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2. Creating a Cross-Compiler


2.a. Overview

The first thing you should know about building a toolchain is that some versions of toolchain components refuse to work together. Exactly which combinations are problematic is a matter that's constantly in flux as the Portage tree evolves. The only reliable way to determine what works is to run crossdev, adjusting individual component versions as necessary, until crossdev completes the toolchain build successfully. Even then, the cross toolchain may build binaries which break on the target system. Only through trial and error and patience will you arrive at a favorable combination of all factors.

You do not have to worry about the cross-compiler interfering with your native build system. All of the toolchain packages are designed such that they are isolated from each other based on the target. This way you can install cross-compilers for whatever architecture you wish without breaking the rest of your system.

2.b. crossdev


Generating a cross-compiler by hand is a long and painful process. This is why it has been fully integrated into Gentoo! A frontend called crossdev will run emerge with all of the proper environment variables and install all the right packages to generate arbitrary cross-compilers based on your needs. First you'll need to install crossdev:

Code Listing 2.1: Install crossdev

# emerge crossdev

You'll probably want to install the ~arch keyworded version of crossdev to get all the latest fixes.

Note: If you are upgrading from an older version of crossdev, and have crossdev-wrappers installed, be sure to uninstall crossdev-wrappers first. Your existing cross-toolchains will remain intact.

We only cover the basic usage of crossdev here, but crossdev can customize the process fairly well for most needs. Run crossdev --help to get some ideas on how to use crossdev. Here are a few common uses:

Code Listing 2.2: Useful crossdev options

(Use specific package versions)
# crossdev --g [gcc version] --l [(g)libc version] --b [binutils version] --k [kernel headers version] -P -v -t [tuple]
(Use the stable version only)
# crossdev -S -P -v -t [tuple]


The first step is to select the proper tuple for your target. Here we will assume you want to build a cross-compiler for the SH4 (SuperH) processor with glibc running on Linux. We will do this on a PowerPC machine.

Code Listing 2.3: Generating SH4 cross-compiler

# crossdev --target sh4-unknown-linux-gnu
 * Host Portage ARCH:     ppc
 * Target Portage ARCH:   sh
 * Target System:         sh4-unknown-linux-gnu
 * Stage:                 4 (C/C++ compiler)

 * binutils:              binutils-[latest]
 * gcc:                   gcc-[latest]
 * headers:               linux-headers-[latest]
 * libc:                  glibc-[latest]

 * PORTDIR_OVERLAY:       /usr/local/portage
 * PORT_LOGDIR:           /var/log/portage
 * PKGDIR:                /usr/portage/packages/powerpc-unknown-linux-gnu/cross/sh4-unknown-linux-gnu
 * PORTAGE_TMPDIR:        /var/tmp/cross/sh4-unknown-linux-gnu
  _  -  ~  -  _  -  ~  -  _  -  ~  -  _  -  ~  -  _  -  ~  -  _  -  ~  -  _  -  ~  -  _  -  ~  -  _  
 * Forcing the latest versions of {binutils,gcc}-config/gnuconfig ...                          [ ok ]
 * Log: /var/log/portage/cross-sh4-unknown-linux-gnu-binutils.log
 * Emerging cross-binutils ...                                                                 [ ok ]
 * Log: /var/log/portage/cross-sh4-unknown-linux-gnu-gcc-stage1.log
 * Emerging cross-gcc-stage1 ...                                                               [ ok ]
 * Log: /var/log/portage/cross-sh4-unknown-linux-gnu-linux-headers.log
 * Emerging cross-linux-headers ...                                                            [ ok ]
 * Log: /var/log/portage/cross-sh4-unknown-linux-gnu-glibc.log
 * Emerging cross-glibc ...                                                                    [ ok ]
 * Log: /var/log/portage/cross-sh4-unknown-linux-gnu-gcc-stage2.log
 * Emerging cross-gcc-stage2 ...                                                               [ ok ]

Note: At the moment it's not possible to set PORTAGE_CONFIGROOT before calling crossdev to a folder set to the arch you're targetting. You have to use your own config. If you want to use arch specific use flags, like altivec in a non powerpc architecture, you need to unmask the use flag in /usr/portage/base/use.mask, or temporarily change your profile.

Quick Test

If everything goes as planned, you should have a shiny new compiler on your machine. Give it a spin!

Code Listing 2.4: Using SH4 cross-compiler

$ sh4-unknown-linux-gnu-gcc --version
sh4-unknown-linux-gnu-gcc (GCC) 4.2.0 (Gentoo 4.2.0 p1.4)
Copyright (C) 2007 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This is free software; see the source for copying conditions.  There is NO
$ echo 'int main(){return 0;}' > sh4-test.c
$ sh4-unknown-linux-gnu-gcc -Wall sh4-test.c -o sh4-test
$ file sh4-test
sh4-test: ELF 32-bit LSB executable, Renesas SH, version 1 (SYSV), for GNU/Linux 2.6.9, dynamically linked (uses shared libs), not stripped

If the crossdev command failed, you have the log file which you can review to see if the problem is local. If you're unable to fix the issue, you're welcome to file a bug in our bugzilla. See the Communication page for more information.


