The bugs associated with ‘make dist’, over time, became a real problem. Packages using Automake were being built on a large number of platforms, and were becoming increasingly complex. Broken dependencies were distributed in “portable” Makefile.ins, leading to user complaints. Also, the requirement for gcc and GNU make was a constant source of bug reports. The next implementation of dependency tracking aimed to remove these problems.
We realized that the only truly reliable way to automatically track dependencies was to do it when the package itself was built. This meant discovering a method portable to any version of make and any compiler. Also, we wanted to preserve what we saw as the best point of the second implementation: dependency computation as a side effect of compilation.
In the end we found that most modern make implementations support some form of include directive. Also, we wrote a wrapper script that let us abstract away differences between dependency tracking methods for compilers. For instance, some compilers cannot generate dependencies as a side effect of compilation. In this case we simply have the script run the compiler twice. Currently our wrapper script (depcomp) knows about twelve different compilers (including a "compiler" that simply invokes makedepend and then the real compiler, which is assumed to be a standard Unix-like C compiler with no way to do dependency tracking).
This bug occurs because dependency tracking tools, such as the compiler, only generate dependencies on the successful opening of a file, and not on every probe.
Suppose for instance that the compiler searches three directories for a given header, and that the header is found in the third directory. If the programmer erroneously adds a header file with the same name to the first directory, then a clean rebuild from scratch could fail (suppose the new header file is buggy), whereas an incremental rebuild will succeed.
What has happened here is that people have a misunderstanding of what a dependency is. Tool writers think a dependency encodes information about which files were read by the compiler. However, a dependency must actually encode information about what the compiler tried to do.
This problem is not serious in practice. Programmers typically do not use the same name for a header file twice in a given project. (At least, not in C or C++. This problem may be more troublesome in Java.) This problem is easy to fix, by modifying dependency generators to record every probe, instead of every successful open.
This was also a problem in the previous dependency tracking implementation.
The current fix is to use
BUILT_SOURCES to list built headers
(see Sources). This causes them
to be built before any other build rules are run. This is unsatisfactory
as a general solution, however in practice it seems sufficient for most
This code is used since Automake 1.5.
In GCC 3.0, we managed to convince the maintainers to add special command-line options to help Automake more efficiently do its job. We hoped this would let us avoid the use of a wrapper script when Automake's automatic dependency tracking was used with gcc.
Unfortunately, this code doesn't quite do what we want. In particular, it removes the dependency file if the compilation fails; we'd prefer that it instead only touch the file in any way if the compilation succeeds.
Nevertheless, since Automake 1.7, when a recent gcc is detected at configure time, we inline the dependency-generation code and do not use the depcomp wrapper script. This makes compilations faster for those using this compiler (probably our primary user base). The counterpart is that because we have to encode two compilation rules in Makefile (with or without depcomp), the produced Makefiles are larger.