Fixing the “autoreconf: command not found” Error in Linux and Unix

When trying to run the autoreconf command in a Linux or Unix terminal, you may encounter the frustrating “autoreconf: command not found” error. This failure occurs because the required Autoconf tools are missing from your system.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explain the autoreconf command, show you how to properly install the Autoconf packages, and cover additional solutions to fix the “autoreconf: command not found” problem for good. Whether you’re trying to configure source code or build applications, these tips will get the essential autoreconf tool functioning smoothly.

What is the Autoreconf Command?

The autoreconf command is part of GNU’s Autoconf suite of system configuration tools. It automatically generates configuration scripts for source code based on the project’s requirements.

Specifically, autoreconf will inspect the code and generate the necessary configure scripts, files, and other configuration files needed to compile the application properly on a given system.

This automation saves developers from having to manually write all the detection logic and portability code required for cross-platform builds. The autoreconf command handles the configuration grunt work automatically.

So when you attempt to run autoreconf but get “command not found”, the Autoconf tools are not installed correctly on your system. Let’s look at how to fix that.

Installing the Autoconf Tools on Linux

Here’s how to install Autoconf, autoreconf, and related tools on popular Linux distributions:

On Debian/Ubuntu:

sudo apt update
sudo apt install autoconf autogen automake libtool


sudo yum update 
sudo yum install autoconf automake gcc gcc-c++ libtool

On Arch Linux:

sudo pacman -Syu
sudo pacman -S autoconf automake libtool

On Fedora:

sudo dnf upgrade
sudo dnf install autoconf automake libtool gcc gcc-c++

This will install the latest Autoconf, Automake, and Libtool packages from your distro’s repositories along with any required dependencies like GCC.

Installing Autoconf on Mac

If using macOS, you can install the Autoconf tools through Homebrew:

brew update
brew install autoconf automake libtool

For MacPorts:

sudo port selfupdate
sudo port install autoconf automake libtool

And via Mac Linux Brew:

brew install autoconf automake libtool

This will add the autoconf, automake, and related programs to your system PATH on Mac.

Compiling Autoconf from Source

Alternatively, you can install Autoconf by compiling the latest source code:

  1. Download the Autoconf, Automake, and Libtool source tarballs from
  2. Extract the source archives:
tar xvf autoconf-latest.tar.gz
tar xvf automake-latest.tar.gz
tar xvf libtool-latest.tar.gz
  1. Change into each source directory and run:
make install
  1. Optionally remove the leftover directories:
rm -rf autoconf automake libtool

This will manually build and install the newest Autoconf toolchain from source on your system.

Adding Autoconf to Your PATH

With the Autoconf tools installed, verify they are available in your PATH environment variable.

Try running autoreconf --version. If it still shows “command not found”, you may need to add the install location to your PATH.

On many Linux distros, the Autoconf tools are placed in /usr/local/bin by default. But this can vary.

Run which autoreconf to check where it was installed. Then add that folder to PATH either temporarily like:

export PATH=$PATH:/path/to/autoconf/bin

Or permanently by editing your ~/.bash_profile or ~/.bashrc and adding:

export PATH=$PATH:/path/to/autoconf/bin

Now close and reopen your terminal, and autoreconf should be recognized.

Troubleshooting and Alternatives

If you still see the “autoreconf: command not found” after installing Autoconf, here are some steps to troubleshoot:

  • Double check Autoconf is in your $PATH or use the full installation path like /usr/local/bin/autoreconf
  • Try reinstalling Autoconf and Automake in case the initial installation became corrupted
  • Use Homebrew or your package manager instead of compiling from source for an easier install
  • Search for your Linux distribution’s specific autoreconf install instructions if needed
  • Install the missing dependency packages like GCC, Bash, Make, Perl, etc.
  • As a temporary alternative, use aclocal && autoconf && automake && autoheader

This will regenerate the configure scripts and Makefiles similar to autoreconf until you resolve the issue.

Why Do I Need the Autoreconf Command?

Now that you understand how to install autoreconf, you may be wondering why it’s needed. There are a few key reasons developers utilize autoreconf:

  • Automatically generate configure scripts and Makefiles for source code portability
  • Recreate the config files after changes to Autoconf macro definitions
  • Refresh the configuration when transitioning code between systems
  • Install code from version control that doesn’t include the generated config files
  • Remake the config system after adding m4 macros or Autoconf archive files
  • Standardize config creation without hand-writing Makefiles for every project

In short, the autoreconf command abstracts away the complex config details and ensures projects conform to Autoconf best practices. This makes life easier for developers working across many different systems.

When to Rerun the Autoreconf Command

For Autoconf-based projects, you’ll need to rerun autoreconf in certain situations:

  • After pulling code from version control that is missing the generated configure script and – autoreconf regenerates them
  • When switching the code to build on another machine – it recreates portable config files
  • After adding new Autoconf macro definitions in .m4 files
  • When updating to a newer version of Autoconf – updates to the macro standards may require regeneration
  • If you receive build errors that reference outdated or missing config files
  • After adding macros from the Autoconf Archive – these macros often need autoreconf to be incorporated
  • When moving projects from Autoconf to Automake-based Makefiles

In general, remember to rerun autoreconf whenever the underlying configuration system changes or needs to be ported. This will recreate the config files from scratch.

Autoreconf Usage and Examples

Once installed and working, autoreconf can be run with various options:

  • autoreconf – Generate configure from and from
  • autoreconf -f – Force regeneration even if config files seem up to date already
  • autoreconf -i – Recreate config files and update dependency info in files
  • autoreconf -v – Display verbose details about each step in the process

For example, to generate the configure script for a project using Autoconf macros:

cd source_code/
autoreconf -i

This will scan the codebase, check dependencies, and produce the configure script necessary to build on that system.

Autoreconf vs Autogen – What’s the Difference?

The autogen script serves a similar purpose to autoreconf – automatically generating project configuration. So what’s the difference between the two?

  • autoreconf recreates just the Autoconf configuation like configure based on .ac files
  • autogen runs Autoconf and may also run Automake, Libtool and other steps
  • autogen is a user-created shell script tailored for the project
  • autoreconf is a generic utility provided by Autoconf

So in summary:

  • Use autoreconf when you just need to regenerate the Autoconf configure scripts
  • Use autogen when your project requires additional build steps beyond Autoconf

Either can be suitable depending on your needs – just remember autoreconf focuses specifically on Autoconf.


Dealing with “autoreconf: command not found” errors? This comprehensive guide armed you with the knowledge to install the Autoconf suite, add it to your PATH, troubleshoot issues, understand when and why autoreconf is needed, and use it properly in your projects.

Rather thanmanuelly configuring every new system, let the autoreconf commandtake the hassle out of porting your code. By leveraging its Autoconfautomation under the hood, you can concentrate on developing instead of rebuilding config files by hand.

With the autoreconf tool ready and working smoothly, you can take on configuring and compiling cross-platform applications with ease. Autoconf will handle the dirty work, leaving you to focus on building amazing things!

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