GNU Gold & ROS

Trying to speed up ROS workspace build time.
Mon, Oct 28, 2013

I've tried to tightly follow the development of ROS1 buildtools and the work OSRF is doing to try to make robotics software systems build faster, and in the process have come across some other alternatives to the core Catkin2 mechanism which speed up large, complex builds. One such alternative was mentioned to me by Thibault Kruse is GNU Gold after finding a thread on the Orocos mailing lists:

Some guys at Google thought that GNU ld was a bit slow on C++ programs. Guess what, they were right and wrote a new C++ linker from scratch. Enter GNU gold. It links about 10x faster than traditional ld.3

GNU Gold4 (beta) is the sucessor to ld and it's meant to link libraries and executables significantly faster than its predecessor. On Ubuntu 12.04, gold isn't installed by default, but you can install a fairly recent version of it (2.22) quickly and easily with aptitude:

sudo apt-get install binutils-gold

If you're on another platform, or just want to see if you're already using gold, you can check just by checking which version your system's ld points to:

ld --version

If you're using gold, it will say "gold" in the first line.

I tried building some things including Orocos, and Gold definitely sped up the process of building a large workspace. It failed, however, when it tried linking a target against some proprietary, closed-source libraries that were installed to /usr/local/lib instead of /usr/lib. It turns out this is a side-effect of an intentional change in the sources from which gold gathers library search paths over the way standard ld does.5

Specifically, while both standard ld and gold will search:

  • /lib
  • /usr/lib

ld will also search the runtime shared library path, $LD_LIBRARY_PATH but gold will not. This means that if you had been relying on or $LD_LIBRARY_PATH to locate libraries at build time, this will no longer work.

An easy fix for this, is to add the necessary paths to $LIBRARY_PATH:

export LIBRARY_PATH=/usr/local/lib

Once I worked out my PATH problems, GNU Gold works like a dream.