Running Debian in a Fuloong 2.0 Mini-PC (MIPS64el CPU Loongson 3A4000)

The history of the world is a continuous succession of  contradictions. The announcement from MIPS Technologies about their decision of definitely abandoning MIPS arch in favour of RISC-V is just another example. But the truth is that things are far from trivial in this topic. Even when the end-of-life date for the MIPS architecture looks closer in time than ever,  there are still infrastructures and platforms what need to keep being supported and maintained for this architecture in the meantime. To make the situation more complex, at the same time I am writing this post the Loongson Technology Ltd  is  announcing a new 16-Core MIPS 12nm CPU for 256-Core (Tom’s Hardware news). Loongson Technology also says that they keep a strong commitment with RISC-V for the future but they will keep their bet for MIPS64 in the meantime. So if MIPS is going to die it going be in lovely death.

In this context, here in Igalia we are hosting and maintaining the CI workers for the JavaScriptCore 32-bit (MIPS) infrastructure for the WebKit web browser engine.

Build worker for JavaScriptCore 32-bit (MIPS) host at Igalia

No one ever said that finding end-user hardware of this kind of system is easy-peasy. The options in the market often don’t achieve the sufficient level of maturity or come with a poor set of hardware specifications. The choices are often not intended for long time-consuming CPU tasks, or they simply lack good OS support (maintenance, updates, custom kernels, open-source drivers …).

Nowadays we are using a parallelized cluster of MIPSEL CI 20 boards to move the JavaScriptCore 32-bits (MIPS) CI workers. Don’t get me wrong: the CI 20 boards are certainly not bad. These boards are really great for development and evaluation purposes, but even rare failures become commonplace when you run 30 of them 24/7 in parallel. For this reason some time ago we started looking for an alternative that would eventually replace them. And this was when we found the following candidate.

The candidate

We had a look at what Debian was using for their QA infrastructure and talked to the MIPS team – credits to Berto García who helped us with this – and we concluded that the Loongson 3B4000 MIPSel board was a promising option so we decided to explore it.

We started looking for information about this CPU model and we found references for the Loongson 3A4000 + Fuloong 2.0 Mini-PC. This computer is a kind of very interesting end-user product based on the MIPS64el architecture. In particular, this computer uses a similar but more recent and powerful evolution of the Loongson 3B4000 processor. The Fuloong 2.0 comes in a barebone format with the Loongson-3A R4 (Loongson-3A4000) @ 1500MHz, a quad-core processor, with 8GB DDR4 RAM and a 1TB NVMe of internal storage. These technical specifications are completed with a Realtek ALC662 sound card, 2x USB 3.0 ports + 1x USB Type-C + 4x USB 2.0, 2x HDMI video outputs, 2x Ethernet (WGI211AT), audio connectors, M.2 slot for WiFi module and, finally, a Vivante GL1000 GPU (OpenGL ES 2.0/1.1). This specifications are clearly far from the common constraints of the regular development MIPS boards and are technically a serious candidate for replacing the current boards used in the CI cluster.

However, the acquisition of this kind of products has some non-technical cons that is important to have in mind before taking any decision. For example, it is very difficult to find a reseller in Europe providing this kind of machines. This means that this computer needs to be directly shipped from China, which also means that the acquisition process can suffer from the common problems of this kind of orders: higher delivery time (~1 month), paperwork for customs, taxes, delivery tracking issues … Anyway, this post is intended to keep the focus on the technical details ;-). The fact is, once these issues are solved you will receive a machine similar to this one shown in the photos:

The unboxing

The machine comes with a pre-installed custom distro (“Dragon Dream F28”, based on Fedora 28). This distro is quite old but it is the one provided by the manufacturer (Lemote). Apparently it is the only one that, in theory, fully supports the machine. The installed image comes with a desktop environment on top of an X server. The distro is also synced with an RPM repository hosted by Lemote. This is really convenient to start experimenting with the computer and very useful to get information about the system before taking any action on the computer. Here is the output of some commands:

