C++ symbols wrapup

I wanted to give a final update of my experiment with adding symbols files to C++ library packages.

In the end, I reverted the changes and have gone back to not providing a symbols file, and instead just using shlibs. Some of this is because of the general state of the available tools, and some of it is due to the nature of the packages I was working on. This set of packages has frequent SONAME bumps from upstream, so backward compatibility across Debian stable versions can't happen anyway. They also don't use symbol export control, which means that the number of exported symbols is quite large and contains a lot of things leaked from internal objects.

But there are also tool issues. The biggest that I ran into is that symbols appear and disappear in the export list with different versions of the compiler, and the pkg-kde-tools utilities, while excellent, still interpret those changes as architecture-specific changes. So the symbols file accumulates supposedly arch-specific variations, which are actually about what version of the compiler happened to be installed on that buildd when the package was built. This also means that if a package that has had its symbols file updated for one architecture is built again on the same architecture but on another buildd with a different g++, it will often FTBFS since a different set of symbols will be present.

Obviously, this is too fragile to be maintainable.

Further debian-devel discussion pointed out that these symbol variations are probably all inline functions, where the compiler may or may not output a weak version of the symbol if it chooses not to inline it in some particular case. The right thing to do for these libraries (not all, since there are other uses of weak symbols) is to mark all weak symbols as optional and not care if they randomly appear and disappear.

There are also some 32-bit vs. 64-bit variations that are not captured by the subst mechanism, which resulted in the symbols file developing a list of architecture restrictions that amounted to "all 32-bit systems" or "all 64-bit systems." These explicit lists are also fragile, and will break with each new architecture introduced in Debian.

I filed three bugs with pkg-kde-tools with suggestions for improving the tools for other people going forward:

#657805 — pkgkde-getbuildlogs gets truncated logs
#657806 — representation of covariant return thunks
#658333 — option to mark weak symbols as optional

but I think that the level of work and remaining fragility doesn't make sense for a lot of C++ libraries, at least right now without more direct support in dpkg-gensymbols and other tool improvements. I'm therefore also planning on changing the proposed Policy patch for symbols to make it more clear that shlibs is an acceptable alternative for C++, and to patch Lintian to suppress the info tag for no symbols file for C++ libraries.

Posted: 2012-02-01 21:00 — Why no comments?

Last spun 2013-07-01 from thread modified 2013-01-04