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8.4 Program and Library Variables

Associated with each program is a collection of variables that can be used to modify how that program is built. There is a similar list of such variables for each library. The canonical name of the program (or library) is used as a base for naming these variables.

In the list below, we use the name “maude” to refer to the program or library. In your you would replace this with the canonical name of your program. This list also refers to “maude” as a program, but in general the same rules apply for both static and dynamic libraries; the documentation below notes situations where programs and libraries differ.


This variable, if it exists, lists all the source files that are compiled to build the program. These files are added to the distribution by default. When building the program, Automake will cause each source file to be compiled to a single .o file (or .lo when using libtool). Normally these object files are named after the source file, but other factors can change this. If a file in the _SOURCES variable has an unrecognized extension, Automake will do one of two things with it. If a suffix rule exists for turning files with the unrecognized extension into .o files, then automake will treat this file as it will any other source file (see Support for Other Languages). Otherwise, the file will be ignored as though it were a header file.

The prefixes dist_ and nodist_ can be used to control whether files listed in a _SOURCES variable are distributed. dist_ is redundant, as sources are distributed by default, but it can be specified for clarity if desired.

It is possible to have both dist_ and nodist_ variants of a given _SOURCES variable at once; this lets you easily distribute some files and not others, for instance:

nodist_maude_SOURCES = nodist.c
dist_maude_SOURCES = dist-me.c

By default the output file (on Unix systems, the .o file) will be put into the current build directory. However, if the option subdir-objects is in effect in the current directory then the .o file will be put into the subdirectory named after the source file. For instance, with subdir-objects enabled, sub/dir/file.c will be compiled to sub/dir/file.o. Some people prefer this mode of operation. You can specify subdir-objects in AUTOMAKE_OPTIONS (see Changing Automake’s Behavior).


Automake needs to know the list of files you intend to compile statically. For one thing, this is the only way Automake has of knowing what sort of language support a given requires. 4 This means that, for example, you can’t put a configure substitution like ‘@my_sources@’ into a ‘_SOURCES’ variable. If you intend to conditionally compile source files and use configure to substitute the appropriate object names into, e.g., _LDADD (see below), then you should list the corresponding source files in the EXTRA_ variable.

This variable also supports dist_ and nodist_ prefixes. For instance, nodist_EXTRA_maude_SOURCES would list extra sources that may need to be built, but should not be distributed.


A static library is created by default by invoking ‘$(AR) $(ARFLAGS)’ followed by the name of the library and then the objects being put into the library. You can override this by setting the _AR variable. This is usually used with C++; some C++ compilers require a special invocation in order to instantiate all the templates that should go into a library. For instance, the SGI C++ compiler likes this variable set like so:

libmaude_a_AR = $(CXX) -ar -o

Extra objects can be added to a library using the _LIBADD variable. For instance, this should be used for objects determined by configure (see Building a library).

In the case of libtool libraries, maude_LIBADD can also refer to other libtool libraries.


Extra objects (*.$(OBJEXT)) and libraries (*.a, *.la) can be added to a program by listing them in the _LDADD variable. For instance, this should be used for objects determined by configure (see Linking the program).

_LDADD and _LIBADD are inappropriate for passing program-specific linker flags (except for -l, -L, -dlopen and -dlpreopen). Use the _LDFLAGS variable for this purpose.

For instance, if your uses AC_PATH_XTRA, you could link your program against the X libraries like so:


We recommend that you use -l and -L only when referring to third-party libraries, and give the explicit file names of any library built by your package. Doing so will ensure that maude_DEPENDENCIES (see below) is correctly defined by default.


This variable is used to pass extra flags to the link step of a program or a shared library. It overrides the AM_LDFLAGS variable.


This variable is used to pass extra options to libtool. It overrides the AM_LIBTOOLFLAGS variable. These options are output before libtool’s --mode=MODE option, so they should not be mode-specific options (those belong to the compiler or linker flags). See _LIBADD, _LDFLAGS, and _LIBTOOLFLAGS.


It is also occasionally useful to have a target (program or library) depend on some other file that is not actually part of that target. This can be done using the _DEPENDENCIES variable. Each target depends on the contents of such a variable, but no further interpretation is done.

Since these dependencies are associated to the link rule used to create the programs they should normally list files used by the link command. That is *.$(OBJEXT), *.a, or *.la files for programs; *.lo and *.la files for Libtool libraries; and *.$(OBJEXT) files for static libraries. In rare cases you may need to add other kinds of files such as linker scripts, but listing a source file in _DEPENDENCIES is wrong. If some source file needs to be built before all the components of a program are built, consider using the BUILT_SOURCES variable (see Built sources).

If _DEPENDENCIES is not supplied, it is computed by Automake. The automatically-assigned value is the contents of _LDADD or _LIBADD, with most configure substitutions, -l, -L, -dlopen and -dlpreopen options removed. The configure substitutions that are left in are only ‘$(LIBOBJS)’ and ‘$(ALLOCA)’; these are left because it is known that they will not cause an invalid value for _DEPENDENCIES to be generated.

_DEPENDENCIES is more likely used to perform conditional compilation using an AC_SUBST variable that contains a list of objects. See Conditional compilation of sources, and Libtool Libraries with Conditional Sources.

You can override the linker on a per-program basis. By default the linker is chosen according to the languages used by the program. For instance, a program that includes C++ source code would use the C++ compiler to link. The _LINK variable must hold the name of a command that can be passed all the .o file names and libraries to link against as arguments. Note that the name of the underlying program is not passed to _LINK; typically one uses ‘$@’:

maude_LINK = $(CCLD) -magic -o $@

If a _LINK variable is not supplied, it may still be generated and used by Automake due to the use of per-target link flags such as _CFLAGS, _LDFLAGS or _LIBTOOLFLAGS, in cases where they apply.


Automake allows you to set compilation flags on a per-program (or per-library) basis. A single source file can be included in several programs, and it will potentially be compiled with different flags for each program. This works for any language directly supported by Automake. These per-target compilation flags are ‘_CCASFLAGS’, ‘_CFLAGS’, ‘_CPPFLAGS’, ‘_CXXFLAGS’, ‘_FFLAGS’, ‘_GCJFLAGS’, ‘_LFLAGS’, ‘_OBJCFLAGS’, ‘_RFLAGS’, ‘_UPCFLAGS’, and ‘_YFLAGS’.

When using a per-target compilation flag, Automake will choose a different name for the intermediate object files. Ordinarily a file like sample.c will be compiled to produce sample.o. However, if the program’s _CFLAGS variable is set, then the object file will be named, for instance, maude-sample.o. (See also Why are object files sometimes renamed?.) The use of per-target compilation flags with C sources requires that the macro AM_PROG_CC_C_O be called from

In compilations with per-target flags, the ordinary ‘AM_’ form of the flags variable is not automatically included in the compilation (however, the user form of the variable is included). So for instance, if you want the hypothetical maude compilations to also use the value of AM_CFLAGS, you would need to write:

maude_CFLAGS = … your flags … $(AM_CFLAGS)

See Flag Variables Ordering, for more discussion about the interaction between user variables, ‘AM_’ shadow variables, and per-target variables.


On some platforms the allowable file names are very short. In order to support these systems and per-target compilation flags at the same time, Automake allows you to set a “short name” that will influence how intermediate object files are named. For instance, in the following example,

bin_PROGRAMS = maude
maude_SHORTNAME = m
maude_SOURCES = sample.c …

the object file would be named m-sample.o rather than maude-sample.o.

This facility is rarely needed in practice, and we recommend avoiding it until you find it is required.



There are other, more obscure reasons for this limitation as well.

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