Autodist is closely related to the Autoconf and Automake tools, and complements the features Autoconf and Automake provides. It is especially targeted into circumstances where multiple distributions are created from one source tree. The Autoconf and Automake environment is mainly designed for one distribution (one application) per one source tree situations. Autodist provides mechanisms to create all kinds of distributions that can be created from one source tree. To be able to use Autodist, the Autoconf and Automake must be installed into the system (see Integrating Autodist). Autoconf version must be at least 2.52g.
Small software projects usually do very well with Autoconf and Automake and their distribution management features. Often these projects do not need Autodist, though they can benefit from it. However, if your software project is large, you need to create multiple distributions from one source tree, you have complex licensing terms for different distributions, you have different target users or customers that may require different feature set or licenses in different distributions, you have need to continue concurrent development in the main source tree and still be able to create stable distributions, and/or you have need to control file content in different distributions (to avoid distributing code or features that aren't supposed to be distributed, or to avoid leaking information to your competitors on what new features you are working on), then Autodist is a tool you may find usefull.
The motivation behind Autodist stems from need to be able to create multiple distributions from one large source tree in a precise and controllable manner, and guarantee that anything that is not part of the distribution is removed from the distribution. The Autoconf and Automake provides mere basic control what is included in and excluded from distributions and how the distributions are created. They also do not provide mechanism to define different licensing conditions for different distributions, or changing the license automatically for different user or customer purposes. Many large software projects, companies and corporations have commonly been using Autoconf and Automake tools, but have had the need to create their own ad-hoc mechanisms to control distribution creation. The Autodist attempts to provide a tool that any size software project can effectively use to manage their distributions.
Without a tool like Autodist, large software projects usually have to be split into separate source trees, which may not always be possible because they may share large portions of common code (which may further make concurrent development of the applications hard), or multiple Autoconf and Automake environments (multiple configure scripts) needs to be created in one source tree. In this case the source tree usually gets very complicated and controlling what is compiled and what is included in distributions becomes harder, especially when different parts code is shared between applications and libraries.