1. Available options

There is a series of options that can be given to automake, to change its default behaviour to something that more suits the need of the single project.

These options are usually passed to the AM_INIT_AUTOMAKE macro, but most can also be passed via the variable AUTOMAKE_OPTIONS in the top-level Makefile.am. In both representation, it is just a space-separated list of tokens, described further on.

Since not all the options can be passed through Makefile.am, it is recommended to always pass the options through a call to AM_INIT_AUTOMAKE.

Example 2.1. Passing simple automake options

AM_INIT_AUTOMAKE([1.11 silent-rules])

Since each option (or option group) might require a different explanation in different contexts, you can use the following list as a reference for them.

1.8, 1.9, …, 1.12

The minimum (minor) version of automake needed to properly rebuild the current project.

This is usually only used to indicate that the project makes use of features that have been introduced with a given version, which means that it doesn't list micro/patch-level versions (such as 1.12.4), nor can it be used to stop newer versions of automake from rebuilding the project.

gnu, cygnus, gnits, foreign

Choose the “flavour” to use, which specifies some further particular options and warning levels for the current project. See Section 1.1, “Automake flavours”.


Allows the use of Linux kernel-style “silent” output when building. See Section 3, “Silent Building with Automake”. As of automake 1.13, this option is implied by default, and is a complete no-op.


Compile source files in the relative sub-directories, rather than in the directory of the Makefile.am that declares them. See Section 2, “Non-recursive Automake.

dist-gzip, dist-bzip2, dist-xz, dist-zip, …

Defines the archive format for the distribution of sources, as generated by make dist.

-Wgnu, -Wportability, …, -Werror

Enable (or disable) warning categories in automake. These options correspond to the warning options available on automake command line.

1.1. Automake flavours

Among different projects, automake is used with different options and settings. Some of the most important projects have their own flavour settings supported by automake directly, as a single option, these are gnu (the default), cygnus (removed in automake 1.13), gnits and the final foreign which is meant as a "none of the above" option.

Out of these, you generally ought to employ only two: the default settings (which are gnu) and the foreign setting. Most of your projects are likely to use the latter, even though that is not the default, because it relaxes some checks that are, otherwise, often worked around in tutorials.

In particular, the gnits standard is non-existent, only exists as an historical reference in the GNU web site – it may as well not exist at all for the scope of this guide. Similarly the cygnus flavour, used by hierarchical tree projects such as GCC, has been deemed obsolete starting from automake 1.12 and is no longer accepted starting version 1.13, so it's similarly ignored by the rest of the guide.

The two main differences between the gnu and foreign flavours is that the former requires the presence of a number of files in the top-level of the projects, such as NEWS, COPYING, AUTHORS, ChangeLog, README. Often enough, at least the first file in this list is just touch-ed to stop automake from failing.


Even if you plan on using these files the way GNU does, it is still recommended to use the foreign flavour, and manually list these files in Makefile.am so that they are actually installed in the correct place; the gnu flavour only requires them to be distributed, not to be actually installed.

Another important setting that changing the flavour achieves is disabling some of the portability warnings, letting you cleanly use the GNU make extensions, which makes it much cleaner, nicer and faster to write proper build systems.