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10.2 Native Builds

The commands that support impersonating a specific system have the --list-systems and --system options.

The --list-systems option lists all the supported systems that can be passed as an argument to --system.

$ guix build --list-systems
The available systems are:

   - x86_64-linux [current]
   - aarch64-linux
   - armhf-linux
   - i586-gnu
   - i686-linux
   - mips64el-linux
   - powerpc-linux
   - powerpc64le-linux
   - riscv64-linux

$ guix build --system=i686-linux hello

$ file /gnu/store/cc0km35s8x2z4pmwkrqqjx46i8b1i3gm-hello-2.12/bin/hello
/gnu/store/cc0km35s8x2z4pmwkrqqjx46i8b1i3gm-hello-2.12/bin/hello: ELF
32-bit LSB executable, Intel 80386 …

In the above example, the current system is x86_64-linux. The hello package is however built for the i686-linux system.

This is possible because the i686 CPU instruction set is a subset of the x86_64, hence i686 targeting binaries can be run on x86_64.

Still in the context of the previous example, if picking the aarch64-linux system and the guix build --system=aarch64-linux hello has to build some derivations, an extra step might be needed.

The aarch64-linux targeting binaries cannot directly be run on a x86_64-linux system. An emulation layer is requested. The GNU Guix daemon can take advantage of the Linux kernel binfmt_misc mechanism for that. In short, the Linux kernel can defer the execution of a binary targeting a foreign platform, here aarch64-linux, to a userspace program, usually an emulator.

There is a service that registers QEMU as a backend for the binfmt_misc mechanism (see qemu-binfmt-service-type). On Debian based foreign distributions, the alternative would be the qemu-user-static package.

If the binfmt_misc mechanism is not setup correctly, the building will fail this way:

$ guix build --system=armhf-linux hello --check
 unsupported-platform /gnu/store/jjn969pijv7hff62025yxpfmc8zy0aq0-hello-2.12.drv aarch64-linux
while setting up the build environment: a `aarch64-linux' is required to
build `/gnu/store/jjn969pijv7hff62025yxpfmc8zy0aq0-hello-2.12.drv', but
I am a `x86_64-linux'…

whereas, with the binfmt_misc mechanism correctly linked with QEMU, one can expect to see:

$ guix build --system=armhf-linux hello --check

The main advantage of native building compared to cross-compiling, is that more packages are likely to build correctly. However it comes at a price: compilation backed by QEMU is way slower than cross-compilation, because every instruction needs to be emulated.

The availability of substitutes for the architecture targeted by the --system option can mitigate this problem. An other way to work around it is to install GNU Guix on a machine whose CPU supports the targeted instruction set, and set it up as an offload machine (see Using the Offload Facility).

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