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21.3 Leviticus

Since my configure scripts determine the system's capabilities automatically, with no interactive user intervention, I decided to call the program that generates them Autoconfig. But with a version number tacked on, that name would be too long for old Unix file systems, so I shortened it to Autoconf.

In the fall of 1991 I called together a group of fellow questers after the Holy Grail of portability (er, that is, alpha testers) to give me feedback as I encapsulated pieces of my handwritten scripts in M4 macros and continued to add features and improve the techniques used in the checks. Prominent among the testers were François Pinard, who came up with the idea of making an Autoconf shell script to run M4 and check for unresolved macro calls; Richard Pixley, who suggested running the compiler instead of searching the file system to find include files and symbols, for more accurate results; Karl Berry, who got Autoconf to configure TeX and added the macro index to the documentation; and Ian Lance Taylor, who added support for creating a C header file as an alternative to putting -D options in a makefile, so he could use Autoconf for his UUCP package. The alpha testers cheerfully adjusted their files again and again as the names and calling conventions of the Autoconf macros changed from release to release. They all contributed many specific checks, great ideas, and bug fixes.