To uninstall a toolchain, simply use the --clean option. If you modified the sysroot by hand, you'll be prompted to delete things inside of it, so you may want to pipe yes | into the command.

Code Listing 2.5: Uninstalling cross-compiler

# crossdev --clean sh4-unknown-linux-gnu

In case you didn't already notice, deleting any and all files in the /usr/CTARGET/ directory is completely safe.


Obviously crossdev can do a lot more, so to find out more, simply run crossdev --help.

2.c. Cross-compiler Internals

Warning: This section is included for posterity and in the hopes that others will find it useful. The target audience is people who (for some stupid reason or another) really really want to create their own cross compiler with binutils/(glibc|uclibc)/gcc all by themselves. This section is not meant to cover/document/whatever the myriad of build failures you are likely to see along the way. If you need such help, see the Beyond section in the handbook for some pointers. You certainly should not bug me or anyone else in Gentoo.

Warning: If you're still reading, you should really check out the crosstool project (refer to the Beyond section) as that provides a distribution independent method for generating cross-compilers. While it does kind of suck (imo), it is certainly the best (and really only) option out there for creating cross-compilers.


There are generally two ways to build up your cross-compiler. The "accepted" way, and the cheater's shortcut.

The current "accepted" way is:

  1. binutils
  2. kernel headers
  3. libc headers
  4. gcc stage1 (c-only)
  5. libc
  6. gcc stage2 (c/c++/etc...)

The cheater's shortcut is:

  1. binutils
  2. kernel headers
  3. gcc stage1 (c-only)
  4. libc
  5. gcc stage2 (c/c++/etc...)

The reason people are keen on the shortcut is that the libc headers step tends to take quite a while, especially on slower machines. It can also be kind of a pain to setup kernel/libc headers without a usuable cross compiler. Note though that if you seek help with cross-compilers, upstream projects will not want to help you if you took the shortcut.

Also note that the shortcut requires the gcc stage1 to be "crippled". Since you're building without headers, you cannot enable the sysroot option nor can you build up proper gcc libs. This is OK if the only thing you use the stage1 is building the C library and a kernel, but beyond that you need a nice sysroot based compiler.

Below I will describe the "accepted" way as the steps are pretty much the same. You just need some extra patches for gcc in order to take the shortcut.


We will be cross-compiling using the sysroot method. But does the sysroot do?

The sysroot tells GCC to consider dir as the root of a tree that contains a (subset of) the root filesystem of the target operating system. Target system headers, libraries and run-time object files will be searched in there.

The top level dir is commonly rooted in /usr/$CTARGET

Code Listing 3.1: typical sysroot layout

|-- bin/
|-- lib/            critical runtime libs (libc/ldso/etc...)
`-- usr/
    |-- include/    development headers
    |   |-- linux/      like the linux kernel
    |   `-- asm/        like the arch-specific
    `-- lib/        non critical runtime libs / development libs

As you can see, it's just like the directory setup in / but in /usr/$CTARGET. This setup is of course not an accident but designed on purpose so you can easily migrate applications/libraries out of /usr/$CTARGET and into / on your target board. If you wanted, you could even be lazy and use the /usr/$CTARGET as a quick NFS root!

Note: The old style of cross-compilers was to use --prefix=/usr/$CTARGET. If you are using versions of binutils/gcc that predate sysroot support, you may have to do just this. I will not document this because (1) you should not be using such old/crusty/busted versions and (2) it's quite a huge pain compared to sysroot.


Grab the latest binutils tarball and unpack it.

The --disable-werror configure option is to prevent binutils from aborting the compile due to warnings. Great feature for developers, but a pain for users.

Code Listing 3.2: configure and build binutils

$ ./configure \
	--target=$CTARGET \
	--prefix=/usr \
	--with-sysroot=/usr/$CTARGET \
$ make
$ make install DESTDIR=$PWD/install-root

The reason we install into the localdir is so we can remove crap that doesn't belong. For example, a normal install will give us /usr/lib/libiberty.a which doesn't belong in our host /usr/lib. So clean out stuff first:

Code Listing 3.3: cleaning binutils

$ rm -rf install-root/usr/{info,lib,man,share}

And install what's left:

Code Listing 3.4: install binutils

# cp -a install-root/* /

Kernel headers

Grab the latest Linux tarball and unpack it. There are two ways of installing the kernel headers: sanitized and unsanitized. The former is clearly better (but requires a recent version of the Linux kernel), but we'll quickly cover both.

