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Various free software hacking stuff

Knowing your system - Part 10 - Native multilib system

by Marc-Antoine Perennou on January 31, 2013

Tagged as: sysadmin, knowingyoursystem, systemd, source-based, exherbo.

Why no post last week?

Last week, we were quite busy at Clever Cloud, since we were releasing an awesome offer and it took us quite some time since we migrated amongst other things from openstack to a custom home made solution which better fits our needs.

The future of “Knowing your system”

Two weeks ago, with Part 9, I actually finished my initial Roadmap for this saga of posts, so I won’t continue to make 1 post per week. I’ll keep posting them on Thursdays, as I find out interesting stuff about system internals.

I recommend you reading last Lennart’s post which explains a lot of things about the common myths regarding systemd.

What is multilib?

On classical systems running on machines with Intel or AMD processors (the vast majority of systems), you have the choice between installing a 32-bits (x86) or 64-bits (x86_64) system.

Most systems used to be 32-bits, but these last years, 64-bits systems mostly became the standard. Point is that you cannot run 32-bits binaries from a 64-bits system (the opposite is also true). Since some clients may need it, we switched all our applicative systems to multilib, at Clever Cloud.

Solution: On your 64-bits system, you can install 32-bits libraries in parallel of 64-bits one (the former will be in /usr/lib32, the latter in /usr/lib64, usually). Doing so allows you to run both 64 and 32-bits binaries on your system as long as you have the dependencies installed both for 64 and 32-bits. A good example is skype, which do not release a proper 64-bits version, so you need to run the 32-bits one, no matter your system.

Multilib system: the right way

Multilib is implemented in different ways depending on the distribution. Some of them like Debian or Gentoo provide huge packages with a while set of libraries in them, and only a subset or your system is available in 32-bits. For fedora, it’s kinda better, multilib packages are installed with <packages_name>.i386 for the 32-bits version and <package_name>.amd64 for the 64-bits version.

The only distribution I know of which allow you real native multilib installation is, you’ll have guessed it, Exherbo. The tutorial to switch to a multilib system is quite simple:, and once this is done, the only thing you have to do is enabling the multibuild_c: 32 option to all the packages that you want to be available in 32-bits too. That’s it, you can get your whole system in both 64 and 32-bits just like this, natively.

A good example of this is Clement’s article telling how he switched his system to multilib in order to be able to run dwarf fortress on Exherbo.