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6.3.3 Writing your own aclocal macros

The aclocal program doesn’t have any built-in knowledge of any macros, so it is easy to extend it with your own macros.

This can be used by libraries that want to supply their own Autoconf macros for use by other programs. For instance, the gettext library supplies a macro AM_GNU_GETTEXT that should be used by any package using gettext. When the library is installed, it installs this macro so that aclocal will find it.

A macro file’s name should end in .m4. Such files should be installed in $(datadir)/aclocal. This is as simple as writing:

aclocaldir = $(datadir)/aclocal
aclocal_DATA = mymacro.m4 myothermacro.m4

Please do use $(datadir)/aclocal, and not something based on the result of ‘aclocal --print-ac-dir’. See Installing to Hard-Coded Locations, for arguments.

A file of macros should be a series of properly quoted AC_DEFUN’s (see Macro Definitions in The Autoconf Manual). The aclocal programs also understands AC_REQUIRE (see Prerequisite Macros in The Autoconf Manual), so it is safe to put each macro in a separate file. Each file should have no side effects but macro definitions. Especially, any call to AC_PREREQ should be done inside the defined macro, not at the beginning of the file.

Starting with Automake 1.8, aclocal will warn about all underquoted calls to AC_DEFUN. We realize this will annoy a lot of people, because aclocal was not so strict in the past and many third party macros are underquoted; and we have to apologize for this temporary inconvenience. The reason we have to be stricter is that a future implementation of aclocal (see The Future of aclocal) will have to temporarily include all these third party .m4 files, maybe several times, including even files that are not actually needed. Doing so should alleviate many problems of the current implementation, however it requires a stricter style from the macro authors. Hopefully it is easy to revise the existing macros. For instance,

# bad style

should be rewritten as


Wrapping the AC_PREREQ call inside the macro ensures that Autoconf 2.57 will not be required if AX_FOOBAR is not actually used. Most importantly, quoting the first argument of AC_DEFUN allows the macro to be redefined or included twice (otherwise this first argument would be expanded during the second definition). For consistency we like to quote even arguments such as 2.57 that do not require it.

If you have been directed here by the aclocal diagnostic but are not the maintainer of the implicated macro, you will want to contact the maintainer of that macro. Please make sure you have the latest version of the macro and that the problem hasn’t already been reported before doing so: people tend to work faster when they aren’t flooded by mails.

Another situation where aclocal is commonly used is to manage macros that are used locally by the package, Handling Local Macros.

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