Sunday, 2 February 2014

HsQML 0.2.0.3 released

Yesterday, I made new a minor release of HsQML in order to address two issues with using it interactively via GHCi. As usual, it's available for download from Hackage. One little mistake did slip in however, in that I forget to change the darcs repository listed in the package cabal file to the Qt 4 branch. The main trunk is now being used for porting to Qt 5.

An explanation of the GHCi problems follows:

GHCi has traditionally had a number of limitations owing to the built-in linker it uses to load static object files dynamically. The linker is capable enough to load the output of GHC and any simple FFI C code that might be included in a library, but it can't cope with some of the relocations emitted by a C++ compiler. Originally, it wasn't even capable of reading the same archive libraries used by the GHC compiler for linking, and required that Cabal produce special compounded object files for it to use.

The C++ limitation was an issue for HsQML because Qt is a C++ library and hence HsQML needs to include some C++ code as part of its binding layer. I made use of the fact that GHCi depended on special object files in order to incorporate a workaround especially for GHCi. HsQML's build script modifies the build process by removing the objects containing C++ code from being compounded into the special object file, and places them into a separate shared library which is then referenced by the package's extra-ghci-libraries field. GHCi will hence load the shared library and the compiled C++ code within using the system linker, thereby avoiding the problems with its own.

However, it came to my attention recently* than this strategy had run into trouble as GHCi can now load regular archive libraries directly, supplanting the need for special object files. I discovered that the Fedora Linux had modified their distribution of GHC to disable generating the GHCi objects by default. Furthermore, that this behaviour would become the new standard default with Cabal 1.18. This broke HsQML with GHCi because because the aforementioned workaround didn't apply to the regular archive libraries and so GHCi's linker couldn't handle the C++ object files contained within.

I didn't want to simply apply the same workaround to the archive libraries as to the GHCi ones because that would introduce dealing with an additional magic shared library to users who simply wanted to compile their applications. The modification I've applied for this release was therefore to add code to Setup.hs to force (re-)enable generating the special GHCi object files under certain circumstances.

The impact of this issue is likely to decrease over time as GHC now also supports producing shared libraries from Haskell code in addition to static ones. This means that, going forward, the entirety of HsQML can be built as a shared library and GHCi can load it using the system linked without difficulty. My understanding is that this behaviour will become the default with GHC 7.8 for platforms other than Windows.

Hence, the rule is that generating GHCi object files is only force enabled if shared libraries are not enabled. The forcing behaviour can be disabled by passing -f-ForceGHCiLib to cabal-install.

The other issue I found that's fixed with this release is that GHCi had problems finding the workaround shared library on Windows. Unlike other platforms, the extra-ghci-libraries field needed to include the "lib" prefix to the referenced library name in order for Windows GHCi to find it without the library being on the PATH. With that fixed, HsQML should now work with GHCi out of the box on all platforms.

Now, back to working on the Qt 5 port!

release-0.2.0.3 - 2014.02.01

  * Added mechanism to force enable GHCi workaround library. 
  * Fixed reference name of extra GHCi library on Windows.

* Thanks to rnons.

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