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5.4 Packaging Generated Files

The debate about what to do with generated files is one which is keenly contested on the relevant Internet mailing lists. There are two points of view and I will present both of them to you so that you can try to decide what the best policy is for your project.

One argument is that generated files should not be included with a package, but rather only the `preferred form' of the source code should be included. By this definition, `configure' is a derived file, just like an object file, and it should not be included in the package. Thus, the user should use the GNU Autotools to bootstrap themselves prior to building the package. I believe there is some merit to this purist approach, as it discourages the practice of packaging derived files.

The other argument is that the advantages of providing these files can far outweigh the violation of good software engineering practice mentioned above. By including the generated files, users have the convenience of not needing to be concerned with keeping up to date with all of the different versions of the tools in active use. This is especially true for Autoconf, as `configure' scripts are often generated by maintainers using locally modified versions of autoconf and locally installed macros. If `configure' were regenerated by the user, the result could be different to that intended. Of course, this is poor practice, but it happens to reflect reality.

I believe the answer is to include generated files in the package when the package is going to be distributed to a wide user community (ie. the general public). For in-house packages, the former argument might make more sense, since the tools may also be held under version control.

This document was generated by Gary V. Vaughan on February, 8 2006 using texi2html