The cabbage patch for linker scripts

| categories: fedora

Quick quiz: what package provides ld? If you said binutils and not gcc, you are a winner! That's not actually the story, I just tend to forget which package to look at when digging into problems. This is actually a story about binutils, linker scripts, and toolchains.

Usually by -rc4, the kernel is fairly stable so I was a bit surprised when the kernel was failing on arm64:

ld: cannot open linker script file ldscripts/aarch64elf.xr: No such file or directory

There weren't many changes to arm64 so it was pretty easy to narrow down the problem to a seemingly harmless change. If you are running a toolchain on a standard system such as Fedora, you will probably expect it to "just work". And it should if everything goes to plan! binutils is a very powerful library though and can be configured to allow for emulating a bunch of less standard linkers, if you run ld -V you can see what's available:

$ ld -V
GNU ld version 2.29.1-23.fc28
  Supported emulations:
   aarch64linux
   aarch64elf
   aarch64elf32
   aarch64elf32b
   aarch64elfb
   armelf
   armelfb
   aarch64linuxb
   aarch64linux32
   aarch64linux32b
   armelfb_linux_eabi
   armelf_linux_eabi
   i386pep
   i386pe

This is what's on my Fedora system. Depending on how your toolchain is compiled, the output may be different. A common variant toolchain setup is the 'bare metal' toolchain. This is (generally) a toolchain that's designed to compile binaries to run right on the hardware without an OS. The kernel technically meets this definition and provides all its own linker scripts so in theory you should be able to compile the kernel with a properly configured bare metal toolchain. What the harmless looking change did was switch the emulation mode from linux to one that works with bare metal toolchains.

So why wasn't it working? Looking across the system, I found no trace of the file aarch64elf.xr, yet clearly it was expecting it. Because this seemed to be something internal to the toolchain, I decided to try another one. Linaro helpfully provides toolchains for compiling arm targets. Turns out the Linaro toolchain worked. strace helpfully showed where it was picking up the file1:

lstat("/opt/gcc-linaro-7.1.1-2017.08-x86_64_aarch64-linux-gnu/aarch64-linux-gnu/lib/ldscripts/aarch64elf.xr", {st_mode=S_IFREG|0644, st_size=5299, ...}) = 0

So clearly the file was supposed to be included. Looking at the build log for Fedora's binutils, I could definitely see the scripts being installed. Further down the build log, there was also a nice rm -rf removing the directory where these scripts were installed to. This very deliberately exists in the spec file for building binutils with a comment about gcc. The history doesn't make it completely clear, but I suspect this was either intended to avoid conflicts with something gcc generated or it was 'borrowed' from gcc to remove files Fedora didn't care about. Linaro, on the other hand, chose to package the files with their toolchain. Given Linaro has a strong embedded background, it would make sense for them to care about emulation modes that might be used on more traditional embedded hardware.

For one last piece of the puzzle, if all the linker scripts are rm -rf'd why does the linker work at all, shouldn't it complain? The binutils source has the answer. If you trace through the source tree, you can find a folder with all the emulation options, along with the template they use for generating the structure representation. There's a nice check for $COMPILE_IN to actually build a linker script into the binary. The file genscripts.sh is actually responsible for generating all the linker scripts and will compile in the default script. This makes sense, since you want the default case to be fast and not hit the file system.

I ended up submitting a revert of the patch since this was a regression, but it turns out Debian suffers from a similar problem. The real take away here is toolchains are tricky. Choose yours carefully.


  1. You also know a file is a bit archaic when it has a comment about the Solaris linker 


What's a kernel devel package anyway

| categories: fedora

One of the first concepts you learn when building open source software is the existance of -devel packages. You have package foo to provide some functionality and foo-devel for building other programs with the foo functionality. The kernel follows this pattern in its own special kernel way for building external modules.

First a little bit about how a module is built. A module is really just a fancy ELF file compiled and linked with the right options. It has .text, .data, and other kernel specific sections. Some parts of the build environment also get embedded in modules. Modules are also just a socially acceptable way to run arbitrary code in kernel mode. Modules are loaded via a system call (either by fd or an mmaped address). The individual sections (.text., .data etc.) get placed based on the ELF header. The kernel does some basic checks on the ELF header to make sure it's not complete crap (loading for an incorrect arch etc.) but can also do some more complicated verification. Each module gets a version magic embedded in the ELF file. This needs to match the running kernel but can be overridden with a force option. There's also CONFIG_MODVERSIONS which will generate a crc over functions and exported symbols to make sure they match the kernel that was built. If the CRC in the module and kernel don't match, the module loading will fail.

Now consider an out of tree module. The upstream Linux kernel doesn't provide an ABI guarantee. In order to build an external module, you need to use the same tree that was used to build the kernel. You might be able to get away with using a different base but it's not guaranteed to work. These requirements are well documented. Actually packaging the entire build tree would be large and unecessary. Fedora ends up packaging a subset of the build tree:

  • Kconfigs and Makefiles
  • header files, both generic and architecture specific
  • Some userspace binaries built at make modules_prepare time
  • The kernel symbol map
  • Module.symvers
  • A few linker files for some arches

Annoyingly, because each distribution does something different, all of this has to be done manually. This also means we find bugs when there are new dependencies that need to be packaged. I really wish we could just get away with building the module dependencies at runtime but doesn't work with the requirements.


More kbuild for reproducible builds

| categories: fedora

I'm still working on patches to deal with build ids for the kernel. One issue I spent way too long figuring out was that if you just do a basic make for the kernel, some local environment information will be picked up on each build. This means that the build id will not be the same between builds of the same source tree because the sha1 sum is going to be different. This has the funny effect of meaning that the problem of unique build ids is actually solved for the vmlinux itself but still not modules or the vDSO.

