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2.2.10 Building Binary Packages Using DESTDIR

The GNU Build System’s make install and make uninstall interface does not exactly fit the needs of a system administrator who has to deploy and upgrade packages on lots of hosts. In other words, the GNU Build System does not replace a package manager.

Such package managers usually need to know which files have been installed by a package, so a mere make install is inappropriate.

The DESTDIR variable can be used to perform a staged installation. The package should be configured as if it was going to be installed in its final location (e.g., --prefix /usr), but when running make install, the DESTDIR should be set to the absolute name of a directory into which the installation will be diverted. From this directory it is easy to review which files are being installed where, and finally copy them to their final location by some means.

For instance here is how we could create a binary package containing a snapshot of all the files to be installed.

~/amhello-1.0 % ./configure --prefix /usr
~/amhello-1.0 % make
~/amhello-1.0 % make DESTDIR=$HOME/inst install
~/amhello-1.0 % cd ~/inst
~/inst % find . -type f -print > ../files.lst
~/inst % tar zcvf ~/amhello-1.0-i686.tar.gz `cat ../files.lst`

After this example, amhello-1.0-i686.tar.gz is ready to be uncompressed in / on many hosts. (Using `cat ../files.lst` instead of ‘.’ as argument for tar avoids entries for each subdirectory in the archive: we would not like tar to restore the modification time of /, /usr/, etc.)

Note that when building packages for several architectures, it might be convenient to use make install-data and make install-exec (see Two-Part Installation) to gather architecture-independent files in a single package.

See What Gets Installed, for more information.

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