LFS, round #6

It’s been a while since I wrote a technical post in this series, since the last post I made a build of what I called Viewpoint Linux Distribution available. This post will cover the time between the last post (round #5) and the launch of the distro.

By the time I’d written the previous post, things had roughly taken shape and I was thinking about what would sit on top via packaged software. Being interested in Guix from afar I thought about using that as there had been some interesting talks about it at FOSDEM‘s Declarative and Minimalistic Computing devroom a month prior. Didn’t end up going down that route as Guix requires GNU Guile, GnuTLS, and various extensions for Guile. It’s not so much of a problem what its requirements are but that I would have to ship and maintain copies of these in the base OS and I didn’t want to do that so I stuck with what I knew. I’ve spent a lot of time with pkgsrc and am comfortable working with it. pkgsrc gives you control where it satisfies dependencies and as long as you have a shell & compiler installed it can get itself to a working state. Unless specified, the bootstrap process on Linux opts to satisfy all dependencies from itself and ignore anything already installed on the system. This behaviour can be overridden by specifying --prefer-native yes when bootstrapping and in this scenario it was preferable since the OS was using recent if not latest available versions of things. Despite preferring native components, when it came to building packages, things that were present on the OS were being built again anyway, specifically readline.

$ cd /usr/pkgsrc/shells/bash ; bmake show-var VARNAME=IS_BUILTIN.readline
no

After some investigation it turned out the builtin detection mechanism was not working and so dependencies would always get built, this was due to a difference between where libraries are installed when following the LFS guide and where pkgsrc expects to find them. The instructions in the LFS guide specify /usr/lib for libdir and pkgsrc expects to find them in /usr/lib${LIBABISUFFIX} which in this case would expand to /usr/lib64. Just to move thing along I patched pkgsrc/mk/platform/Linux.mk to include /usr/lib for _OPSYS_SYSTEM_RPATH / _OPSYS_LIB_DIRS and builtin detection then started working. With a working packaging system, I began packaging BCC and bpftrace though opted to use the bpftrace binary which the project produces with every release in the end. This made things easier as there is a working environment out of the box to start with and if BCC is needed, it can be installed, but since the BPF Performance Tools book is largely about using bpftrace, you get to start off without dealing with packaging. By keeping the packaging system a separate component, it also saves on shipping a bootstrap kit for the packaging system with every release and likely stale packages depending on how quickly things evolve. I dislike the idea of having to run a package update on first boot to shed the stale packages which are shipped with the OS.

After testing various things out I set out to make a new build of the distro to publish, this time opting to use lib64 as the libdir to reduce the need for changes to pkgsrc, I have not attempted any large runs of bulkbuilds but Emacs 21 package was definitely not happy as it expected to find some things in /usr/lib.

There are various packages which ship with DTrace USDT probes which bpftrace can also make use of. This involves building those packages with DTrace support enabled and using SystemTap which provides a Python script called dtrace to do the relevant work, on Linux. I created a package but since it require Python, it created a circular dependency when using Python 3, as Python 3 has USDT probes. As a workaround to sidestep the issue, my SystemTap package uses Python 2, which is still supported by SystemTap. To enable building with DTrace support I introduced a “dtrace tool” which pulled in SystemTap as dependency on Linux when USE_TOOLS+=dtrace was specified, and nothing on other platforms. I then added USE_TOOLS+=dtrace across the tree where dtrace was a supported option.

bpftrace listing the USDT probes found in libpython built from the Python 3.8 package in pkgsrc

With the OS rebuild, I dropped nscd(8) from the system, the thought of having up to three caching resolvers seemed a bit excessive (nscd/systemd-resolved/unbound). This post highlights why you might not want nscd support on your system. As part of the rebuild I began populating the repository with sources for everything that would ship with distro, it was a tedious process that slowed that as I progressed through the build and imported more and more components, because on the initial import I would roll the tree back to the start to import into a branch, update to the tip of the tree, merge the branch, repeat. I used the hg-git mercurial plugin to convert and push the tree to a Git mirror

The kernel config used started life as the default config which gets created when you run make defconfig and built up from there to cover what the LFS guide suggests and those required by BCC / bpftrace. Testing that X11 worked ok revealed that I was missing various options, from lack of mouse support to support for emulated graphics, the safe bet being the VMware virtual card to use on VirtualBox (VMSVGA which is default) and QEMU, other options resulted in offset problems with the cursor where it would appear on one place on the screen but clicks and drags would register at a different location. Everything works out of the box with VMware option.

I’ve been really impressed by how quickly the system boots and shuts down (not having an initrd image to load and minimal drivers to probe for, account for that), I hope I don’t end up loosing that. I used the work leading up to the release as an excuse to start using org-mode on Emacs. Following the beginners guide I now have a long list of todo items which I work through. The next big item is build infrastructure so I can turn around releases quicker.

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