Note: Clearly you'll have to replace $ARCH with a value that makes sense for your platform.

Code Listing 3.5: building/installing unsanitized headers

$ yes "" | make ARCH=$ARCH oldconfig prepare
# mkdir -p /usr/$CTARGET/usr/include
# cp -a include/linux include/asm-generic /usr/$CTARGET/usr/include/
# cp -a include/asm-$ARCH /usr/$CTARGET/usr/include/asm

Code Listing 3.6: building/installing sanitized headers

# make ARCH=$ARCH headers_install INSTALL_HDR_PATH=/usr/$CTARGET/usr

System libc headers

Grab the latest glibc tarball and unpack it. Glibc is picky, so you'll have to compile in a directory separate from the source code.

Code Listing 3.7: building/installing glibc headers

$ mkdir build
$ cd build
$ ../configure \
	--host=$CTARGET \
	--prefix=/usr \
	--with-headers=/usr/$CTARGET/usr/include \
	--without-cvs \
# make -k install-headers install_root=/usr/$CTARGET

Glibc sucks at life so you have to do a few things by hand:

Code Listing 3.8: help glibc

# mkdir -p /usr/$CTARGET/usr/include/gnu
# touch /usr/$CTARGET/usr/include/gnu/stubs.h
# cp bits/stdio_lim.h /usr/$CTARGET/usr/include/bits/

GCC Stage 1 (C only)

We first have to help gcc find the current libc headers.

Code Listing 3.9: help gcc

# ln -s usr/include /usr/$CTARGET/sys-include

Then grab the latest gcc tarball and unpack it.

Code Listing 3.10: building gcc stage 1

$ mkdir build
$ cd build
$ ../configure \
	--target=$CTARGET \
	--prefix=/usr \
	--with-sysroot=/usr/$CTARGET \
	--enable-languages=c \
	--disable-shared \
	--disable-checking \
	--disable-werror \
	--disable-libmudflap \
	--disable-libssp \
$ make
$ make install DESTDIR=$PWD/install-root

Same as binutils, gcc leaves some stuff behind we don't want.

Code Listing 3.11: cleaning gcc stage 1

$ rm -rf install-root/usr/{info,include,lib/libiberty.a,man,share}

Then install what's left (everything should be in CTARGET specific directories which prevents overwriting your host files):

Code Listing 3.12: installing gcc stage 1

# cp -a install-root/* /

System libc

Remove the old glibc build dir and recreate it.

Code Listing 3.13: building/installing glibc

$ rm -rf build
$ mkdir build
$ cd build
$ ../configure \
	--host=$CTARGET \
	--prefix=/usr \
$ make
# make install install_root=/usr/$CTARGET

GCC Stage 2 (All frontends)

Build up a full GCC now. Select whichever compiler frontends you like; we'll just do C/C++ for simplicity.

Code Listing 3.14: building/installing gcc stage 2

$ ./configure \
	--target=$CTARGET \
	--prefix=/usr \
	--with-sysroot=/usr/$CTARGET \
	--enable-languages=c,c++ \
	--enable-shared \
	--disable-checking \
$ make
# make install

Core Runtime Files

There are many random core runtime files that people wonder what they may be for. Let's explain.

Files provided by glibc
File Purpose
crt0.o Older style of the initial runtime code. No one generates this anymore.
crt1.o Newer style of the initial runtime code. Contains the _start symbol which sets up the env with argc/argv/libc _init/libc _fini before jumping to the libc main. glibc calls this file 'start.S'.
crti.o Defines the function prolog; _init in the .init section and _fini in the .fini section. glibc calls this 'initfini.c'.
crtn.o Defines the function epilog. glibc calls this 'initfini.c'.
Scrt1.o Used in place of crt1.o when generating PIEs.
gcrt1.o Used in place of crt1.o when generating code with profiling information. Compile with -pg. Produces output suitable for the gprof util.
Mcrt1.o Like gcrt1.o, but is used with the prof utility. glibc installs this as a dummy file as it's useless on linux systems.
Files provided by GCC
File Purpose
crtbegin.o GCC uses this to find the start of the constructors.
crtbeginS.o Used in place of crtbegin.o when generating shared objects/PIEs.
crtbeginT.o Used in place of crtbegin.o when generating static executables.
crtend.o GCC uses this to find the start of the destructors.
crtendS.o Used in place of crtend.o when generating shared objects/PIEs.

The general linking order:

Code Listing 3.15: general linking order

... crt1.o crti.o crtbegin.o [-L paths] [user objects] [gcc libs] [C libs] [gcc libs] crtend.o crtn.o	

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Page updated April 28, 2013

Summary: Build a cross-compiler on your machine!

Mike Frysinger

Ned Ludd

Robin H. Johnson

Alex Tarkovsky

Alexey Shvetsov

Raúl Porcel

Joshua Saddler

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