# cat /proc/cpuinfo
system type : generic-loongson-machine
machine : loongson,generic
processor : 0
cpu model : Loongson-3 V0.4 FPU V0.1
model name : Loongson-3A R4 (Loongson-3A4000) @ 1500MHz
CPU MHz : 1500.00
BogoMIPS : 2990.15
wait instruction : yes
microsecond timers : yes
tlb_entries : 2112
extra interrupt vector : no
hardware watchpoint : no
isa : mips1 mips2 mips3 mips4 mips5 mips32r1 mips32r2 mips64r1 mips64r2
ASEs implemented : vz msa loongson-mmi loongson-cam loongson-ext loongson-ext2
shadow register sets : 1
kscratch registers : 6
package : 0
core : 0
... (x4)


Mar 9 12:43:19 fuloong-01 kernel: [ 2.884260] Console: switching to colour frame buffer device 240x67 
Mar 9 12:43:19 fuloong-01 kernel: [ 2.915928] loongson-drm 0000:00:06.1: fb0: loongson-drmdrm frame buffer device 
Mar 9 12:43:19 fuloong-01 kernel: [ 2.919792] etnaviv 0000:00:06.0: Device 14:7a15, irq 93 
Mar 9 12:43:19 fuloong-01 kernel: [ 2.920249] etnaviv 0000:00:06.0: model: GC1000, revision: 5037 
Mar 9 12:43:19 fuloong-01 kernel: [ 2.920378] [drm] Initialized etnaviv 1.3.0 20151214 for 0000:00:06.0 on minor 1


# lsblk
nvme0n1 259:0 0 477G 0 disk
├─nvme0n1p1 259:1 0 190M 0 part /boot/efi
├─nvme0n1p2 259:2 0 1,7G 0 part /boot
├─nvme0n1p3 259:3 0 7,5G 0 part [SWAP]
├─nvme0n1p4 259:4 0 46,6G 0 part /
└─nvme0n1p5 259:5 0 421,1G 0 part /home

Getting Debian into the Fuloong 2.0

The WebKitGTK and WPE WebKit CI infrastructure is entirely based on Debian Stable and/or Ubuntu LTS. This is according to the WebKitGTK maintenance and development policy. For that reason we were pretty interested in getting the machine running with Debian Stable (“buster” as of this writing). So what comes next is the description of the installation process of a pure Debian base system hybridized with the Lemote Fedora Linux kernel using an external USB storage stick as the bootable disk. The process is a mix between the following two documents:

Those documents provide a good detailed explanation of the steps to follow to perform the installation. Only the installation of the kernel and the grub2-efi differs a bit but let’s come back to that later. The idea is:

  • Set the EFI/BIOS to boot from the USB storage (EFI)
  • Install the base Debian OS in a external microSD card connected to the USB3-SS port
  • Keep using the internal nvme disk as the working dir (/home, /var/lib/lxc)

The installation process is initiated in the pre-installed Fedora image. The first action is to mount the external USB storage (sda) in the living system as follows:

# lsblk
sda 8:0 1 14,9G 0 disk
├─sda1 8:1 1 200M 0 part /mnt/debinst/boot/efi
└─sda2 8:2 1 10G 0 part /mnt/debinst
nvme0n1 259:0 0 477G 0 disk
├─nvme0n1p1 259:1 0 190M 0 part /boot/efi
├─nvme0n1p2 259:2 0 1,7G 0 part /boot
├─nvme0n1p3 259:3 0 7,5G 0 part [SWAP]
├─nvme0n1p4 259:4 0 46,6G 0 part /
└─nvme0n1p5 259:5 0 421,1G 0 part /home

As I said, the steps to install the Debian system into the SDcard are quite straightforward. The problems begins during the installation of GRUB and the Linux kernel …

The Linux Kernel

Having followed the guide we will reach the Install a Kernel step. Debian provides a Loongson Linux 4.19 kernel for the Loongson 3A/3B boards.

ii linux-image-4.19.0-14-loongson-3 4.19.171-2 mips64el Linux 4.19 for Loongson 3A/3B
ii linux-image-loongson-3 4.19+105+deb10u9 mips64el Linux for Loongson 3A/3B (meta-package)
ii linux-libc-dev:mips64el 4.19.171-2 mips64el Linux support headers for userspace development

It is quite old in comparison with the one that the Lemote Fedora distro contains (5.4.63-20201012-def) so I prefered to keep the one, although it should be possible to get the machine running with this kernel as well.

