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8.3.5 Libtool Convenience Libraries

Sometimes you want to build libtool libraries that should not be installed. These are called libtool convenience libraries and are typically used to encapsulate many sublibraries, later gathered into one big installed library.

Libtool convenience libraries are declared by directory-less variables such as noinst_LTLIBRARIES, check_LTLIBRARIES, or even EXTRA_LTLIBRARIES. Unlike installed libtool libraries they do not need an ‘-rpath’ flag at link time (actually this is the only difference).

Convenience libraries listed in noinst_LTLIBRARIES are always built. Those listed in check_LTLIBRARIES are built only upon ‘make check’. Finally, libraries listed in EXTRA_LTLIBRARIES are never built explicitly: Automake outputs rules to build them, but if the library does not appear as a Makefile dependency anywhere it won’t be built (this is why EXTRA_LTLIBRARIES is used for conditional compilation).

Here is a sample setup merging libtool convenience libraries from subdirectories into one main ‘libtop.la’ library.

# -- Top-level Makefile.am --
SUBDIRS = sub1 sub2 …
lib_LTLIBRARIES = libtop.la
libtop_la_SOURCES =
libtop_la_LIBADD = \
  sub1/libsub1.la \
  sub2/libsub2.la \
  …

# -- sub1/Makefile.am --
noinst_LTLIBRARIES = libsub1.la
libsub1_la_SOURCES = …

# -- sub2/Makefile.am --
# showing nested convenience libraries
SUBDIRS = sub2.1 sub2.2 …
noinst_LTLIBRARIES = libsub2.la
libsub2_la_SOURCES =
libsub2_la_LIBADD = \
  sub21/libsub21.la \
  sub22/libsub22.la \
  …

When using such setup, beware that automake will assume ‘libtop.la’ is to be linked with the C linker. This is because libtop_la_SOURCES is empty, so automake picks C as default language. If libtop_la_SOURCES was not empty, automake would select the linker as explained in How the Linker is Chosen.

If one of the sublibraries contains non-C source, it is important that the appropriate linker be chosen. One way to achieve this is to pretend that there is such a non-C file among the sources of the library, thus forcing automake to select the appropriate linker. Here is the top-level ‘Makefile’ of our example updated to force C++ linking.

SUBDIRS = sub1 sub2 …
lib_LTLIBRARIES = libtop.la
libtop_la_SOURCES =
# Dummy C++ source to cause C++ linking.
nodist_EXTRA_libtop_la_SOURCES = dummy.cxx
libtop_la_LIBADD = \
  sub1/libsub1.la \
  sub2/libsub2.la \
  …

EXTRA_*_SOURCES’ variables are used to keep track of source files that might be compiled (this is mostly useful when doing conditional compilation using AC_SUBST, see section Libtool Libraries with Conditional Sources), and the nodist_ prefix means the listed sources are not to be distributed (see section Program and Library Variables). In effect the file ‘dummy.cxx’ does not need to exist in the source tree. Of course if you have some real source file to list in libtop_la_SOURCES there is no point in cheating with nodist_EXTRA_libtop_la_SOURCES.


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