autoconf makes me think we stopped evolving too soon

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2024-04-03 06:00:08

I've gotten a few bits of feedback asking for my thoughts and/or reactions to the whole "xz backdoor" thing that happened over the past couple of days. Most of my thoughts on the matter apply to autoconf and friends, and they aren't great.

I don't have to cross paths with those tools too often these days, but there was a point quite a while back when I was constantly building things from source, and a ./configure --with-this --with-that was a given. It was a small joy when the thing let me reuse the old configure invocation so I didn't have to dig up the specifics again.

I got that the whole reason for autoconf's derpy little "recipes" is that you want to know if the system you're on supports X, or can do Y, or exactly what flavor of Z it has, so you can #ifdef around it or whatever. It's not quite as relevant today, but sure, there was once a time when a great many Unix systems existed and they all had their own ways of handling stuff, and no two were the same.

So, okay, fine, at some point it made sense to run programs to empirically determine what was supported on a given system. What I don't understand is why we kept running those stupid little shell snippets and little bits of C code over and over. It's like, okay, we established that this particular system does <library function foobar> with two args, not three. So why the hell are we constantly testing for it over and over?

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