Grub2 EFI, first attempt trying to build it for the device

This is the main issue that I found. The first thing that I tried was to look for a GRUB package with EFI support in the mips64el Debian chroot:

root@fuloong-01:/# apt search grub | grep efi

The frustration came quickly when I didn’t find any GRUB candidate. It was then when I remembered that there was a grub-yeeloong package in the Debian repository that could be useful in this case. The Yeeloong is the predecessor of the Loongson so what I tried next was to rebuild the GRUB package but adding the mips64el architecture for the grub-yeeloong package. Something like the following:

  • Getting the Debian sources and dependencies for the grub2 packages:
    apt source grub2
    apt install debhelper patchutils python flex bison po-debconf help2man texinfo xfonts-unifont libfreetype6-dev gettext libdevmapper-dev libsdl1.2-dev xorriso parted libfuse-dev ttf-dejavu-core liblzma-dev wamerican pkg-config bash-completion build-essentia
  • Patching the /debian/control file using this patch
  • … and then to build the Debian package:
    ~/debs# cd grub2-2.02+dfsg1 && dpkg-buildpackage
    ~/debs/grub2-2.02+dfsg1# ls ../
    grub-common-dbgsym_2.02+dfsg1-20+deb10u3_mips64el.deb grub-yeeloong_2.02+dfsg1-20+deb10u3_mips64el.deb grub2_2.02+dfsg1-20+deb10u3.debian.tar.xz grub2_2.02+dfsg1.orig.tar.xz
    grub-common_2.02+dfsg1-20+deb10u3_mips64el.deb grub2-2.02+dfsg1 grub2_2.02+dfsg1-20+deb10u3.dsc
    grub-mount-udeb_2.02+dfsg1-20+deb10u3_mips64el.udeb grub2-common-dbgsym_2.02+dfsg1-20+deb10u3_mips64el.deb grub2_2.02+dfsg1-20+deb10u3_mips64el.buildinfo
    grub-yeeloong-bin_2.02+dfsg1-20+deb10u3_mips64el.deb grub2-common_2.02+dfsg1-20+deb10u3_mips64el.deb grub2_2.02+dfsg1-20+deb10u3_mips64el.changes

The .deb package is built correctly but the problem is the binary. It lacks EFI runtime support so it is not useful in our case:

GRUB2 will be compiled with following components:
Platform: mipsel-none <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
With devmapper support: Yes
With memory debugging: No
With disk cache statistics: No
With boot time statistics: No
efiemu runtime: No (only available on i386)
grub-mkfont: Yes
grub-mount: Yes
starfield theme: Yes
With DejaVuSans font from /usr/share/fonts/truetype/ttf-dejavu/DejaVuSans.ttf
With libzfs support: No (need zfs library)
Build-time grub-mkfont: Yes
With unifont from /usr/share/fonts/X11/misc/unifont.pcf.gz
With liblzma from -llzma (support for XZ-compressed mips images)
With quiet boot: No

This is what happens if you still try to install it:

root@fuloong-01:~/debs/grub2-2.02+dfsg1# dpkg -i ../grub-yeeloong-bin_2.02+dfsg1-20+deb10u3_mips64el.deb ../grub-common_2.02+dfsg1-20+deb10u3_mips64el.deb ../grub2-common_2.02+dfsg1-20+deb10u3_mips64el.deb
root@fuloong-01:~/debs/grub2-2.02+dfsg1# grub-install /dev/sda
Installing for mipsel-loongson platform.
grub-install: warning: WARNING: no platform-specific install was performed. <<<<<<<<<<
Installation finished. No error reported.

There is not glue between EFI and GRUB. Files like BOOTMIPS.EFI, gcdmips64el.efi and grub.efi are missing so this is package is not useful at all:

root@fuloong-01:~/debs/grub2-2.02+dfsg1# ls /boot/ config-4.19.0-14-loongson-3 efi grub grub.elf initrd.img-4.19.0-14-loongson-3 vmlinux-4.19.0-14-loongson-3
root@fuloong-01:~/debs/grub2-2.02+dfsg1# ls /boot/grub
fonts grubenv locale mipsel-loongson
root@fuloong-01:~/debs/grub2-2.02+dfsg1# ls /boot/efi/
root@fuloong-01:~/debs/grub2-2.02+dfsg1# ls /boot/ config-4.19.0-14-loongson-3 efi grub grub.elf initrd.img-4.19.0-14-loongson-3 vmlinux-4.19.0-14-loongson-3
root@fuloong-01:~/debs/grub2-2.02+dfsg1# ls /boot/grub
grub/ grub.elf

