Catégorie: "Linux"

Debian running on Rust coreutils

Mars 9th, 2021

tldr: Rust/coreutils ( ) is now available in Debian, good enough to boot a Debian with GNOME, install the top 1000 packages, build Firefox, the Linux Kernel and LLVM/Clang. Even if I wrote more than 100 patches to achieve that, it will probably be a bumpy ride for many other use cases.
It is also a terrific project to learn Rust. See the list of good first bugs.

Even if I see Rust code every day at Mozilla, I was looking for an actual personal project (i.e. this isn't a Mozilla project) to learn Rust during the various COVID lockdowns.

I started contributing to the alternative Coreutils developed in Rust. The project aims at proposing a drop-in replacement of the C-based GNU Coreutils, and I wanted to evaluate if this could be used to run a regular Debian. Similar to what I have done with a few years ago (rebuilding the Debian archive using clang instead of gcc).

I expect that most of the readers know what is the Coreutils. It is a set of programs performing simple operations (copy/move file, change permissions/ownership, etc). Even if some commands are from the 70s, they are at the base of Linux, Unix and macOS. While different implementations can be found, they are trying to remain compatible in terms of arguments, options, etc. This implementation of Coreutils isn’t different!

If you want to learn more about the history of Unix, I recommend this great Corecursive podcast with Brian Kernighan.

While a lot of people contributed to this project, much was left to be done:

  • missing programs to be implemented. See
  • missing options in the various programs
  • code not following latest Rust best practices
  • lack of consistency in the code base (ex: functions with too many arguments)
  • lack of tests/low code coverage
  • Lots of failures when running the GNU Coreutils testsuite (141 tests pass on 613) - Some trivial to fix, some others harder… A good way to start on a Rust project!

To start easy, I defined 4 goals for this work:

  1. Package Coreutils in Debian/Ubuntu
  2. Boot a Debian system with a Rust-based coreutils
  3. Install the top 1000 packages in Debian - including GNOME
  4. Build Firefox, the Linux Kernel and LLV/Clang

Packaging of Coreutils in Debian

Packaging in Debian isn't a trivial or even simple task. It requires uploading independently all the dependencies in the archive. Rust, with its new ecosystem and small crates, is making this task significantly harder.

The package is called rust-coreutils -

For Debian/Ubuntu users, to have an idea of the complexity of packaging such applications, just run
debtree --build-dep rust-coreutils | dot -Tsvg > coreutils.svg (should be around 1M).

Since it isn't production ready, the rust-coreutils is installable in parallel with coreutils. This package does NOT replace the GNU/coreutils files (yet?), the new files are installed in /usr/lib/cargo/bin/.

They can be used with:

export PATH=/usr/lib/cargo/bin/:$PATH

Or, uglier, overriding the files with the new ones.

Booting Debian with rust-coreutils

To achieve this, because I knew I would likely break the image a few times, I created a new project to quickly install a full Debian with PXE and preseed.

The project is available here:

A script to create the full qemu image:

A second script to boot on the newly created image:

Then, building and installing coreutils on the system (yeah, it is ugly - don’t do that at home):

apt install rust-coreutils
cd /usr/lib/cargo/bin/
for f in *; do
cp -f $f /usr/bin/

First surprise, unlike the old init.d init system, as systemd is not relying on a series of scripts (it is mostly written in C), replacing the coreutils did not have an impact. Therefore, I didn't experience any issue during the boot process

Debian packages rely a lot on post-install scripts (stored in /var/lib/dpkg/info/*) to finalize and configure packages. They are (almost?) all using /bin/sh (or /bin/bash) to perform these actions. They intensively call coreutils applications.

For example, in /var/lib/dpkg/info/exim4-base.postinst, we can find:

install -d -oDebian-exim -gadm -m2750 /var/log/exim4

With an ugly script, we can test the installations of the 1000 most popular packages one by one.

Running this, some classes of issues in Rust/coreutils could be easily identified.

Implementing missing options

A significant number of problems could be easily identified as a lack of support for some options.

Here is a list of most of the fixes I had to implement to make this plan work:

Different behavior

Most of the programs behaved as expected. Here is a list of differences:

  • install doesn't support using /dev/null as source file
    Setting up libreoffice-common (1:6.1.5-3+deb10u6) ...
    install: error: install: cannot install ‘/dev/null’ to ‘/etc/apparmor.d/local/usr.lib.libreoffice.program.oosplash’: the source path is not an existing regular file
    A limitation of rust itself

Compile Firefox, Clang and the Linux Kernel

Build systems can vary significantly one from the other.

