some others, like Windows.

When you download a program with an autotools building system, the developers often have the configure script already generated for you. Creating the configure script from the autotools source can be quite tricky, because it's very dependent of the versions of the autotools that you're using. The developers may also provide the script that they use to generate the configure script if they use one, which can be useful if you need to do it yourself.

Building a program developed with autotools is very easy and straightforward, as long as the developers have made a proper build system. The first step is to probe the system and configure the software to build properly with the ./configure script. ./configure accepts some parameters which allow you to define the compile-time configuration of the program, and usually gives you some proper help on them with ./configure --help.

Packaging advice

Using autoconf, particularly good packaging practice to allow for updates: https://wiki.debian.org/AutoTools/autoconf