The grub-install command will also confirm that the mips64el-efi target is not supported:

root@fuloong-01:~/debs/grub2-2.02+dfsg1# /usr/sbin/grub-install --help
Usage: grub-install [OPTION...] [OPTION] [INSTALL_DEVICE]
Install GRUB on your drive.
--target=TARGET install GRUB for TARGET platform
[default=mipsel-loongson]; available targets:
arm-efi, arm-uboot, arm64-efi, i386-coreboot,
i386-efi, i386-ieee1275, i386-multiboot, i386-pc,
i386-qemu, i386-xen, i386-xen_pvh, ia64-efi,
mips-arc, mips-qemu_mips, mipsel-arc,
mipsel-loongson, mipsel-qemu_mips,
powerpc-ieee1275, sparc64-ieee1275, x86_64-efi,

Second attempt, the loongson-community Grub2 EFI

Now that we know that we can not use an official Debian package to install and configure GRUB it is time for a bit of google-fu.

I must have a lot of practice since it only took me a short while to find that the Lemote Fedora distro provides its own GRUB package for the Loongson and, later, I found new hope reading this article. This article explains how to build the GRUB from loongson-community with EFI support so what I would do next was the obvious logical step: To try to build it and check it:

    • git clone
      cd grub
      ./configure --prefix=/opt/alternative/
      make ; make install
    • The configure output looks promising:
      GRUB2 will be compiled with following components:
      Platform: mips64el-efi <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< Looks good.
      With devmapper support: Yes
      With memory debugging: No
      With disk cache statistics: No
      With boot time statistics: No
      efiemu runtime: No (not available on efi)
      grub-mkfont: No (need freetype2 library)
      grub-mount: Yes
      starfield theme: No (No build-time grub-mkfont)
      With libzfs support: No (need zfs library)
      Build-time grub-mkfont: No (need freetype2 library)
      Without unifont (no build-time grub-mkfont)
      With liblzma from -llzma (support for XZ-compressed mips images)

    … but unfortunately I started to have more and more build errors in every step. Errors like these:

cc1: error: position-independent code requires ‘-mabicalls’
grub_script.yy.c:19:22: error: statement with no effect [-Werror=unused-value]
build-grub-module-verifier: error: unsupported relocation 0x51807.

… so after several attempts I finally gave up trying to build the loongson-community with GRUB EFI support. Here the patch with some of the modifications that I tried in the code just in case you are better at solving these build errors than me.

Third attempt, reusing the GRUB2 EFI resources from the pre-installed system

… and the last one.

My winner horse was the simpler solution: to reuse the /boot and /boot/efi directories installed in the Fedora system as base for a new Debian system:

    • Clone the tree in the destination dir:
      cp -a /boot /mnt/debinst/boot
    • Replace the UUIDs patch

    The /boot dir in the target installation will be look like this:

    [root@fuloong-01 boot]# tree /mnt/debinst/boot/
    ├── boot -> .
    ├── config-5.4.60-1.fc28.lemote.mips64el
    ├── e8a27b4e4fcc4db9ab7a64bd81393773
    │   └── 5.4.60-1.fc28.lemote.mips64el
    │   ├── initrd
    │   └── linux
    ├── efi
    │   ├── boot
    │   │   ├── grub.cfg
    │   │   └── grub.efi
    │   ├── EFI
    │   │   ├── BOOT
    │   │   │   ├── BOOTMIPS.EFI
    │   │   │   ├── fonts
    │   │   │   │   └── unicode.pf2
    │   │   │   ├── gcdmips64el.efi
    │   │   │   ├── grub.cfg
    │   │   │   └── grubenv
    │   │   └── fedora
    │   ├── mach_kernel
    │   └── System
    │   └── Library
    │   └── CoreServices
    │   └── SystemVersion.plist
    ├── extlinux
    ├── grub2
    │   ├── grubenv -> ../efi/EFI/BOOT/grubenv
    │   └── themes
    │   └── system
    │   ├── background.png
    │   └── fireworks.png
    ├── grub.cfg
    ├── grub.efi
    ├── initramfs-5.4.60-1.fc28.lemote.mips64el.img
    ├── loader
    │   └── entries
    │   └── e8a27b4e4fcc4db9ab7a64bd81393773-5.4.60-1.fc28.lemote.mips64el.conf
    ├── lost+found
    ├── vmlinuz-205
    └── vmlinuz-5.4.60-1.fc28.lemote.mips64el

… et voilà!

