Compiling GHC. Just for fun

A few days ago I wrote about installing GHC on openSUSE Linux. I stated that “[compiling GHC from source] is not really a sane option“. I did that based on opinion heard from others. In the next post about recursion I complained that “most of us programmers (…) follow assume-don’t-verify policy“. Oops, I fell into my own trap! It’s time to fix that. Today I decided to compile GHC from source. Just for fun.

OK, in fact I didn’t plan to do it. It just happened :) I went to github.com to see what projects are developed using Haskell. Finding a GHC repository wasn’t a big surprise. I cloned the repo just to check the size of the source. It was 17 MB – not much, really. That was intriguing, but the description of the repo at github provides a link to another GHC source repository. I cloned that one and got 85 megs of source (including repo data). That’s definitely more then in the previous case. The next step is running the script that fetches data from additional repositories (libraries, I guess). This increased the source size to around 250MB. Having the source I simply could not resist to build it.

First step was running some perl script and then it is a standard configure – make – make install procedure. First attempt on the building process failed. It turned out that I was missing header files for ncurses, but configure script missed that fact. After installing ncurses-devel the build was successful. GHC building instructions say:

You need to configure your build: which things to build, how much optimisation to use, whether to build profiling libraries, and so on. If you don’t do this, then you get everything, and it will be optimised to the hilt, which means the build will take a Very Long Time. This is fine if you wanted to build GHC for installation and use, but not if you’re building GHC to do some development work on it.

I didn’t customize my build and it took 1,5 hour on an iCore7 processor (2,66GHz). Too bad the build uses only one core, but it reminded of the times when I was compiling Linux kernel or MPlayer on a 333MHz Celeron – these were sometimes even longer. After the build finished the source directory grew to 2,5GB. I didn’t build the documentation and I skipped the make install part since I wanted only to play around with the building process, not messing up my system’s setup.

Now a few more notes. GHC uses a technique called bootstraping. It means that the compiler itself is written in Haskell and it needs a Haskell compiler to compile (I think that’s the main reason why compiling from source is not suitable for newbies). The build itself is divided into stages. Stage 0 is the compiler present in the system. Stage 1 is the first build of the new compiler that is later used during stage 2 to compile packages and build the compiler once more. Documentation explains the reason for rebuilding the compiler in the second stage in a way that is not yet fully clear to me:

Stage 1 does not support interactive execution (GHCi) and Template Haskell. The reason being that when running byte code we must dynamically link the packages, and only in stage 2 and later can we guarantee that the packages we dynamically link are compatible with those that GHC was built against (because they are the very same packages).

Generally compilation turned out to be relatively easy, although I think that people not developing the compiler (and newbies especially) should just rely on the binaries provided on the GHC site.

One Response to “Compiling GHC. Just for fun”

  1. Evi1M4chine says:

    With Gentoo, compilation from source is all but the setting of a USE flag away. It’s the default on my system. And: Yes, it takes forever, and takes shitloads of RAM and disk space. I saw virtual memory usages beyond 8GB…
    But hey, GHC is awesome (a rare case where something actually deserves that word), so it’s worth it.

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