Among the list of common commands you learn for Linux is uname. If you run uname -a you'll see something like

Linux localhost.localdomain 4.17.0-0.rc3.git4.1.fc29.x86_64 #1 SMP
Fri May 4 19:41:58 UTC 2018 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux

What's most interesting for this discussion is a subset with uname -v

#1 SMP Fri May 4 19:41:58 UTC 2018

This is some version information about when this kernel was built. All this can technically be namespaced but by default these values come from generated defines at compile time, specifically UTS_VERSION. You can see how this gets generated from scripts/mkcompile_h

The timestamp is fairly obvious and the Kbuild infrastructure provides an easy override to set it to a fixed value (KBUILD_BUILD_TIMESTAMP= some string that can be passed to date -d). A bit more obtuse (at least for me) was the #1. This is a value stored in a file called .version. This gets updated every time scripts/linux-vmlinux.sh is run. It is, in fact, designed to be a release number to differentiate between builds. After too many hours of debugging it also ends up feeling like some sort of achievement for a video game ("You have managed to compile the kernel .version times while working on this particular issue.") This can also be set with KBUILD_BUILD_VERSION.

The short and sweet summary is that if I actually want to verify things with build ids I can set KBUILD_BUILD_TIMESTAMP and KBUILD_BUILD_VERSION to fixed values to get a consistent build id across compiles. It's worth noting that modules can end up with a consistent build id without setting anything extra because they (typically) don't use UTS_VERSION anywhere. Now all I need to do is finish cleaning up some patches.


The opinion nobody asked for

| categories: hottakes

Tired and cranky is probably not the best time to write a blog post but here it goes anyway. The business world seems to love to talk about 'authenticity' and 'bringing your whole self' to work. That applies to what you talk about, especially if you are a Woman in Tech(tm). If you are passionate about talking about diversity and those issues because it's part of who you are, go for it. If you'd rather not talk about those issues because it's not who you are, that's okay. Most important is to know why you are making your choices. It's okay to change your mind too.

None of this is an excuse to not care at all though. The real trick is to figure out how you work best. Maybe you're better at talking to other privately. Maybe you boost up other people who do want to share their story. Maybe you spend your time organizing. There's lots of ways to make the tech industry better and most important is learning how to do it in the way that works for you. We can all do better.


Fantastic kernel patches and where to find them

| categories: fedora

I've griped before about kernel development being scattered and spread about. A quick grep of MAINTAINERS shows over 200 git trees and even more mailing lists. Today's discussion is a partial enumeration of some common mailing lists, git trees and patchwork instances. You can certainly find some of this in the MAINTAINERS file.

  • LKML. The main mailing list. This is the one everyone thinks of when they think 'kernel'. Really though, it mostly serves as an archive of everything at this point. I do not recommend e-mailing just LKML with no other lists or people. Sometimes you'll get a response but think of it more as writing to your blog that has 10 followers you've never met, 7 of which are bots. Or your twitter. There is a patchwork instance and various mail archives out there. I haven't found one I actually like as much as GMANE unfortunately. The closest corresponding git tree is the master where all releases happen.

  • The stable mailing list. This is where patches go to be picked up for stable releases. The stable release have a set of rules for how patches are picked up. Most important is that the patch must be in Linus' tree before it will be applied to stable. Greg KH is the main stable maintainer. He does a fantastic job for taking care of the large number of patches that come in. In general, if a patch is properly tagged for stable yes it will show up eventually. There is a tree for his queue of patches to be applied along with stable git trees

  • Linux -next. This is the closest thing to an integration tree right now. The goal is to find merge conflicts and bugs before they hit Linus' tree. All the work of merging trees is handled manually. Typically subsystem maintainers have a branch that's designated for -next which gets pulled in on a daily basis. Running -next is not usually recommended for anything more than "does this fix your problem" unless you are willing to actively report bugs. Running -next and learning how to report bugs is a great way to get involved though. There's a tree with tags per day.

  • The -mm tree. This gets its name from memory management but really it's Andrew Morton's queue. Lots of odd fixes end up getting queued through here. Officially, this gets maintained with quilt. The tree for -next "mmotm" (mm of the moment) is available as a series. If you just want the memory management part of the tree, there's a tree available for that.

  • Networking. netdev is the primary mailing list which covers everything from core networking infrastructure to drivers. And there's even a patchwork instance too! David Miller is the top level networking maintainer and has a tree for all your networking needs. He has a separate -next tree. One thing to keep in mind is that networking patches are sent to stable in batches and not just tagged and picked up by Greg KH. This sometimes means a larger gap between when a patch lands in Linus' branch and when it gets into a stable release.

  • Fedora tree. Most of the git trees listed above are "source git/src-git" trees, meaning it's the actual source code. Fedora officially distributes everything in "pkg-git" form. If you look at the official Fedora kernel repository, you'll see it contains a bunch of patches and support files. This is similar to the -mm and -stable-queue. Josh Boyer (Fedora kernel maintainer emeritus) has some scripts to take the Fedora pkg-git and put it on kernel.org. This gets updated automatically with each build.

  • DRM. This is for anything and everything related to graphics. Most everything is hosted a freedesktop.org, including the mailing list. Recently, DRM has switched to a group maintainer model (Daniel Vetter has written about some of this philosophy before). Ultimately though, all the patches will come through the main DRM git repo. There's a DRM -tip for -next like testing of all the latest graphics work. Graphics maintainers may occasionally request you test that tree if you have graphics problems. There's also a patchwork instance.


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