Finally we have a pure Debian Buster root base system hybridized with the Lemote Fedora Linux kernel:

root@fuloong-01:~# cat /etc/debian_version
root@fuloong-01:~# uname -a
Linux fuloong-01 5.4.60-1.fc28.lemote.mips64el #1 SMP PREEMPT Mon Aug 24 09:33:35 CST 2020 mips64 GNU/Linux
root@fuloong-01:~# cat /etc/apt/sources.list
deb buster main contrib non-free 
deb-src buster main contrib non-free 
deb buster/updates main contrib non-free 
deb buster-updates main contrib non-free
root@fuloong-01:~# apt update
Hit:1 buster InRelease
Get:2 buster/updates InRelease [65,4 kB]
Get:3 buster-updates InRelease [51,9 kB]
Get:4 buster/updates/main mips64el Packages [242 kB]
Get:5 buster/updates/main Translation-en [142 kB]
Fetched 501 kB in 1s (417 kB/s)                                
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree       
Reading state information... Done
3 packages can be upgraded. Run 'apt list --upgradable' to see them.

With this hardware we can reasonably run native GDB directly on it and have the possibility to run other tools in the host (e.g. you can run any monitoring agent on it to get stats and so). Definitely, having this hardware enabled for using it in the CI infrastructure will be a promising step towards a better QA for the project.
That is all from my side. I will probably continue dedicating some time to get buildable packages of GRUB-EFI and the Linux Kernel that we could use for this and similar machines (e.g. for tools like perf who needs to have the userspace binaries in sync with the kernel version). In the meantime, I really hope that this can be useful to someone out there who is interested in this hardware. If you have some comment or question or you simply wish to share your thoughts about this just leave a comment.

Stay safe!

De raices y secretos

recorro el camino que la noche protege,
Cuando ya nadie penetra con ojos y báculos

Mi padre miró a alguien
Y abrazó a la palmera,
Yo miré a mi padre y también hurgué en ella.

Mi hijo no me vio y alguien subió con él, porque oculté celoso mi palmera como lo hiciera mi ancestro. 

Y hoy vago con ella sin tierra ni raíces
Sin retoños que recorran mi camino,
O sin extraños que puedan imaginar mi abrazo mientras la noche protege mi hazaña.

Hoy mi palmera perece en mi mente,
Sin llantos para ser socorrido
Porque ya desgarré sus raíces,

Y yo seguiré con ella, en hombros,
Y con mi aro colgando entre cantos y muros.

Justo Bolekia Boleká | Ombligos y raíces. Poesía africana
Biblioteca Africana – Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes | Noviembre de 2015

Cartagena de Indias – 10°25′25″N 75°31′31″O

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Calamari que en el lenguaje indígena significaba cangrejo y que Heredia y sus gentes españolizaron llamándole simplemente Calamar, era el nombre con que los nativos denominaban una aldea situada en el último repliegue de la bahía de Cartagena hacia el norte. Pueblo pajizo con techos que casi llegaban a tierra, rodeado de fuerte empalizada circular y de arboles espinosos coronados de calaveras cuyos habitantes estaban sumidos en secular barbarie, pero también en absoluta libertad.

— descripción de año 1533, año de su fundación por Pedro de Heredia

Panorámica de Cartagena de Indias




Sus calles coloniales, su arquitectura española, el colorido de sus fachadas, el clima tropical junto con la alegría contagiosa de su gente hacen de Cartagena de Indias un lugar único. Un lugar con encanto que aúna en un sólo sitio, en un solo instante, el legado de su historia y la vitalidad de sus gentes.

Sus calles del casco antiguo actúan como máquina del tiempo que te transportan a la antigua Corona española. No en vano, durante tiempo fue ciudad portuaria de las más importantes de América. De Cartagena salían las mayores riquezas de la Corona por rutas marítimas que terminaban en los puertos españoles de Cartagena, Cádiz y Sevilla.

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También destacan sobre los grabados de sus calles y fachadas los nombres de famosos piratas, corsarios y almirantes. Ingleses como Drake, Vernon, Cote o Hawkins se vinculan estrechamente a la historia de esta ciudad. También, como no podía ser de otra manera, los están los nombres de Blas de Lezo o  Sebastián  Carlos Suillars de Desnaux. Todos ellos figuras destacadas que dejaron su pegada en las calles de Cartagena y que son protagonistas de los hechos y hazañas de las más relevantes de su época. Una época de esplendor que se prolongó por más de 200 años hasta su decadencia finalizando el siglo XIX.

