A lowest-common-denominator API description for meta-build systems to build individual components
Latest commit ad4aaf1 Nov 17, 2016 @blixtra blixtra committed with fix typo: indepenent -> independent (#5)
Simple typo fix.


Build API

Version: 0.3

Note: the upstream for this document is now: https://github.com/cgwalters/build-api


There are at present in the FOSS world a number of different "meta-build" systems that are designed to build (compose) multiple components - prominent examples are "rpm" and "deb" for self-hosting builds, "buildroot" and "Yocto" for cross builds, "jhbuild" and "kdesrc-build" for developer fastbuilds, etc.

It makes sense to drive - as much as possible - build knowledge and metadata upstream, rather than have it be reproduced in these multiple "downstream" consumers.

What's wrong with ./configure && make && make install DESTDIR=/foo? Shouldn't we just encourage people to use the autotools, and keep spec files, bitbake recipies etc. as they are?

While the autotools are good, we don't need every feature they have, and we don't want to force everyone to use them.

Thus, we want to create a well-defined interface that anyone using an alternative build system should implement. A primary goal of the Build API here is that if one chooses to use waf, scons, or just use a raw Makefile, you have a clear path to plug in to any of the multiple meta-build systems listed above.

Also, a main concern is that many project consumers want to split between a "foo" package that only has the runtime bits, and a "foo-devel" which has C library headers, etc. This logic can live much more sanely upstream than reproduced over and over in every downstream consumer.

Build API

In a freshly unpacked source tree, there MUST be an architecture-independent script named either 'autogen', 'autogen.sh', or 'configure'. If 'configure' exists, it is preferred over the other two. If configure does not exist, the 'autogen' script is executed with no arguments in the source directory, and it MUST generate an executable script named 'configure'.

After the 'configure' script is run, 'make' will be invoked on the generated 'Makefile', and then an install target will be invoked. The following details each script:

autogen (or "autogen.sh")

If present, this file is an executable script which bootstraps the build system. It will be executed before configure, if the configure script is not present. For example, in autotools based systems, this will run a tool such as "autoreconf".

This tool SHOULD NOT automatically run ./configure. If for historical reasons it does, then it MUST honor an environment variable NOCONFIGURE, which if set, suppresses the ./configure run.


This MUST be an executable file. It MUST take the following arguments:

  • --prefix=PATH
  • --libdir=PATH


./configure --prefix=/opt/build/ --libdir=/opt/build/lib64 CFLAGS='-ggdb -O2'

It SHOULD take the following arguments:

  • --build=HOST
  • --host=HOST

The semantics of these arguments are as defined by autoconf. See "info autoconf", under the section "Hosts and Cross Compilation".

The configure script MUST either ignore unknown options that start with --enable- and --disable-, or accept an argument --help which prints valid options. The rationale for this is the same as autotools, it allows one to have global effects without special casing each configure script over time.

When the configure script is run, it MUST generate a file named Makefile in the same working directory.

The following Build API variables may be used to declare how this project supports builds. These variables will be found in the configure script by substring match on a line-by-line basis.

  • buildapi-variable-no-builddir: Declares that this project only works when srcdir == builddir. Avoid this if you can; for example, it forces build systems that are compiling for multiple architectures simultaneously to create a copy of the source code for each build.

  • buildapi-variable-require-builddir: Declares that this project only works when srcdir != builddir. Avoid this if you can; it's nicest to allow users to do both.

  • buildapi-variable-supports-runtime-devel: Declares support for the buildapi-install-runtime and buildapi-install-devel Makefile targets.


This MUST be a Makefile, as consumable by an implementation of "make" compatible with GNU Make. It MUST have the following targets:

  • all: Build all of the software. This variable SHOULD accept a make variable called BUILDAPI_JOBS. The BUILDAPI_JOBS variable specifies roughly how many concurrent processes or threads the build system should use. It is however acceptable for the build system to invoke sysconf (_SC_NPROCESSORS_ONLN) or a wrapper thereof as a basis as well.

  • install: This target MUST take an argument variable DESTDIR which specifies an additional file path prefix before the install path. Example:

    make install DESTDIR=/opt/build-daemon/work/pkgname/root

It SHOULD support these individual build targets:

  • buildapi-install-runtime: Install binaries, libraries, and data files intended to be present on all systems. This target MUST take an argument variable "DESTDIR" which specifies an additional file path prefix before the install path.

  • buildapi-install-devel: Install header files, library symbolic links, and data files necessary for other software to consume your software. This target MUST take an argument variable "DESTDIR" which specifies an additional file path prefix before the install path.

Your Makefile must work when run with the -j <JOBS> option to make. If there are Makefiles within your project that don't work when run like this, you can use the GNU make .NOTPARALLEL: pseudo-target to disable parallel builds for those makefiles.