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SubjectRe: [RFC] minimum gcc version for kernel: raise to gcc-4.3 or 4.6?
On Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 9:52 PM, Kees Cook <> wrote:
> On Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 3:15 AM, Arnd Bergmann <> wrote:
>> On Sun, Apr 16, 2017 at 9:52 PM, Kees Cook <> wrote:
>>>>> The original gcc-4.3 release was in early 2008. If we decide to still
>>>>> support that, we probably want the first 10 quirks in this series,
>>>>> while gcc-4.6 (released in 2011) requires none of them.
>>> I'd be in support of raising the minimum to gcc 4.6. (I'd actually
>>> prefer 4.7, just to avoid some 4.6 packaging issues, and for better
>>> gcc plugin support.)
>>> I'm curious what gcc 4.6 binaries are common in the wild besides
>>> old-stable Debian (unsupported in maybe a year from now?) and 12.04
>>> Ubuntu (going fully unsupported in 2 weeks). It looks like 4.6 was
>>> used only in Fedora 15 and 16 (both EOL).
>> I think we are better off defining two versions: One that we know
>> a lot of people care about, and we actively try to make that work
>> well in all configurations (e.g. 4.6, 4.7 or 4.8), fixing all warnings
>> we run into, and an older version that we try not to break
>> intentionally (e.g. 3.4, 4.1 or 4.3) but that we only fix when
>> someone actually runs into a problem they can't work around
>> by upgrading to a more modern compiler.
> For "working well everywhere" I feel like 4.8 is the better of those
> three (I'd prefer 4.9). I think we should avoid 4.6 -- it seems not
> widely used.

I suspect that 4.9 might be the one that actually works best
across architectures, and it contained some very significant
changes. In my testing gcc-5 tends to behave very similarly
to 4.9, and gcc-6 introduced a larger number of new warnings,
so that would clearly be too new for a recommended version.

The suggestion of 4.9 or higher is appealing as a recommendation
because it matches what I would personally tell people:

- If you have gcc-4.9 or newer and you don't rely on any newer
features, there is no need to upgrade
- Wth gcc-4.8, the -Wmaybe-uninitialized warnings are now turned
off because they were too noisy, so upgrading is probably a good
idea even though the compiler is otherwise ok and in widespread
- gcc-4.6 and 4.7 are basically usable for building kernels, but the
warning output is often counterproductive, and the generated
object code may be noticeably worse.
- anything before gcc-4.6 is missing too many features to be
useful on ARM, but may still be fine on other architectures.

On the other hand, there is a noticeable difference in compile
speed, as a 5% slowdown compared to the previous release
apparently is not considered a regression. These are the times
I see for building ARM 'vexpress_defconfig':

gcc-4.4: real 0m47.269s user 11m48.576s
gcc-4.5: real 0m44.878s user 10m58.900s
gcc-4.6: real 0m44.621s user 11m34.716s
gcc-4.7: real 0m47.476s user 12m42.924s
gcc-4.8: real 0m48.494s user 13m19.736s
gcc-4.9: real 0m50.140s user 13m44.876s
gcc-5.x: real 0m51.302s user 14m05.564s
gcc-6.x: real 0m54.615s user 15m06.304s
gcc-7.x: real 0m56.008s user 15m44.720s

That is a factor of 1.5x in CPU cycles between slowest and
fastest, so there is clearly a benefit to keeping the old versions
around, but there is also no clear cut-off other thannoticing
that gcc-4.4 is slower than 4.5 in this particular

> For an old compiler... yikes. 3.4 sounds insane to me. :)

That was my initial thought as well. On ARM, it clearly is
insane, as even gcc-4.0 is unable to build any of the modern
defconfigs (lacking -mabi=aapcs, ICE when building vsprintf.c)
and even the patch I did to get gcc-4.1 to build is probably
too ugly to get merged, so to build any unpatched kernel after
linux-3.6 you need at least gcc-4.2, or even gcc-4.4 for the
''defconfig' (gcc-4.3 if you disable vdso).

Then again, on x86, old cmpilers were claimed to be much better
supported. I just tried it out and found that no x86 defconfig kernel
since linux-3.2 could be built with gcc-3.4, probably not on any
other architecture either (it cannot have forward declarations
for inline functions and we have one in kernel/sched_fair.c).

I think that would be a really good argument for requiring
something newer ;-)

The linux-4.2 x86 defconfig could still be built with gcc-4.0, but
later kernels have several minor problems with that, and
require at least gcc-4.3.

If we are ok with this status quo, we could simply declare gcc-4.3
the absolute minimum version for the kernel, make gcc-4.9
the recommeded minimum version, and remove all workarounds
for gcc-4.2 or older.

If anyone has a good reason for gcc-4.0 through gcc-4.2, then
we would need a small number of patches to get them back
working with x86 defconfig.


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