To all port maintainers: libtool

Chad J. Milios milios at
Thu May 8 00:19:17 UTC 2014

On May 7, 2014, at 4:16 PM, Baptiste Daroussin <bapt at> wrote:
>> On Thu, May 08, 2014 at 12:24:20AM +0200, Tijl Coosemans wrote:
>> Hi,
>> I've been asked to write something about USES=libtool to clarify a few
>> things about what it does and why.
>> First: what is libtool?
>> Libtool is a build script that acts as a wrapper around a compiler.  You
>> can compile code or link a library (or executable) with libtool and it will
>> invoke the right compiler, linker and other commands for you.  It supports
>> multiple languages, compilers and platforms and simplifies writing
>> makefiles when used in combination with automake.  Many ports use it.
>> The problems with libtool on FreeBSD.
>> Libraries created with libtool have three version numbers X.Y.Z.  How they
>> are calculated is not straightforward but that's not important right now.
>> The important thing is that the major version number X is the only one
>> that really matters.  An executable that links to libA will ask for
>> and doesn't care about Y and Z.  Only when the major version
>> number of a library changes does everything that link to it need to be
>> recompiled.  On FreeBSD however libtool uses X+Y as major version number
>> which means that changes in Y also require rebuilding all ports that
>> depend on the library.
>> A second problem is that libtool flattens the dependency tree.  When you
>> link an executable or library with libA while libA in turn links to libB
>> then libtool will make the executable or library also link with libB.
>> This means that when the major version number of libB changes, the
>> executable or library will also have to be rebuilt.  Some libraries get
>> propagated into hundreds and even thousands of ports this way while only
>> a few actually use them directly.
>> These two problems make major version number changes too frequent and too
>> painful, not only for users who build their own ports, but also for
>> package users, because too many packages need to be rebuilt, mirrored and
>> downloaded every week than strictly necessary.
>> A third problem is with ports that have USE_AUTOTOOLS=libtool in their
>> Makefile.  Normally the libtool script is generated by the configure
>> script so it uses the compiler, linker and other tools that you configure
>> a port with.  Ports with USE_AUTOTOOLS=libtool however use
>> /use/local/bin/libtool.  This is the libtool script generated by the
>> configure script of devel/libtool.  This mechanism was meant for ports
>> that ship with a version of libtool that doesn't work properly, but the
>> problem is that such ports aren't necessarily built with the same tools as
>> devel/libtool.  An upcoming feature that allows cross-building ports and
>> that will be used to provide ARM packages is currently blocked by this
>> because these ports don't use the right cross compiler and linker.
>> The solution.
>> All ports that use libtool need to have USES=libtool added to their
>> Makefile and USE_AUTOTOOLS=libtool removed.  USES=libtool will patch the
>> port to address the problems above along with a few smaller problems with
>> older versions of libtool that some ports still ship with.  USES=libtool
>> also replaces USE_GNOME=ltverhack so that should be removed as well.  In
>> fact, all libtool related hacks and patches that a port contains can
>> probably be removed (typically patches or post-patch commands for files
>> like ltconfig, and configure).
>> The easiest way to know if a port uses libtool is to build it first.  You
>> can then search the work directory for a file named "libtool":
>> # cd some/port
>> # make
>> # find work -name libtool
>> Another giveaway is the installation of files with .la extension.
>> USES=libtool modifiers :keepla and :oldver.
>> One of the ways libtool propagates links is through .la libraries.  These
>> are ordinary text files that contain some meta-data about a library,
>> including a record of all dependencies.  These files are normally not
>> needed and USES=libtool removes them from the staging area.  For the rare
>> cases where a port does need these files USES=libtool:keepla can be used.
>> In this case .la files are kept but the dependency record is cleared so
>> dependencies won't be propagated to other ports.
>> Another important reason to keep .la files is that in this transition
>> period other ports may still contain references to them in the dependency
>> record of their .la files.  These ports first need to have some form of
>> USES=libtool added to their Makefile such that these references are
>> removed.  So, as long as there are dependent ports that install .la files
>> but do not have some form of USES=libtool, a port must use
>> USES=libtool:keepla.
>> Finally, because the major version number goes from X+Y to X, if Y is
>> non-zero, the library version will go backwards.  This is not a problem
>> in the sense of API compatibility (because of the way libtool versioning
>> works everything between X and X+Y is backwards compatible and a new
>> release that isn't backwards compatible will see its major version number
>> jump to newX=oldX+oldY+1), but it may be a problem if due to link
>> propagation many ports depend on the library and they all need to get a
>> PORTREVISION bump.  To avoid this, USES=libtool:oldver can be used.  A
>> port will then continue to use the old X+Y version scheme but it will
>> no longer propagate its own dependencies to other ports.  Once enough
>> ports use some form of USES=libtool the number of dependent ports will
>> drop to a point that removing :oldver becomes possible.  Note that
>> USES=libtool:oldver is a transitional measure and support for it will
>> eventually be removed.
> Thank you very much for this write up! and for all your work helping us
> solving a very long standing major problem in the ports tree!
> regards,
> Bapt

+1 cheers hats off to ya that was both so helpful and informative. I'm so glad to see that's been simplified

More information about the freebsd-ports mailing list