Cross-compile Rust programs to run on Turris Omnia

In my previous blog post, I described how to use LXC containers to run an arbitrary Ubuntu package on Turris Omnia. While easy to configure, I find such setup rather wasteful. I don’t want to run another full Linux distro on my router to be able to run small (home) automation programs.

What other options do we have?

  • Write programs in Python. Turris OS comes with Python version 2.7, a lot of the admin tooling is written in Python too. However, I never fell in love with Python, plus it’s a high-level interpreted language with a garbage collector — not the most efficient option either 🤷‍♂️
  • Use a low level language like C or C++ and cross-compile programs for Turris. It turns out cross-compilation is pretty easy to set up and we can get the best performance with the lowest memory usage. But only as long as we don’t introduce a memory leak or crash the process on accessing memory that has been already released back 🙈(Not to mention the complexity of installing 3rd-party dependencies, because there is no package manager for C/C++.)
  • Use Rust to get best of the both worlds: productivity and reliability of high-level languages like Python together with performance of low-level languages like C 💪

Let’s take a look at the Rust path. To get a Rust program running on Turris, we need to:

  1. Find the platform used by the router hardware, this will be the cross-compilation target.
  2. Install cross-compilation build tools, verify that we can cross-compile a simple C program and run it on the router.
  3. Install Rust and setup cross-compilation, verify that we can cross-compile a simple Rust program and run it on the router.

Note: The following instructions are for Ubuntu 18.04 LTS. I am using Windows Subsystem for Linux to run Ubuntu on my Windows machine.

Find the target platform 🕵️‍♂️

Cross-compilation targets are typically expressed as triples in the following format:

{architecture}-{vendor}-{system}-{abi}

We already know that Turris Omnia’s processor has ARMv7 architecture. The vendor is typically unknown for Linux systems, because it does not matter which vendor created the distribution. The last missing piece is what ABI (application binary interface) is Turris OS using? On Linux, this refers to the libc implementation which you can find out with ldd --version.

$ ssh [email protected] "ldd --version"
musl libc (armhf)
Version 1.1.19
Dynamic Program Loader
Usage: ldd \[options\] \[--\] pathname

The target triple for Turris Omnia is armv7-unknown-linux-musleabihf and luckily for us, this target is supported by Rust as a Tier 2 platform:

Tier 2 platforms can be thought of as “guaranteed to build”. Automated tests are not run so it’s not guaranteed to produce a working build, but platforms often work to quite a good degree and patches are always welcome!

Setup C cross-compiler ⚙

Before we begin, let’s make sure we have regular build tooling installed.

$ sudo apt-get install build-essential

Now our task would be much simpler if we were targeting gnueabihf instead of musleabihf, because Ubuntu provides packages with cross-compiling toolchain for gnueabihf targets. MUSL is a bit of mystery for me, I know almost nothing about this flavor of the standard C library.

Fortunately, there is a project called musl-cross-make that provides a “simple makefile-based build for musl cross compiler” and it works like a charm! Start by downloading the source codes from from GitHub:

$ wget https://github.com/richfelker/musl-cross-make/archive/master.tar.gz
$ tar xzf master.tar.gz
$ cd musl-cross-make-master

Let’s tweak few configuration options before we start the build. Copy the config template file config.mak.dist to config.mak and set the following options (you can uncomment the relevant lines provided by the template):

TARGET=arm-linux-musleabihfOUTPUT=/usr/local

(It’s best to use the same MUSL version as reported by ldd --version on your Turris. Mine is 1.1.19 at the time of writing.)

Build time!

$ make
$ make install

Now we should have all tooling installed in /usr/local and thus available on PATH. Let’s run gcc to verify:

$ arm-linux-musleabihf-gcc --version
arm-linux-musleabihf-gcc (GCC) 9.2.0
Copyright (C) 2019 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
(...)

Cross-compile a C program 🌍

So far, we have a hypothesis about the target triplet that matches Turris platform. Now it’s time to verify our assumptions in practice.

Write a simple “Hello world” program in C — save the following code to a file named hello.c:

#include <stdio.h>
int main() {
  printf("Hello, World!\n");
  return 0;
}

Cross-compile this program for Turris:

$ arm-linux-musleabihf-gcc hello.c -o hello

Upload the program to the router and execute it there. I am storing the file in /srv, which is backed by an mSATA SSD drive, to avoid unnecessary writes to the internal flash storage. If all goes well then you should get the familiar greeting.

$ scp hello [email protected]:/srv
hello                                 100% 7292     1.6MB/s   00:00
$ ssh [email protected] /srv/hello
Hello, World!

Install Rust and setup cross-compilation 🏎

There are different ways how to install Rust, I decided to use the recommended approach based on rustup.

$ curl https://sh.rustup.rs -sSf | sh

We also need to install standard crates (Rust core modules) cross-compiled for our target platform.

$ rustup target add armv7-unknown-linux-musleabihf

In the last step, we tell the Rust compiler which linker to use when compiling for our target platform. Add the following section to ~/.cargo/config:

[target.armv7-unknown-linux-musleabihf]
linker = "arm-linux-musleabihf-gcc"

Cross-compile a Rust program 🎉

Create a “Hello world” program in Rust and compile it:

$ cargo new --bin hello
$ cd hello
$ cargo build --target=armv7-unknown-linux-musleabihf
Compiling hello v0.1.0 (/home/bajtos/src/hello)
Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 2.53s

Upload the program to the router and execute it there. If all goes well then you should get the same greeting again.

$ scp target/armv7-unknown-linux-musleabihf/debug/hello [email protected]:/srv
hello                                  100% 2903KB  10.8MB/s   00:00
$ ssh [email protected] /srv/hello
Hello, World!

Congratulations, now you can take any Rust program and run it on your Turris Omnia router. For example, if you are using Mastodon and Twitter, you can sync your posts between these two networks using klausi/mastodon-twitter-sync.

Credits and references 🙇‍♂️

A lot of the information in this blog post is based on japaric/rust-cross, an awesome guide for cross-compiling Rust programs. Thank you, Jorge Aparicio!

The list of platforms supported by Rust can be found in the official project documentation here: Rust Platform Support.

And finally it would take me ages to figure out how to cross-compile for MUSL ABI if there wasn’t Rich Felker’s excellent musl-cross-make project.

P.S.

Did you notice that our C program has 7kB while the Rust version has 2903kB? There are few tricks how to reduce the executable size of Rust programs. By enabling Link Time Optimization, I was able to quickly reduce the size of a release build down to 1408kB. You can learn about more advanced techniques in “Minimizing Rust Binary Size”.

Originally published at https://medium.com/@bajtos/cross-compile-rust-programs-to-run-on-turris-omnia-e592b555e2aa