VerySillyMUD: Adding Autotools

This post is part of my “VerySillyMUD” series, chronicling an attempt to refactor an old MUD into working condition [ 1 ].

In our last episode, we got all the remaining compiler warnings fixed. While I was merging the pull request for it, I noticed GitHub was prompting me to get continuous integration set up. I had run across Travis CI, and knew that it was free to use for open source projects. A quick peek around their documentation shows that they support C, but that they assume the use of GNU autotools for building. Since a friend had already identified weirdness from the runs of makedepend I had done on my own computer and checked in, I actually already had an issue open for this. Seems like the universe is trying to tell me something!

Conveniently, autotools comes with a sample project and a pretty good step-by-step tutorial. We also have a working Makefile that we can use for reference–for now I’m just going to make a temporary copy of it as Makefile.orig so that I can have it for easy reference, and then clean it up later during commit/PR structuring. Since automake is going to overwrite the Makefile, this will be convenient, even though I know a copy of the Makefile is safely tucked away in version control. Ok, let’s start with the toplevel, which for now just has to point to the src/ directory:

Then we need another for the src/ directory. In this case, it looks like the bare minimum is to identify the final executable name and then identify the .c source files. Not sure if we need to add the .h ones or not yet; it could be that autoconf will find those later. Anyway, let’s try this:

As for the in the source directory, we can adapt the sample one from here and try this:

Now, per the instructions, we’re supposed to run autoreconf --install:

Hmm, I had thought that all the CFLAGS would go in the AM_INIT_AUTOMAKE macro, but I guess not. Let’s just put -Werror in there for now and try again:

Ok, this is much closer. Looks like we just have some missing files. For now, I’ll create empty versions of NEWS, README, AUTHORS, and ChangeLog, and remember to create an issue to fill those in. As for COPYING, that’s traditionally the license file, so we’ll just make a copy of doc/license.doc and use that. Now when we run autoreconf --install it completes successfully! Ok, let’s try running ./configure:

Wow, that worked. Ok, let’s try doing a make:

Ah, failure. A quick look at the output shows we’re missing some CFLAGS; this might be the source of this compilation error, since one of the compilation flags was -DGROUP_NAMES and that might be what the gname field is for. A quick look at the declaration of struct char_special_data in structs.h confirms this is the case. Ok, so we just need to figure out how to get the CFLAGS declared properly. According to this answer on StackOverflow, it seems we can just add them in the file.


In the process of looking for advice on adding the CFLAGS, I ran across a description of the autoscan tool that will scan your source code and suggest missing macro invocations for your A quick run shows that we’re mostly missing detection of the header files we include and the library functions we call, so we’ll just add that in too:

AC_CHECK_HEADERS([arpa/inet.h fcntl.h malloc.h netdb.h netinet/in.h
  stdlib.h string.h strings.h sys/socket.h sys/time.h unistd.h])


AC_CHECK_FUNCS([bzero gethostbyaddr gethostbyname gethostname
  getpagesize gettimeofday inet_ntoa isascii memset select socket
  strchr strdup strrchr strstr])

And…wow! It builds without errors. Now, there’s still a few things missing here, like actually using the defined macros in the config.h that the configure script generates; we also haven’t gotten the tests running yet, or looked at what make install wants to do. So let’s get started with the tests. The first thing we’re going to want to do is pull the common source code files out into their own variable:

common_sources = comm.c act.comm.c act.move.c act.obj1.c \
 act.obj2.c act.other.c act.wizard.c handler.c \
 db.c interpreter.c utility.c spec_assign.c shop.c limits.c mobact.c \
 fight.c modify.c weather.c spells1.c spells2.c spell_parser.c \
 reception.c constants.c spec_procs.c signals.c board.c magic.c \
 magic2.c skills.c Opinion.c Trap.c magicutils.c multiclass.c hash.c \
 Sound.c Heap.c spec_procs2.c magic3.c security.c spec_procs3.c \
        create.c bsd.c parser.c intrinsics.c
dmserver_SOURCES = $(common_sources) main.c

At this point, while perusing through the automake manual to figure out how to do tests, I discovered there was a better way to define the symbols instead of adding them to CFLAGS in; there’s an automake variable for this called AM_CFLAGS, so we just move the flags over to instead. But in the meantime, the next step towards tests would be to correctly find the header files and library for Criterion in the configure script, so that the generated Makefile looks for them in the right place. We can do this by adding the following to

  echo "***WARNING***: unit tests will not be runnable without Criterion library"
  echo "  See"
  echo "***WARNING***: unit tests will not be runnable without Criterion library"
  echo "  See"

After a little more perusing through the autotools manual, it turns out instead of the echo command there’s a canonical way to do this using the AC_MSG_WARN macro, as in:

  AC_MSG_WARN(unit tests will not be runnable without Criterion library)

Now, when we then run make, we find the Criterion library, but the final dmserver executable gets linked with -lcriterion, which we don’t want, because as you may recall, that library has a main() function in it that is going to try to run test suites, so we don’t actually want the default action of AC_CHECK_LIB. Instead, we need to fake it out:

  AC_MSG_WARN(unit tests will not be runnable without Criterion library)

And now we can go ahead and build the unit test program and indicate that’s what should run during make check by adding the following to src/

# unit tests
check_PROGRAMS = tests
tests_SOURCES = $(common_sources) test.act.wizard.c
tests_LDADD = -lcriterion
TESTS = tests

Sure enough, we can run the tests:

Nice. Ok, now these hardcoded AM_CFLAGS are still bothering me. Really, we ought to be able to opt into and out of them via feature enabling/disabling from configure. My friend Dan would probably, at this point, say “Why?” in incredulity, but this is not an exercise in practicality, per se… The way we do that is to add these flags to, which will cause configure to output them into config.h. We can do that with stanzas like the following:

        [Define as 1 to restrict each level 58+ god to one site or set of
    [turn off site-locking for gods])],

Ok, then we need to just go around and include config.h in all the .c and .h files, and then we can remove the AM_CFLAGS from Cleaner! At this point, the last thing to do is to get make install to work. It turns out the default action for the MUD server itself is the right one, but we also need to collect the data files and install them. This can be done by creating Makefile.ams in various subdirectories. For example, here’s the one for the top-level lib/ directory:

Then the last thing to is to make the compiled server look there by default. The configure script takes a --localstatedir argument to customize where those data directories get created; we really want the game to have that path compiled into it as a default path. After much noodling through StackOverflow and the automake manuals, it looks like the best way to do this is a multi-step process in order to get the right amount of variable expansion. First, we have to bring our friend AM_CFLAGS back and pass the Makefile level variable $(localstatedir) in as a symbol definition:

AM_CFLAGS = -DLOCAL_STATE_DIR=\"$(localstatedir)\"

Then, we can add the following to

  [Default location to look for game data files])

…which results in the following showing up in config.h:

/* Default location to look for game data files */

This makes whatever got passed in to the --localstatedir argument of configure, which defaults to /usr/local/var, to show up as a string literal LOCAL_STATE_DIR. In C, two string literals adjacent to one another get concatenated, so this results in DEFAULT_LIBDIR being something like /usr/local/var/sillymud. At this point, we’re able to run make install and run /usr/local/bin/dmserver. I think for our next episode, it’s time to do a little play testing to see how well things are working and what else needs fixing!

[ 1 ] SillyMUD was a derivative of DikuMUD, which was originally created by Sebastian Hammer, Michael Seifert, Hans Henrik Stærfeldt, Tom Madsen, and Katja Nyboe.