Alternatives to waf

Eric S. Raymond esr at
Sun Dec 10 04:21:19 UTC 2017

Hal Murray via devel <devel at>:
> Richard Laager said:
> > While I agree that waf is obscure (and accordingly wish ntpsec used
> > something else), it seems to do the right thing out of the box. 
> What are the alternatives?  Are there any good ones?

I've done a lot of research and experimenting in this area.  My opinions
follow.  There are people who will disagree violently with some or all
of these opinions.

Plain makefiles:  Simple. Don't scale well to large projects. Don't address the
configuration problem (What options do I want to set?) very well.  Don't address
the platform-discovery problem (What APIs are available here?) at all.

autoconf: Everybody's default. Two-phase build system; generates
Makefiles.  Addresses both configuration and discovery, though in
primitive ways.  It's a pile of nasty hacks and bloat internally,
leading to recipes notoriously difficult to maintain and modify.  I
have been expert at it for decades, loathe it intensely, and will
never willingly deploy it again.

scons: One-phase system - does configuration/discovery/build itself,
no generated makefiles.  Strong platform-discovery features.  Recipes
are easy to read, documentation is mostly good with annoying
gaps. Performance so-so.  Dev teram seems asleep at the switch a lot
of the time.

waf: One-phase system.  Very fast builds with automatic
parallelization.  More powerful than scons, also quite a bit harder to
understand.  The waf book might as well be written in Sanskrit or
tensor notation for all the use most people (even build-system experts
like me) can usually get out of it. Maintainer is responsive but his
thought processes are difficult to understand.

cmake: Two-phase system, generates makefiles. Fast, complicated,
fussy, overengineered by Germans, well documented.  I won't touch it
because autoconf taught me that two-phase build systems are too hard
to troubleshoot - it's difficult to go from breakage in the generated
makefiles to diagnostics that make sense at the recipe level.
		<a href="">Eric S. Raymond</a>

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