Así pues, fue en el año 1586  cuando el pirata Francis Drake se presentó frente a Cartagena con una gran escuadra de 23 navíos y unos 3000 hombres veteranos. Él mismo,  al frente de su flota, dio asedio y consiguió saquear la ciudad de Cartagena consiguiendo acceso de entrada por la bahía conocida como Boca Grande.

Mapa de Cartagena de indias
Mapa de Cartagena de Indias durante el asedio del inglés Francis Drake

Como consecuencia de este ataque, el rey Felipe II de España ordenó la fortificación del puerto de Cartagena  de Indias, su reconstrucción, y el inicio de la construcción del Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas situado sobre el cerro de San Lázaro. Esta fortificación defendería la ciudad amurallada desde su posición elevada al Norte de la ciudad en años venideros haciendo la plaza de facto inexpugnable.

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Fue esta construcción defensiva, de hecho,  clave años después, en el año 1740, cuando Blas de Lezo organizó la defensa de la ciudad para repeler el ejército invasor británico comandado por el almirante Vernon. Una flota británica que sumaba 2000 cañones dispuestos en casi 180 barcos, entre navíos de tres puentes, navíos de de línea, fragatas, bombardas y buques de transporte, y que transportaba en torno a 30000 combatientes entre marinos, soldados, milicias norteamericanas y esclavos negros macheteros de Jamaica fue enfrentada y repelida por las defensas de la ciudad de Cartagena a cargo de Lezo y en franca minoria.

Esta acción se conoce como el sitio de Cartagena de Indias de año 1741. Las defensas de Cartagena fueron compuesta, según datos que en algún otro momento  estuvieron a mi alcance, sólo por 3000 hombres entre tropa regular, milicianos, 600 indios, más marinería y tropa de desembarco de los seis navíos de guerra de los que disponía la ciudad : el Galicia, la nave capitana, el San Felipe, el San Carlos, el África, el Dragón y el Conquistador.

La contienda fue dura y la estrategia de Blas de Lezo se basó en contener al enemigo el mayor tiempo posible, desgastando al enemigo a sabiendas de que el tiempo y la logística contaban a su favor.  El desenlace se produjo precisamente en el fracaso de la toma del castillo de San Felipe de Barajas por parte de las tropas de Vernon que, tras tomar algunas de las defensas de la ciudad, el fallaron en el asalto al castillo San Felipe, el último baluarte importante que la defendía. Como resultado, el ejército británico, con gran parte de la tropa enferma, grandes bajas sufridas en los combates y la llegada de la época de lluvias, optó por destruir las defensas a su alcance y desistir del asedio.

Pero es también Cartagena un paraíso natural. Zona privilegiada del Mar Caribe, es su costa está continuamente salpicada de islas, cayos y pequeños paraísos. Su costa es, además, respetada por los huracanes tropicales siendo visitable durante los 365 del año.

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Building Chromium in MacOS with a Linux icecc cluster

Many times, during these last months, I thought to keep updated my blog writing a new post. Unfortunately, for one or another reason I always found an excuse to not do so. Well, I think that time is over because finally I found something useful and worthy the time spent time on the writing.

– That is OK but … what are you talking about?.
– Be patient Pablo, if you didn’t skip the headline of the post you already know about what I’m talking, probably :-).

Yes, I’m talking about how to setup a MacPro computer into a icecc cluster based on Linux hosts to take advantage of those to get more CPU power to build heavy software projects, like Chromium,  faster. The idea besides this is to distribute all the computational work over Linux nodes (fairly cheaper than any Mac) requested for cross-compiling tasks from the Mac host.

I’ve been working as a sysadmin at Igalia for the last couple of years. One of my duties here is to support and improve the developers building infrastructures. Recently we’ve faced long building times for heavy software projects like, for instance, Chromium. In this context, one of the main  issues that I had to solve is  how to build Chromium for MacOS in a reasonable time and avoiding to spend a lot of money in expensive bleeding edge Apple’s hardware to get CPU power.

