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When would sage -sh not work?

When is ./sage -sh NOT supposed to work? That is, where should this work in the spkg build process? My sense is that it should work almost immediately - even before Python, right? - but sometimes I get the message about it not working in the middle of a build I need to ./sage -sh in to set environment variables correctly.

An acceptable answer to this could include any other way to set the appropriate variables during a build.

When would sage -sh not work?

When is ./sage -sh NOT supposed to work? That is, where should this work in the spkg build process? My sense is that it should work almost immediately - even before Python, right? - but sometimes I get the message about it not working in the middle of a build I need to ./sage -sh in to set environment variables correctly.

I should point out that currently I have a lot of stuff built - Python, Pari, GSL, ecl, elliptic curves - but when I do what the message says (edit \$SAGE_ROOT in ./sage) then I just get a message about sage-sage not existing in local/bin, which it is true, it does not.

An acceptable answer to this could include any other way to set the appropriate variables during a build.