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13 Bootstrapping

Bootstrapping in our context refers to how the distribution gets built “from nothing”. Remember that the build environment of a derivation contains nothing but its declared inputs (see Introduction). So there’s an obvious chicken-and-egg problem: how does the first package get built? How does the first compiler get compiled? Note that this is a question of interest only to the curious hacker, not to the regular user, so you can shamelessly skip this section if you consider yourself a “regular user”.

The GNU system is primarily made of C code, with libc at its core. The GNU build system itself assumes the availability of a Bourne shell and command-line tools provided by GNU Coreutils, Awk, Findutils, ‘sed’, and ‘grep’. Furthermore, build programs—programs that run ./configure, make, etc.—are written in Guile Scheme (see Derivations). Consequently, to be able to build anything at all, from scratch, Guix relies on pre-built binaries of Guile, GCC, Binutils, libc, and the other packages mentioned above—the bootstrap binaries.

These bootstrap binaries are “taken for granted”, though we can also re-create them if needed (see Preparing to Use the Bootstrap Binaries).