Ekaitz's tech blog:
I make stuff at ElenQ Technology and I talk about it

More work, more people, more energy — thanks NlNet

From the series: Bootstrapping GCC in RISC-V

I might become a little bit famous in this small world of Guix, RISC-V and bootstrapping after my FOSDEM talk of this year and the work I did during 2021 and 2022, that you can follow in this series of posts I’m going on with right now.

All that I write here is nothing I did alone. Many people helped me to make this happen, but in the end it is me the one that writes here and makes the noise. So, before explaining anything else, I want to thank everyone that is involved in the process.

I also want to thank NLNet / NGI-Assure for funding the project. Without there wouldn’t be anything to discuss here. They just enabled this work with their funds.

The work is done, it was funded and it was finished. I backported RISC-V support to GCC, and I also backported the RISC-V support to the bootstrappable TinyCC, but that’s not enough. All that I did has to be combined with the whole bootstrapping toolchain, so it’s time for more.

A new way

Even with all the help, during the project I felt alone. The codebases are huge (GCC is millions LoC), or very badly written (tcc I’m looking at you) and there are tons of moving parts (Hex0, M1, M2-Planet, Mes, tcc, bootstrappable tcc, gcc, all the libcs…). It’s really hard to know everything and none of us know all the ecosystem deeply so many times there’s none to ask for help. You are alone.

This might seem a good thing, a challenge, and it is, but it’s also very energy consuming. I did all I could and I’m not sure if I can take this a lot further by myself.

Now, the project has evolved. We have most of the dots and it’s time to draw the line that connects them.

In order to do that we need more collaboration as each of us has become an expert in a different part of the chain. Also, many new problems will arise from the interaction between the different parts.

Knowing that, this time I proposed something else: I wanted to make a larger project where more people would collaborate and I asked NlNet for the funds to continue the work from that perspective.

That’s good because we can pay every person involved on this according to their implication1.

NlNet / NGI Assure

Of course, I wouldn’t be writing this if NlNet didn’t give us the funds.

So, yes: NlNet decided to fund us. Big thanks to them and to NGI Assure.

The work

As I introduced in the Fosdem talk, there’s a lot of integration work to do.

During the last year I focused on backporting the RISC-V support to GCC and the Bootstrappable TinyCC. I did that because I knew that would enable more work on the whole chain of compilers we use in the bootstrapping process. But also because I could just focus on a very specific part, forgetting about the whole chain for a moment.

Now it’s time to start combining all the work together.

The funding includes enough tasks to make the full source bootstrapping for RISC-V. This is a summary of the tasks:

  • Finish GNU Mes’ RISC-V support
  • Build the Bootstrappable TinyCC using GNU Mes’ RISC-V support added in the first task
  • Fix the backported GCC 4.6.4 package to include C++ support and fix missing functionality
  • Build the backported GCC 4.6.4
  • Build the upstream GCC 7.5 or higher with the backported GCC 4.6.4
  • Package the whole process and include it in Guix’s commencement module
  • Review the associated projects and fix the possible issues
  • Document all the process

You are probably not familiar enough with the whole thing to know what they really mean but some of them are really hard.

I’ll go into more detail on all of them as we work on them, so don’t worry at the moment.

The feelings

I’m not very excited with this project anymore. The tasks you can see in the previous block are not good for a person like me. I really struggle with them: configuring development environments, fixing weird imports, etc. It’s hard for me, intellectually and emotionally.

I already did the parts that interested me the most and I want to move on to something else.

Why ask for more funds then?

Well, lets say it plainly: the funds are not for me. I’m using the success I had with the previous project and the interest NlNet has on it to fund other people to finish the work.

Whoever that makes the task will get the budget associated to it.

The plan here is to help coordinate other people to make the tasks, but not really do them myself. I don’t discard it though. I’ll probably need to work on some of them.

The fact that I’m the one that presented the proposal doesn’t mean the proposal is for me. The proposal is for you.

The people

I already managed to involve two fellow hackers and I made the proposal with them as collaborators:

  • Efraim Flashner, who has been working on the RISC-V port of most of the Guix packages is going to take part in this second stage of the project as he knows better than anyone else what’s the status of RISC-V in Guix.
  • Danny Milosavljevic, who worked in the bootstrapping process for ARM also agreed to get involved in this.
  • Jan Nieuwenhuizen (Janneke) is the Mes author and maintainer.
  • Andrius Štikonas is deeply involved in the bootstrapping process, too. Making a lot of patches to live-bootstrap, Mes, Hex0, M2-Planet and so on.
  • Juliana Sims has also shown interest in the project because she has been involved in RISC-V related projects before.

You can also collaborate with us, if your contributions are good we can even add you to the official team.

If you want to join us, feel free to contact me to riscv-effort@elenq.tech or join #bootstrappable in libera.chat and ping me there.

I’m sure we all will learn a lot together during the process.

Closing words

So, in summary, I’m just introducing a new part of this adventure. Thanks to NlNet, we can take all the work we have been doing separately on Mes, GCC, TinyCC, Hex0, M2-Planet and so on and finally combine it all together.

This is a huge effort, but hopefully we’ll manage to do it, learn a lot in the process and get paid.

We’ll see how it goes. I’ll keep you all informed.

Take care.

  1. It might sound really surprising to some, but some of the people involved on this are paid zero money for their time at the moment, and they are doing great improvements. This is a topic for a huge discussion but, in summary: work is work, and you should get paid for it.