Avoiding dependencies upon recent libstdc++

Mozilla has been distributing Firefox builds for GNU/Linux systems for a while, and 4.0 should even bring official builds for x86-64 (finally, some would say). The buildbots configuration for these builds uses gcc 4.3.3 to compile the Firefox source code. With the C++ part of gcc, it can sometimes mean side effects when using the C++ STL.

Historically, the Mozilla code base hasn’t made a great use of the STL, most probably because 10+ years back, portability and/or compiler support wasn’t very good. More recently, with the borrowing of code from the Chromium project, this changed. While the borrowed code for out-of-process plugins support didn’t have an impact on libstdc++ usage, the recent addition of ANGLE had. This manifests itself in symbols version usage

These are the symbol versions required from libstdc++.so.6 on 3.6 (as given by objdump -p):

  • CXXABI_1.3
  • GLIBCXX_3.4

And on 4.0:

  • CXXABI_1.3
  • GLIBCXX_3.4
  • GLIBCXX_3.4.9

This means Firefox 4.0 builds from Mozilla need the GLIBCXX_3.4.9 symbol version, which was introduced with gcc 4.2. This means Firefox 4.0 builds don’t work on systems with a libstdc++ older than that, while 3.6 builds would. It so happens that the system libstdc++ on the buildbots themselves is that old, which is why we set LD_LIBRARY_PATH to the appropriate location during tests. This shouldn’t however be a big problem for users.

Newer gcc, new problems

As part of making Firefox faster, we’re planning to switch to gcc 4.5, to benefit from better (as in working) profile guided optimization, and other compiler improvements. We actually attempted to switch to gcc 4.5 twice during the 4.0 development cycle. But various problems made us go back to gcc 4.3.3, the main contender being the use of even newer libstdc++ symbols:

  • CXXABI_1.3
  • GLIBCXX_3.4
  • GLIBCXX_3.4.5
  • GLIBCXX_3.4.9
  • GLIBCXX_3.4.14

GLIBCXX_3.4.14 was added in gcc 4.5, making the build require a very recent libstdc++ installed on users systems. As this wouldn’t work for Mozilla builds, we attempted to build with -static-libstdc++. This options makes the resulting binary effectively contain libstdc++ itself, which means not requiring a system one. This is the usual solution used for builds such as Mozilla’s, that require to work properly on very different systems.

The downside of -static-libstdc++ is that it makes the libxul.so binary larger (about 1MB larger). It looks like the linker doesn’t try to eliminate the code from libstdc++ that isn’t actually used. Taras has been fighting to try to get libstdc++ in a shape that would allow the linker to remove that code that is effectively dead weight for Firefox.

Why do we need these symbols?

The actual number of symbols required with the GLIBCXX_3.4.14 version is actually very low:

  • std::_List_node_base::_M_hook(std::_List_node_base*)
  • std::_List_node_base::_M_unhook()

With the addition of the following on debug builds only:

  • std::string::_S_construct_aux_2(unsigned int, char, std::allocator<char> const&)
  • std::basic_string<wchar_t, std::char_traits<wchar_t>, std::allocator<wchar_t> >::_S_construct_aux_2(unsigned int, wchar_t, std::allocator<wchar_t> const&)

The number of symbols required with the GLIBCXX_3.4.9 version is even lower:

  • std::istream& std::istream::_M_extract<double>(double&)

It however varies depending on the compiler version. I have seen other builds also require std::ostream& std::ostream::_M_insert(double).

All these are actually internal implementation details of the libstdc++. We’re never calling these functions directly. I’m going to show two small examples triggering some of these requirements (that actually generalize to all of them).

