« Android Compilation Headaches

Aleksa Sarai

android free software rant

28 November 2015

“Free software projects are only useful if you can build them for yourselves.”

I’m sure that most developers would agree with this statement, even if all you want to do is test changes you’ve written before sending them upstream. What good is having access to the code if you can’t build and run it? How do you know what’s actually running on your machine? Build it and find out!

I’ve been working on fixing a bug in the Team Win Recovery Project ROM, and obviously wanted to build it before sending a patch upstream. I wasn’t even sure if my patch would build, due to the grave lack of comments throughout the codebase – but that’s an issue for another day.

Naturally, I typed make and nothing happened! Well, some quick Googling showed that I needed to “build it inside an AOSP environment”. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I was game. I found a thread which was linked to and is clearly the authority on TWRP compilation. Great! I just have to follow this to the letter and—

All of TWRP 2.x source is public. You can compile it on your own. This guide isn’t going to be a step-by-step, word-for-word type of guide. If you’re not familiar with basic [GNU/]Linux commands and/or building in AOSP then you probably won’t be able to do this. […] There’s only so much that you can dumb it down and simplify it. There’s lots of other guides out there for getting started.

Oh, okay. I mean, that’s a little bit flippant, but I guess I can go find these “other guides”. Why they weren’t linked is beyond me, but Google exists for a reason. Just because I haven’t built Android before doesn’t mean that I “won’t be able to do this”.

Attempt 1: OS X – AOSP

Before getting your hopes up, note the 1 in the section title. It should hint at how well this is going to go.

So, I’m going to ignore the massive issue of how big the repository was. It took up a total of 34GB (18 of which was the .repo metadata). Anyway, let’s go over the many issues.

The first one was sort of my fault, I tried to build Android with OS X. But the documentation for CyanogenMod, Android and OmniROM all claim that building on OS X is supported. I guess I was too gullible believing that anything developer-related on OS X is even remotely easy. Headers were missing, the pre-built toolchain was badly broken. I managed to patch up these issues with some horrible symlink hacks.

Secondly was that repo didn’t actually download all of the source code. As it turns out, repo doesn’t actually make sure that the download you asked it to complete was completed. So, I had to re-run repo sync specifying that I only wanted one network thread and ran it a few times to make sure it actually downloaded everything.

Thirdly, I tried to follow the guide now that I had an AOSP build environment. As it turns out, AOSP isn’t the source code you need (even though the tutorial mentions it quite a few times). Okay, my fault for not properly reading the opening few paragraphs.

Time to download some different source code.

Attempt 2: OS X – CyanogenMod

I’ll make this one quick. The first two problems were still there, and I had to fix up the toolchain and the source code again. It wasn’t so bad the second time around, but it was still pretty fucking annoying.

It started to build, after running lunch PLEASE-FUCKING-WORK or similar. I ran to get a cup of tea to celebrate and returned to find errors saying that some library targets weren’t accounted for. This was … bad, given I hadn’t touched anything and I was just trying to build the generic software. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was and I’d had enough of OS X. I was already more than 5 hours into this ordeal and was getting quite pissed off. I’d already switched from tea to Vodka.

I also realised that I actually needed to build for my new phone (because testing encryption with a ROM in an emulator is not exactly possible). So I decided to give it another crack with a more sane operating system: Debian (maybe “less insane” is a better description).

Attempt 3: Debian – CyanogenMod

There was actually a wiki page for this one, which almost made me think this would be an easy fix.

After spinning up a VPS with Debian, I set about downloading all the required packages. It was much easier than OS X, so I’ll give one point to Debian for this one. repo worked perfectly fine, but I think that’s just because of the very good bandwidth on my VPS provider.

The toolchain was not an issue this time, but on the other hand my locale settings were. Curiously, flex just broke because LC_COLLATE was not flex-friendly. I fixed this (wondering why on Earth was going wrong) and continued on. This problem kept resurfacing on every GNU/Linux distribution I tried, making every single build require special love and care. Fixing this is mostly a shotgun approach, with doing everything from resetting all of the locale files to reinstalling glibc.

I then had to deal with setting up the build environment for my OnePlus One (codename bacon). Ripping the proprietary blobs from my phone (a process which made me feel very disillusioned about the state of Android) was not horribly hard. There were some “missing file” errors, but I just shut my eyes and ignored their existence. Since you have to run a bunch of disconnected scripts with no apparent logic, I wasn’t exactly sure if I’d downloaded all of the correct configs to the right places. But it looked about right.

The build was run again, and it broke again. This time a different set of library targets couldn’t be accounted for. “Surely not”, I proclaimed. I was getting quite pissed off now, given that I was building off of android-5.1, which shouldn’t be this broken.

However, I could build the recovery source code. This sounds good until you realise that I couldn’t build the recoveryimage because the build system claimed that there’s “nothing to do”. Fuck you, make. Stop being so smug. Attempting to build the recoveryzip produced a whole bunch of warnings that showed that the Makefile in question was broken (bad path sanitisation everywhere).

I would like to point out that at this point I stopped mixing my Vodka with any dilution agents. I didn’t need the extra calories.