This is what this post is about. This is an explanation about how to configure a Mac Pro to use a Linux based icecc cluster to boost the building times using cross-compilation. For simplicity, the explanation is focused in the singular case of just one single Linux host as icecc node and just one MacOS host requesting for compiling tasks but, in any case, you can extrapolate the instructions provided here to have many nodes as you need.

So let’s go with the the explanation but, first of all, a summary for those who want to go directly to the minimal and essential information …


On the Linux host:

# Configure the iceccd
$ sudo apt install icecc
$ sudo systemctl enable icecc-scheduler
$ edit /etc/icecc/icecc.conf
$ sudo systemctl restart icecc

# Generate the clang cross-compiling toolchain
$ sudo apt install build-essential icecc
$ git clone ~/depot_tools
$ export PATH=$PATH:~/depot_tools
$ git clone ~/chromium_clang_darwin_on_linux
$ cd ~/chromium_clang_darwin_on_linux
$ export CLANG_REVISION=332838  # or CLANG_REVISION=$(./get-chromium-clang-revision)
$ ./icecc-create-darwin-env
# copy the clang_darwin_on_linux_332838.tar.gz to your MacOS host

On the Mac:

# Configure the iceccd
$ git clone ~/icecream-mac/
$ sudo ~/icecream-mac/
$ launchctl load /Library/LaunchDaemons/org.icecream.iceccd.plist
$ launchctl start /Library/LaunchDaemons/org.icecream.iceccd.plist

# Set the ICECC env vars
$ export ICECC_VERSION=x86_64:~/clang_darwin_on_linux_332838.tar.gz
$ export PATH=~/icecream-mac/bin/icecc/:$PATH

# Get the depot_tools
$ cd ~
$ git clone
$ export PATH=$PATH:~/depot_tools

# Download and build the Chromium sources
$ cd chromium && fetch chromium && cd src
$ gn gen out/Default --args='cc_wrapper="icecc" \
  treat_warnings_as_errors=false \
  clang_use_chrome_plugins=false \
  use_debug_fission=false \
  linux_use_bundled_binutils=false \
  use_lld=false \
$ ninja -j 32 -C out/Default chrome

… and now the detailed explanation

Installation and setup of icecream on Linux hosts

The installation of icecream on a  Debian based Linux host is pretty simple. The latest version (1.1) for icecc is available in Debian testing and sid for a while so everything that you must to do is install it from the APT repositories. For case of stretch, there is a backport available  in the repository publically available:

sudo apt install icecc

The second important part of a icecc cluster is the icecc-scheduler. This daemon is in charge to route the requests from the icecc nodes which requiring available CPUs  for compiling to the nodes of the icecc cluster allowed to run remote build jobs.

In this setup we will activate the scheduler in the Linux node ( The key here is that only one scheduler should be up at the same time in the same network to avoid errors in the cluster.

sudo systemctl enable icecc-scheduler

Once the scheduler is configured and up, it is time to add icecc hosts to the cluster. We will start adding the Linux hosts following this idea:

  • The IP of the icecc scheduler is
  • The Linux host is allowed to run remote jobs
  • The Linux host is allowed to run up to 32 concurrent jobs (this is arbitrary decision and can be adjusted per each particular host)
    # edit /etc/icecc/icecc.conf

We will need to restart the service to apply those changes:

sudo systemctl restart icecc

Installing and setup of icecream on MacOS hosts

The next step is to install and configure the icecc service on our Mac.  The easy way to get icecc available on Mac is icecream-mac project from darktears. We will do the installation assuming the following facts:

  • The local user account in Mac is psaavedra
  • The IP of the icecc scheduler is
  • The Mac is not allowed to accept remote jobs
  • We don’t want run use the Mac as worker.

To get the icecream-mac software we will make a git-clone of the project on Github:

git clone /Users/psaavedra/icecream-mac/
sudo /Users/psaavedra/icecream-mac/

We will edit a bit the /Library/LaunchDaemons/org.icecream.iceccd.plist daemon definition as follows:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "">
<plist version="1.0">

Note that we are setting 2 workers in the Mac. Those workers are needed to execute threads in the host client host for things like linking … We will reload the service with this configuration:

launchctl load /Library/LaunchDaemons/org.icecream.iceccd.plist
launchctl start /Library/LaunchDaemons/org.icecream.iceccd.plist

Getting the cross-compilation toolchain for the icecream-mac

We already have the icecc cluster configured but, before to start to build Chromium on MacOS using icecc, there is still something before to do. We still need a cross-compiled clang for Darwin on Linux and, to avoid incompatibilities between versions, we need a clang based on the very same version that your Chromium code to be compiled.

