Keeping Packages Vanilla – 2. Configuration

Normally when you write an article and label it with part one, it is followed soon after with a part two. Well, a lot more than two years later, I discovered this draft…. So this is part two of me rambling about what I think it means to keep packages “vanilla”. See here for the first part in which I discussed patching. Looking at configure options and dependencies is probably less clear than patching, but lets see if I come to a conclusion in this wall of text!

As I said in the previous post, in an ideal world we could just do “./configure; make; make install” and all packages would build perfectly and interact with each other the way they are supposed to. I will attempt to categorize the various options that can be added to configure and by how they change the package. This will be mostly done by looking at examples from the packages I maintain (or now, packages that I used to maintain) for Arch Linux.

The first type of configure option that will (almost) always be used is setting paths for where various files are located. Most Linux distributions will build their packages with “--prefix=/usr” and perhaps several other configuration options to set file paths. Arch Linux is not a fan of the /libexec directory so uses --libexecdir=/usr/lib where needed. (It appears that moving away from that directory is becoming widespread these days, right after the draft FHS added it…) There used to be a lot of moving of man and info pages to the “right place”, but that is automatically done in most packages these days. I doubt that anyone would consider these types of configuration options to make a package non-vanilla, unless they were set to very extreme values.

The second set of configure flags are those that enable additional features. For example, GMP can be built using the configure flag --enable-cxx to enable C++ support. That builds an additional library and adds an extra header to the package, but does not alter the primary library. Similarly, using --enable-pcre16 and --enable-pcre32 when configuring PCRE adds 16 and 32 bit character support libraries. Given these options have no effect on the primary part of the software and just add completely separate parts to it, it would be hard to argue that such configuration options are not vanilla.

So lets move onto configuration options that actually alter the software. Lets start with glibc, binutils and gcc which all have


set in the Arch Linux packages. Is that vanilla? It can be argued that I am setting a value not considered by upstream, but clearly upstream thought allowing the package to set such a value was a good idea given there is a configuration option. So I’d say that is still vanilla.

How about Less which is configured with --with-regex=pcre and adds a dependency to the software. There is actually quite a number of possible values for this configuration option:


Looking at that list, I would suppose auto is the most vanilla, as that is what happens if you do not specify the option. But it is also the least deterministic, in that it will pick a different option based on what is installed on your system. In fact, on my system it picks “posix” by default, which was a moderate surprise to me. Given that these options are all provided by the software developer (and so should all be supported), I think you could make the case they all are vanilla. But I would be surprised to see (at least) the last five options used on any Linux system, so calling them vanilla is a stretch.

What is the conclusion? I suppose that configuration options are mostly put there to be used by the upstream developers so any use of them would be considered vanilla. But keep in mind what a software developer would expect. Picking strange configurations compared to what is usual for your operating system is likely to get you (virtual) weird looks from upstream, so that can not be considered a vanilla configuration.

Perhaps this part is more boring than the discussion of patching. But the second part of a trilogy is rarely the greatest. Part 3 should appear soon…

2 thoughts on “Keeping Packages Vanilla – 2. Configuration

  1. but what about programs that alter the content of the program, like… er… common files that with option A add some fles and with option B add different files but the package can’t have A and B at same time.