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Boosting my morale? Nope, still not.

I’m not sure if you’re following the development of this particular package in Gentoo, but with some discussion, quite a few developers reached a consensus last week that the slotted dev-libs/boost that we’ve had for the past couple of years had to go, replaced with a single-slot package like we have for most other libraries.

The main reason for this is that the previous slotting was not really doing what the implementers expected it to do — the idea for many is that you can always depend on whatever highest version of Boost you support, and if you don’t support the latest, no problem, you’ll get an older one. Unfortunately, this clashes with the fact that only the newest version of Boost is supported by upstream with modern configurations, so it happens that a new C library, or a new compiler, can (and do) make older versions non-buildable.

Like what happened with the new GLIBC 2.16, which is partially described in the previous post of the same series, and lately summarized, where there’s no way to rebuild boost-1.49 with the new glibc (the “patch” that could be used would change the API, making it similar to boost-1.50 which ..), but since I did report build failures with 1.50, people “fixed” them by depending on an older version… which is now not installable. D’oh!

So what did I do to sort this out? We dropped the slot altogether. Now all Boost versions install as slot zero and each replace the others. This makes it much easier for both developers and users, as you know that the one version you got installed is the one you’re building against, instead of “whatever has been eselected” or “whatever was installed last” or “whatever is the first one that the upstream user is finding” which was before — usually a mix of all.

But this wasn’t enough because unfortunately, libraries, headers and tools were all slotted so they all had different names based on the version. This was handled in the new 1.52 release which I unmasked today, by going back to the default install layout that Boost uses for Unix: the system layout. This is designed to allow one and only one version of each Boost library in the system, and does neither provide a version nor a variant suffix. This meant we needed another change.

Before going back to system layout, each boost version installed two sets of libraries, one that was multithread-safe and oen that wasn’t. Software using threads would have to link to the mt variant, while those not using threads could link to the (theoretically lower-overhead) single-thread variant. Which happened to be the default. Unfortunately, this also meant that a ton of software out there, even when using threads, simply linked to the boost library they wanted without caring for the variant. Oopsie.

Even worse, it was very well possible, and indeed was the case for Blender, that both variants were brought in, in the process’s address space, possibly causing extremely hard to debug issues due to symbol collisions (which I know, unfortunately, very well).

An easy way to see (using older versions of boost ebuilds) whether your program is linking to the wrong variant, is to see if you see it linking to libboost_threads-mt and at the same time to some other library such as libboost_system (not mt variant). Since our very pleasant former maintainer decided to link the mt variant of libboost_threads to the non-mt one, quite a few ways to check for multithreaded Boost simply … failed.

Now the decision on whether to build threadsafe or not is done through an USE flag like most other ebuilds do, and since only one variant is installed, everybody gets, by default and in most cases, the multithread-safe version, and all is good. Packages requiring threads might want already to start using dev-libs/boost[threads(+)] to make sure that they are not installed with a non-threadsafe version of Boost, but there are symlinks in place righ tnow so that even if they are looking for the mt variant they get the one installed version of boost anyway (only with USE=threads of course).

One question that raised was “how broken will people’s systems be, after upgrading from one Boost to another?” and the answer is “quite” … unless you’re using a modern enough Portage (the last few versions of the 2.1 series are okay, and most of the 2.2), which can use preserve-libs. In that case, it’ll just require you to run a single emerge command to get back on the new version, and if not, you’ll have to wait for revdep-rebuild to finish.

And to make things sweeter, with this change, the time it takes for Boost to build is halved (4 minutes vs 8 on my laptop), while the final package is 30MB less (here at least), since only one set of libraries is installed instead of two — without counting the time and space you’d waste by having to install multiple boost versions together.

And for developers, this also mean that you can forget about the ruddy boost-utils.eclass, since now everything is supposed to work without any trickery. Win-win situation, for once.

Comments 2
  1. But what’s about single-threaded software that was made to benefit from use of single-threaded boost variant (like more execution speed and fewer memory consumption)?

  2. Execution speed is debatable, because thread safety shouldn’t require that much overhead, and if it does, then it’s fucked up anyway.As for memory consumption … if you’re running both single- and multi-threaded software on the same machine, you’ll have lower consumption by using the same libraries for both — and if you only run single-threaded apps, you can still disable the threads USE flag.

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