You can check and get the cross-compilation clang revision that you need as follows:

cd src
CLANG_REVISION=$(cat tools/clang/scripts/ | grep CLANG_REVISION | head -n 1 | cut -d "'" -f 2)

In order to simplify this step.  I made some scripts which make it easy the generation of this clang cross-compiled toolchain. On a Linux host:

  • Install build depends:
    sudo apt install build-essential icecc
  • Get the Chromium project depot tools
    git clone ~/depot_tools  
    export PATH=$PATH:~/depot_tools
  • Download the psaavedra’s scripts (yes, my scripts):
    git clone ~/chromium_clang_darwin_on_linux
    cd ~/chromium_clang_darwin_on_linux
  • You can use the get-chromium-clang-revision script to get the latest clang revision using in Chromium master:
  • and then, to build the cross-compiled toolchain:

    ; this script encapsulates the download, configure and build of the clang software.

  • A clang_darwin_on_linux_999999.tar.gz file will be generated.

Setup the icecc environment variables

Once you have the /Users/psaavedra/clang_darwin_on_linux_332838.tar.gz generated in your MacOS. You are ready to set the icecc environments variables.

export ICECC_VERSION=x86_64:/Users/psaavedra/clang_darwin_on_linux_332838.tar.gz

The first variable enables the usage of the remote clang for C++. The second one establish toolchain to use by the x86_64 (Linux nodes) to build the code sent from the Mac.

Finally, remember to add the icecc binaries to the $PATH:

export PATH=/Users/psaavedra/icecream-mac/bin/icecc/:$PATH

You can check and get the cross-compiled clang revision that you need as follows:

cd src
CLANG_REVISION=$(cat tools/clang/scripts/ | grep CLANG_REVISION | head -n 1 | cut -d "'" -f 2)

… and building Chromium, at last

Reached this point, it’s time to build a Chromium using the icecc cluster and the cross-compiled clang toolchain previously created. These steps follows the official Chromium build procedure and only adapted to setup the icecc wrapper.

Ensure depot_tools is the path:

cd ~git clone
export PATH=$PATH:~/depot_tools
ninja --version
# 1.8.2

Get the code:

git config --global core.precomposeUnicode truemkdir chromium
cd chromium
fetch chromium

Configure the build:

cd src
gn gen out/Default --args='cc_wrapper="icecc" treat_warnings_as_errors=false clang_use_chrome_plugins=false linux_use_bundled_binutils=false use_jumbo_build=true'
# or with ccache
export CCACHE_PREFIX=icecc
gn gen out/Default --args='cc_wrapper="ccache" treat_warnings_as_errors=false clang_use_chrome_plugins=false linux_use_bundled_binutils=false use_jumbo_build=true'

And build, at last:

ninja -j 32 -C out/Default chrome

icemon allows you to graphically monitoring the icecc cluster. Run it in remote from your Linux host if you don’t want install it in the MacOS:

ssh -X user@yourlinuxbox icemon

; with icemon you should see how each build task is distributed across the icecc cluster.



…En aquella laguna de Guatavita se hacía una gran balsa de juncos, y aderezábanla lo más vistoso que podían… A este tiempo estaba toda la laguna coronada de indios y encendida por toda la circunferencia, los indios e indias todos coronados de oro, plumas y chagualas… Desnudaban al heredero (…) y lo untaban con una liga pegajosa, y rociaban todo con oro en polvo, de manera que iba todo cubierto de ese metal. Metíanlo en la balsa, en la cual iba parado, y a los pies le ponían un gran montón de oro y esmeraldas para que ofreciese a su dios. Entraban con él en la barca cuatro caciques, los más principales, aderezados de plumería, coronas, brazaletes, chagualas y orejeras de oro, y también desnudos… Hacía el indio dorado su ofrecimiento echando todo el oro y esmeraldas que llevaba a los pies en medio de la laguna, seguíanse luego los demás caciques que le acompañaban. Concluida la ceremonia batían las banderas… Y partiendo la balsa a la tierra comenzaban la grita… Con corros de bailes y danzas a su modo. Con la cual ceremonia quedaba reconocido el nuevo electo por señor y príncipe.

— Juan Rodríguez Freyle