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Wikis, ./configure, and make

When installing packages from source on *nix servers, I find I need to compile the software identically across several machines. (I do realize that this would be easier if I built a single package and then installed that using the OS/distribution package management tools but that's for another day.) Or sometimes I need to upgrade a package and keep the configuration information the same.

On my personal webserver (which runs this site), I have a directory that contains scripts that include the ./configure command (or the equivalent for the package) and the options for that command. Whenever I need to rebuild a package that has such a script, I just need to run the script.

However, there are some packages that lack such scripts. In these cases, I have to go to the old source directory, check config.log to find how I built it last and then use the same options in the new directory. (Or the same directory if I am reconfiguring the same version of the package.) I find that due to a feature of config.log and either screen or my SSH client that I have to retype parts of the ./configure command-line because it has wrapped around and the wrapping isn't being honored.

The latter is clearly non-optimal. The former is better but is limited to a single machine. If I need to build a package in a like manner on a different machine, I either have to copy the script or recreate it on the new one. Either way, this process is somewhat cumbersome.

An improvement I am trying is documenting the build process used for all software on a wiki. This provides a central (and version controlled) repository for the information that I can refer to independently of the SSH session. It does require a browser but this is not an issue in today's world of large screens and the movement towards using multiple monitors. (If screen real-estate is at a premium or you're not at a workstation, most wikis render well in lynx. If using ikiwiki, you could even check out the repository and view it with less.) Also, if multiple machines have the same software installed but require slightly different configurations, you can make the note in the wiki entry so you can easily see the differences. Further, since wikis implement revisions, you can see how the options have changed over time.

The challenge is making sure that all packages get documented correctly. However, once in the habit of documenting the process, it should become easier to make sure that future packages are documented as well.

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