(autoconf.info)File System Conventions
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10.4 File System Conventions
Autoconf uses shell-script processing extensively, so the file names
that it processes should not contain characters that are special to the
shell. Special characters include space, tab, newline, NUL, and the
" # $ & ' ( ) * ; < = > ? [ \ ` |
Also, file names should not begin with `~' or `-', and should
contain neither `-' immediately after `/' nor `~' immediately after
`:'. On Posix-like platforms, directory names should not contain `:',
as this runs afoul of `:' used as the path separator.
These restrictions apply not only to the files that you distribute,
but also to the absolute file names of your source, build, and
On some Posix-like platforms, `!' and `^' are special too, so they
should be avoided.
Posix lets implementations treat leading `//' specially, but
requires leading `///' and beyond to be equivalent to `/'. Most Unix
variants treat `//' like `/'. However, some treat `//' as a
"super-root" that can provide access to files that are not otherwise
reachable from `/'. The super-root tradition began with Apollo
Domain/OS, which died out long ago, but unfortunately Cygwin has
While `autoconf' and friends are usually run on some Posix variety,
they can be used on other systems, most notably DOS variants. This
impacts several assumptions regarding file names.
For example, the following code:
case $foo_dir in
/*) # Absolute
fails to properly detect absolute file names on those systems, because
they can use a drivespec, and usually use a backslash as directory
separator. If you want to be portable to DOS variants (at the price of
rejecting valid but oddball Posix file names like `a:\b'), you can
check for absolute file names like this:
case $foo_dir in
[\\/]* | ?:[\\/]* ) # Absolute
Make sure you quote the brackets if appropriate and keep the backslash
as first character (Note: Limitations of Builtins).
Also, because the colon is used as part of a drivespec, these
systems don't use it as path separator. When creating or accessing
paths, you can use the `PATH_SEPARATOR' output variable instead.
`configure' sets this to the appropriate value for the build system
(`:' or `;') when it starts up.
File names need extra care as well. While DOS variants that are
Posixy enough to run `autoconf' (such as DJGPP) are usually able to
handle long file names properly, there are still limitations that can
seriously break packages. Several of these issues can be easily
detected by the doschk
A short overview follows; problems are marked with SFN/LFN to
indicate where they apply: SFN means the issues are only relevant to
plain DOS, not to DOS under Microsoft Windows variants, while LFN
identifies problems that exist even under Microsoft Windows variants.
No multiple dots (SFN)
DOS cannot handle multiple dots in file names. This is an
especially important thing to remember when building a portable
configure script, as `autoconf' uses a .in suffix for template
This is perfectly OK on Posix variants:
but it causes problems on DOS, as it requires `config.h.in',
`source.c.in' and `foo.bar.in'. To make your package more portable
to DOS-based environments, you should use this instead:
No leading dot (SFN)
DOS cannot handle file names that start with a dot. This is
usually not important for `autoconf'.
Case insensitivity (LFN)
DOS is case insensitive, so you cannot, for example, have both a
file called `INSTALL' and a directory called `install'. This also
affects `make'; if there's a file called `INSTALL' in the
directory, `make install' does nothing (unless the `install'
target is marked as PHONY).
The 8+3 limit (SFN)
Because the DOS file system only stores the first 8 characters of
the file name and the first 3 of the extension, those must be
unique. That means that `foobar-part1.c', `foobar-part2.c' and
`foobar-prettybird.c' all resolve to the same file name
(`FOOBAR-P.C'). The same goes for `foo.bar' and `foo.bartender'.
The 8+3 limit is not usually a problem under Microsoft Windows, as
it uses numeric tails in the short version of file names to make
them unique. However, a registry setting can turn this behavior
off. While this makes it possible to share file trees containing
long file names between SFN and LFN environments, it also means
the above problem applies there as well.
Invalid characters (LFN)
Some characters are invalid in DOS file names, and should therefore
be avoided. In a LFN environment, these are `/', `\', `?', `*',
`:', `<', `>', `|' and `"'. In a SFN environment, other
characters are also invalid. These include `+', `,', `[' and `]'.
Invalid names (LFN)
Some DOS file names are reserved, and cause problems if you try to
use files with those names. These names include `CON', `AUX',
`COM1', `COM2', `COM3', `COM4', `LPT1', `LPT2', `LPT3', `NUL', and
`PRN'. File names are case insensitive, so even names like
`aux/config.guess' are disallowed.
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