Attempt 4: Debian – OmniROM [mini]

There was a link on the original guide which provided a minified manifest file which “should work for most cases”. It was worth a shot. The source code for this one was quite a bit smaller and it was missing the entire Android source and only really had the build system and kernel. It was also mentioned that using CyanogenMod may cause issues, so I decided to just stick with using OmniROM (which apparently isn’t broken – I’ve found otherwise).

I’ll cut to the chase: It didn’t work, because it was too stripped down. My fault for assuming that my use case was not standard. At this point I was about 2 days into trying to build Android and was not having a fun time. I was also running low on Vodka. This is a bad combination.

Attempt N: Arch – OmniROM

There were several other attempts I made, all of which were done on Arch. They all failed miserably, either failing to build anything at all or they couldn’t build a recoveryimage. I’m going to omit them here, because I lost count of the number of issues I ran into.

This was to be my very last attempt. If I couldn’t build in this attempt, I would just send a patch upstream without testing it. There was simply nothing more I could do, and maybe I could get some help building my code. Or they would shout at me and I would shout back about how fucking retarded their build system is.

Guess what? It didn’t fucking work. But, before I gave up and decided to continue with my life, I decided to see if I could hack the source tree. As it turns out, there were some interesting warnings about missing vendor/ directories. This sounded like a good start, but for some reason OmniROM didn’t include an extract-files.sh shell script to populate this directory. No matter, I can just clone some published on GitHub. The key ones are the common vendor blobs and the find7a blobs. These probably aren’t officially supported, but do I sound like I care at this point?

The final secret sauce was to clone the right vendor repos (none of which were actually for my device bacon or find7op). This was very odd, and it took me a while to figure out that we didn’t need any of the proprietary stuff from my actual device in OmniROM. Here’s the relevant commands:

$ croot
$ mkdir -p vendor/oppo
$ git clone https://github.com/MoKee/android_vendor_oppo_msm8974-common.git vendor/oppo/msm8974-common
# ...
$ git clone https://github.com/MoKee/android_vendor_oppo_find7a.git vendor/oppo/find7a
# ...

Okay, now running brunch omni_find7op-eng seemed to work a lot better. Running make TW_THEME=portrait_hdpi recoverimage then appeared to start building Linux (hurrah!). Unfortunately, I ran into yet another problem, with Perl complaining about some broken code. I’d be damned if I’d let something of the likes of Perl stop me now. The relevant error was:

$ make TW_THEME=portrait_hdpi recoverimage
# ...
 TIMEC   kernel/timeconst.h
Can't use 'defined(@array)' (Maybe you should just omit the defined()?) at /home/cyphar/build/android/omni/kernel/oppo/msm8974/kernel/timeconst.pl line 373.
# ...

Okay, thanks for the hint Perl! After changing the line to omit the defined(), it would now continue to build Linux. This is probably a bug in HEAD, but it’s possible there was some Perl versioning issue. Meh, it’s not my problem.

The build then continued until we hit our good friend the flex LC_COLLATE bug. Changing LC_COLLATE didn’t want to work, and the bug is actually due to the prebuilt flex being incompatible with the newest version of glibc. So, just decided to change the definition of $(LEX) in build/core/config.mk to just point to the host’s flex. Locales are generally fucked, and I really wish someone would fix this.

After all of this, the build completed with no other issues! Time to boot into the recovery to test my changes.


As it turns out, it wouldn’t boot. Even with the unmodified bootable/recovery/ code, I couldn’t boot to the recovery ROM after flashing it. This is clearly ridiculous, and it must have something to do with incorrect drivers or some other bullshit.

I’ve had enough of this crap. I’ve tried every guide I could find (none of which were any help at all), I’ve hacked around the source so that I could include things not included by the automated build scripts, I’ve modified Makefiles and other scripts so they would work properly. I think it’s fair to say I’ve done my due diligence in trying to compile and test my changes. But I’ve had enough and it’s time to move on with my life. I’m going to send a PR to the Team Win developers and see what they have to say.


So, I just decided to send my changes to Gerrit and see what happens. I have nothing left to give here. I did try to compile Android, and I leave a little older and with a drinking problem. I’m not entirely sure what else I’m meant to have done in the face of invalid, misleading or otherwise inadequate documentation. I would be very grateful if someone could solve this by producing a conclusive set of instructions on how to build Android and how to solve common problems.

UPDATE: I Booted!

So, after I got a response from upstream, I decided I needed to sort this out. I figured out that I didn’t actually need to compile a whole new kernel (and all of the device problems that causes). All I needed to do was to rip apart an existing recovery.img and then modify the ramdisk to contain my changes. In particular you just needed to update these paths:

Afterwards, make sure that you use the exact same options for mkbootimg when gluing together all of the pieces (make sure you include everything that was in the original recovery image too).

This worked and allowed me to boot, allowing me to bypass the compilation of Android entirely. So, I guess you could call this a success? It’s still pretty messed up though.

Unless otherwise stated, all of the opinions in the above post are solely my own and do not necessary represent the views of anyone else. This post is released under the Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license.

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