To verify their usage of coreutils, I built these three major projects


As Firefox relies mostly on Python as a build system, it went smoothly. I didn’t encounter any issue.

The only unrelated issue that I noticed working on it was apt-key was broken because the script relied on a buggy option of mktemp.

Linux Kernel

I identified only two issues compared to GNU Coreutils:

  • The chown command on a non-existing symlink target doesn’t fail on the GNU version, the Rust one was triggering an error.
  • Linux kernel
    ln -fsn ../../x86/boot/bzImage ./arch/x86_64/boot/bzImage
    ln: error: Unrecognized option: 'n'


The llvm toolchain relies on Cmake. Just like for Firefox, I didn’t face any issue.

Comparing with GNU coreutils using its testsuite

Recently, James Robson added a new test to run the GNU testsuite on the Rust/coreutils.

# TOTAL: 611
# PASS: 144
# SKIP: 86
# XFAIL: 0
# FAIL: 342
# XPASS: 0
# ERROR: 39
compared to 546 test passing with the GNU version. Even if a bunch of errors are just different outputs, it demonstrates that there is still a long road ahead.

Next steps & contribute

First, we will need more motivated contributors to work on this project. Many features remain to be implemented, optimizations to be done (e.g. decreasing the memory usage), etc.
I started to create a list of good first bugs for newcomers:
I will update this list of there is some interest for this project.

Helping improve the support of the GNU coreutils testsuite would be a huge step while being a great way to learn Rust!

Then, once it is in a better state, we will be able to make it a reliable alternative in Debian/Ubuntu to the GNU/Coreutils.

This might be also interesting for other folks who prefer a BSD license over a GPL.

Rebuild of the Debian archive with clang

February 29th, 2012

Recently, I have been working on a side project for Debian. The goal was to rebuild of the Debian archive (the distribution) with clang, a new C/C++ compiler.

clang is now ready to build software for production (either for C, C++ or Objective-C). This compiler is providing many more warnings and interesting errors than the gcc suite while not carrying the same legacy as gcc.
This rebuild has several goals. The first one is to prove (or not) that clang is a viable alternative. Second, building a software with different compilers improves the overall quality of code by providing different checks and alerts.

The result are detailed and explained here:

When I had the idea to rebuild Debian with a new compiler, I was expecting many issues and bugs caused by clang but I have been surprised to notice that most of the issues are either difference in C standard supported, difference of interpretation or corner cases.
My personal opinion is that clang is now stable and good enough to rebuild most of the packages in the Debian archive, even if many of them will need minor tweaks to compile properly.
In the next few years, coupled with better static analysis tools, clang might replace gcc/g++ as the C/C++ compiler used by default in Linux and BSD distributions.
The clang developers are progressing very fast: 14.5% of the packages were failing with version 2.9 against 8.8% with version 3.0.
Several major steps in the clang adoptions have been made like chromium/chrome being built by default with clang, Xcode providing clang by default, FreeBSD working on the gcc -> clang switch, etc.
However, on the Debian point of view, one of the important step would be to make sure that clang manages all the Debian architecture/kernel (11 official, 6 unofficial)

Update of the linear algebra libraries in Debian

April 6th, 2010

In the numerical computing world, the cornerstones libraries are BLAS and LAPACK. They have been used in most of the numerical software for decades (like Scilab, R, numpy, OpenOffice with calc, etc).

During that time, many implementations appeared to improve the performances taking advantages of clusters, multicore, SEE{1,2,3,4}, various levels of cache...
Between the reference BLAS (refblas) to an optimized one like ATLAS or MKL (Math Kernel Library by Intel - non-free), it is not rare to have a 15 factor.

In Debian, we use by default the reference implementation of BLAS (168 reverse dependencies) and LAPACK (178 reverse dependencies). If the results are usually bad, they are pretty easy to use. What is hard to use, is switch between highly optimized libraries.
For now, the main one in the archive is ATLAS. ATLAS build process will launch many computations to know what will work best on the architecture. Results are usually excellent.

1) Upload of a refactoring of the ATLAS package.
I have been working on this for a while and after 19 uploads into Debian Experimental and I am happy (and kind of relief) to upload into debian unstable the release 3.8.3 of ATLAS.

