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Build tools are programs that automate the creation of executable applications from source code. Building incorporates compiling, linking and packaging the code into a usable or executable form. In small projects, developers will often manually invoke the build process. This is not practical for larger projects, where it is very hard to keep track of what needs to be built, in what sequence and what dependencies there are in the building process. Using an automation tool allows the build process to be more consistent.
The primary purpose of the first build tools, such as the GNU make and "makedepend" utilities, commonly found in Unix and Linux-based operating systems, was to automate the calls to the compilers and linkers. Today, as build processes become ever more complex, build automation tools usually support the management of the pre- and post-compile and link activities, as well as the compile and link activities.
The process of code compilation is essential to the creation of software when high-level programming languages are used. Part of the function of the build tool is to cope with errors in the compilation process of complex software systems.
Modern build tools go further in enabling work flow processing by obtaining source code, deploying executables to be tests and even optimizing complex build processes using distributed build technologies, which involves running the build process in a coherent, synchronized manner across several machines.