The case of templates

#include <iostream>
int main() {
    unsigned int i;
    std::cin >> i;
    return i;

This example, when built, requires std::istream& std::istream::_M_extract<double>(double&), but we are effectively calling std::istream& operator>>(unsigned int&). It is defined in /usr/include/c++/4.5/istream as:

template<typename _CharT, typename _Traits>
class basic_istream : virtual public basic_ios<_CharT, _Traits> {
    basic_istream<_CharT, _Traits>& operator>>(unsigned int& __n) {
        return _M_extract(__n);

And _M_extract is defined in /usr/include/c++/4.5/bits/istream.tcc as:

template<typename _CharT, typename _Traits> template<typename _ValueT>
        basic_istream<_CharT, _Traits>&
        basic_istream<_CharT, _Traits>::_M_extract(_ValueT& __v) {

And later on in the same file:

extern template istream& istream::_M_extract(unsigned int&);

What this all means is that libstdc++ actually provides an implementation of an instance of the template for the istream (a.k.a. basic_istream<char>) class, with an unsigned int & parameter (and some more implementations). So, when building the example program, gcc decides, instead of instantiating the template, to use the libstdc++ function.

This extern definition, however, is guarded by a #if _GLIBCXX_EXTERN_TEMPLATE, so if we build with -D_GLIBCXX_EXTERN_TEMPLATE=0, we actually get gcc to instantiate the template, thus getting rid of the GLIBCXX_3.4.9 dependency. The downside is that this doesn’t work so well with bigger code, because other things are hidden behind #if _GLIBCXX_EXTERN_TEMPLATE.

There is however another (obvious) way to for the template instantiation: instantiating it. So adding template std::istream& std::istream::_M_extract(unsigned int&); to our code is just enough to get rid of the GLIBCXX_3.4.9 dependency. Other template cases obviously can be worked around the same way.

The case of renamed implementations

#include <list>
int main() {
    std::list<int> l;
    return 0;

Here, we get a dependency on std::_List_node_base::_M_hook(std::_List_node_base*) but we are effectively calling std::list<int>::push_back(int &). It is defined in /usr/include/c++/bits/stl_list.h as:

template<typename _Tp, typename _Alloc = std::allocator<_Tp> >
class list : protected _List_base<_Tp, _Alloc> {
    void push_back(const value_type& __x) {
        this->_M_insert(end(), __x);

_M_insert is defined in the same file:

template<typename ... _Args>
void _M_insert(iterator __position, _Args&&... __args) {
    _List_node<_Tp>* __tmp = _M_create_node(std::forward<_args>(__args)...);

Finally, _M_hook is defined as follows:

struct _List_node_base {
    void _M_hook(_List_node_base * const __position) throw ();

In gcc 4.4, however, push_back has the same definition, and while _M_insert is defined similarly, it calls __tmp->hook instead of __tmp->_M_hook. Interestingly, gcc 4.5′s libstdc++ exports symbols for both std::_List_node_base::_M_hook and std::_List_node_base::hook, and the code for both methods is the same.

Considering the above, a work-around for this kind of dependency is to define the newer function in our code, and make it call the old function. In our case here, this would look like:

namespace std {
    struct _List_node_base {
        void hook(_List_node_base * const __position) throw ();
        void _M_hook(_List_node_base * const __position) throw ();
    void _List_node_base::_M_hook(_List_node_base * const __position) throw () {

… which you need to put in a separate source file, not including <list>.

All in all, with a small hack, we are able to build Firefox with gcc 4.5 without requiring libstdc++ 4.5. Now, another reason to switch to gcc 4.5 was to use better optimization flags, but it turns out it makes the binaries 6MB bigger. But that’s another story.

2011-03-14 13:21:04+0200

p.d.o, p.m.o

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3 Responses to “Avoiding dependencies upon recent libstdc++”

  1. Steinar H. Gunderson Says:

    To get GCC to actually prune out unused functions, you’ll usually need to build with -ffunction-sections -fdata-sections and link with -Wl,–gc-sections. I wonder if gold can also do tricks like ICF (identical code folding) which regular ld can’t at the moment.

    /* Steinar */

  2. Ted Mielczarek Says:

    gold does have ICF, although I don’t know what state it’s in. They even presented on it at the GCC summit:

    And they wrote a proposal for a DWARF extension to make the results more usefully debuggable (which is nice, because Microsoft’s implementation lacks that):

  3. _u_ Browsing the web in the right way › Wireless Sensor Network and More Says:

    [...] nice side effect of some of the work I have done to make the switch possible is that these builds will also work on older Linux platforms such as [...]

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