The new key elements in this release are:

  • Package of the release 3.8.3 ... Long overdue
  • Much more packages for recent architectures (sse3, core2sse3, etc)
  • A simplified maintenance
  • Easy to build a custom package: fakeroot debian/rules custom
  • Easy upgrade to version 3.9.X when it is stable
  • 12 bugs closed in Debian (including 4 RCs)
  • 6 bugs closed in Launchpad.
  • MMX optimized package removed

Note that, as before, all prebuilt binaries of ATLAS will be always slower than if you built them on the target architecture (but using Debian binary packages will save a few kilograms of Uranium).

And one of most important feature is the capability to switch to any ATLAS implementation.

2) Switch between the different implementation
The problem in Debian (and Ubuntu) was that it was hard to switch between the ref BLAS/LAPACK and the optimized libraries. The user has to play with the LD_LIBRARY_PATH to use the various optimized packages and since there is no convention between the various distribution, the upstream developer has to develop crappy tricks to handle such things.

It is why I implemented the following proposal: Handle different versions of BLAS and LAPACK.

The main idea is to use the update-alternatives system to allow a quick and easy switch. For example:

# update-alternatives --config 
There are 3 choices for the alternative (providing /usr/lib/

  Selection    Path                                           Priority   Status
* 0            /usr/lib/atlas-core2sse3/atlas/   55        auto mode
  1            /usr/lib/atlas-base/atlas/        35        manual mode
  2            /usr/lib/atlas-core2sse3/atlas/   55        manual mode
  3            /usr/lib/libblas/                 10        manual mode

# update-alternatives --config
There are 3 choices for the alternative (providing /usr/lib/

  Selection    Path                                             Priority   Status
* 0            /usr/lib/atlas-core2sse3/atlas/   55        auto mode
  1            /usr/lib/atlas-base/atlas/        35        manual mode
  2            /usr/lib/atlas-core2sse3/atlas/   55        manual mode
  3            /usr/lib/lapack/                  10        manual mode

Thanks to this, it is just trivial to switch from one to the other...

I just pushed the changes into Debian unstable for blas, lapack and atlas.
I have been testing a lot these deep modifications and I fixed all the problems that I found. However, in case I missed something, please report a bug...

A few news around Scilab (packaging & other stuff)

Décembre 30th, 2008

Here is a quick list of new things around Scilab (note that it is slightly modified message of the one I sent on the dev mailing list).

  • Sagemath - it is a software which combines the power of various opensource software.

    A Experimental "Scilab/Sage package" is planed for Sage 3.4 and an experimental package by Jaap Spies is already available

  • Debian/Ubuntu
    Packages are available on my Scilab homepage
    Debian packages are up-to-date (5.0.3-2). I will to upload the new Ubuntu's packages in 2009 (for now, it is 5.0.3-1 which is working too). I might backport them to Debian Lenny (future stable) & Ubuntu Hardy.

  • Mandriva
    Tomasz Pawel Gajc (a regular Mandriva contributor) created a package available on

  • Opensuse
    A Scilab package for Opensuse has been created by Andrea Florio.
    It is available on packman
    and should be included in the next version of opensuse.
    Note that Mandriva & Opensuse packages have been created for Scilab 5.0.3 and I applied most of their patches (or update some part of the code) for Scilab 5.0.4.

  • Redhat/Fedora
    The work is still going on.
    They are also doing a great work packaging the misc dependencies but they are a bit stuck about the JOGL packaging (jogl and glugen should produce two different packages ... which I should also do in Debian/Ubuntu too)

  • Arch Linux
    It is also available under Arch Linux by Simon Lipp (one of our former trainee).

  • Gentoo
    A bit stuck for now but some activities have been seen lately around on jrosetta (one of the dependency introduced by Scilab 5).

  • Slackware
    Scilab has been packaged by the Italian Slackware community. It is available on their website. I don't know if it is going to be included in Slackware by default or not;

-bash: /bin/ls: No such file or directory

September 19th, 2006

If you have done a mistake/lost the /lib/ directory. Example :

mv lib lib.

And you are stuck without anything working :

# ls
-bash: /bin/ls: No such file or directory

Don't waste your time in a reinstallation, there is a trick :

/lib./ --library-path /bin/ mv /lib. /lib/

It invokes the program loader directly and the problem will be fixed (of course, you can use this command to call many programs).