There is a bewildering array of build systems. None of them are really satisfactory. I had hoped to avoid imposing any requirement as to the build/test system and leave the option to each library author to choose what he felt was most convenient. Some experimentation with my prototype library safe_numerics convinced me that this wasn't realistic and that I would have to require a specific build/test system. I wanted a system which:
would work on the wide variety of environments on which C++ is run.
would gracefully handle variants debug/release, dll/static libraries, etc.
didn't require any customization for each environment.
would include the ability to support both building AND testing of libraries
didn't require elaborate installation and/or scripting.
didn't much, if any, learning curve.
I looked at a few specific alternatives.
In the spirit of keeping things as simple as possible, this was my first choice. But starting with a basic make file, one would need to add a lot of extras functionality to address the requirements in the above list. Basic make doesn't have enough functionality to support all we need so we're forced to specify a build/test system.
Autotools is the traditional Unix solution to the problem of build/test/deployment. It has a long history and is widely used. There is lot's of literature on it as well. It garners a number of complaints about how hard it is to use - but then it seems all of these build systems share that trait. And it doesn't do windows which is sort of deal killer for us. None the less, I wanted to take a look at it. First I looked at my books. It was explained but it did seem pretty complicated. I trolled the net and found a couple of references:
The first one has a graphic on page 16 which helped make it clear how all the pieces of this system fit together. On the other hand, this graphic didn't make it look very easy. I went through the process with my unix-like CYGWIN installation and things seemed to run well until the last step. Again, I had the feeling I could make this work if I was willing to put in more time, but I didn't feel like doing it. An interesting experience but not a good solution for us.
Basically I didn't find what I was looking for. I believe that all/any of these build tools could have been made to work, but at a significant overhead cost and learning curve. Turns out I'm not alone. Searching for a good build system hits dozens of tools with a huge variety of features and capabilities. These tools have been contributed over more than a decade with arriving all the time. Commentary, critique and comparison of all these options strongly suggest that this problem isn't close to being solved yet. So it's fair to assume it's much harder than it would first seem to solve this problem.
Here is a list of miscellaneous links to sites that I found useful in my investigation of Build systems.