Often, one wants to build not only programs, but libraries, so that other programs can benefit from the fruits of your labor. Ideally, one would like to produce shared (dynamically linked) libraries, which can be used by multiple programs without duplication on disk or in memory and can be updated independently of the linked programs. Producing shared libraries portably, however, is the stuff of nightmares—each system has its own incompatible tools, compiler flags, and magic incantations. Fortunately, GNU provides a solution: Libtool. (See Introduction in The Libtool Manual.)
Libtool handles all the requirements of building shared libraries for you, and at this time seems to be the only way to do so with any portability. It also handles many other headaches, such as: the interaction of Make rules with the variable suffixes of shared libraries, linking reliably with shared libraries before they are installed by the superuser, and supplying a consistent versioning system (so that different versions of a library can be installed or upgraded without breaking binary compatibility). Although Libtool, like Autoconf, can be used without Automake, it is most simply utilized in conjunction with Automake—there, Libtool is used automatically whenever shared libraries are needed, and you need not know its syntax.
Automake provides support for GNU Libtool. See Shared libraries.