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Create build recipes through automated trial and error.

Packaging a random piece of software for any given Linux distribution often involves a process like this:

  1. Guess at some build dependencies.
  2. Try building the package with those dependencies.
  3. Discover that you missed some more dependencies.
  4. Repeat, ad nauseum.

This project partially automates that cycle.

  1. During a test build, autobake watches which files the build process tries and fails to open.
  2. After the build finishes (whether successful or not), autobake looks for packages which contain the missing files.
  3. Not yet implemented: autobake should update your package with the additional dependencies.
  4. In many cases, there's only one package providing a given file, so autobake can repeat this process without any human intervention.

This approach may over-estimate the build dependencies, when build systems check for the existence of software they don't actually need. Fortunately, it take a lot less work to remove dependencies by hand than it does to guess which packages might be necessary.

Supported platforms

This is an early prototype. So far I have only implemented support for the Nix package manager, using only the Nix Packages collection, and only on Linux. The approach is quite flexible, though, and should work for most systems. I'd love to get patches adding support for other platforms!

The build agent, which runs inside the package build process, should work on any OS which can run strace. However the concept should apply to any OS which allows tracing system calls. I think FreeBSD, Solaris, and MacOS X should be supportable using truss, for example.

To support a specific package manager and distribution, you need two things:

  1. A way to sandbox builds, such that only the specified build dependencies are available in the sandbox. Nix builds always work this way, but tools exist for other package managers. For example, for RPM there's mock.

  2. A way to search for packages containing files which end with a given fragment, such as /dbus/dbus.h. For Nixpkgs I used nix-index, but again, tools exist for other package managers. For example, for Debian, there's apt-file.


For the initial Nix-only prototype, just run autobake-nix with a single Nix expression, which must evaluate to a derivation. For example, this command will build the GNU Multiple Precision arithmetic library (GMP), but without providing m4, which it needs:

autobake-nix '(import <nixpkgs> {}).gmp.overrideDerivation (oldAttrs: { nativeBuildInputs = []; })'

Because gmp uses autoconf, its build process checks for a large number of unnecessary programs, which autobake tries to satisfy, so you'll see suggestions for a lot more than just gnum4.out.


This work is licensed under the GNU Affero GPL version 3.


Create build recipes through automated trial and error




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