distcc, ccache, and bacon

This was initially a response to JGriffin’s GoFaster analysis post but grew out of control. Read that first.

Rampant speculation

tl;dr: hey, we could use ccache and distcc on our build system!

Just speculating (as usual), but…

The note about retiring slow slaves, combined with the performance gap between full and incremental builds, suggests something.

Why does additional hardware (the slow slaves) slow things down? Because load is unevenly distributed. Ignoring communication costs, the fastest way to build with a fast machine and a slow one that takes 2x longer would be to compile 2/3 of the files with the fast machine and 1/3 with the slow one. How? Remove all slow slaves from the build pool and convert them to distcc servers.

What about the clobber builds? Well, if you’ve already built a particular file before with the same compiler and options, it would be nice to not have to build it again. That’s what ccache is for. But a ccache per slave means you have to have built the same thing on the same slave. For try builds (which is where most of the clobbers are), that’s not going to happen all the time.

But combine that with the above distcc idea: you could run ccache under distcc on the distcc servers. Now you have a ccache/distcc sandwich: local ccache first, then distcc, then remote ccache, then finally some bacon. Because everything’s better with bacon.

ts;wm: (too short; want more)

You know, in terms of data sources, the above picture is wrong. It’s really local ccache, then remote ccache (via distcc), then remote compile, and only then bacon. But the configuration-centric ccache/distcc/ccache description makes for better visuals. Or would if I put the bacon on the inside, anyway.

Let’s walk through a clobber build. The stuff the local slave has built before gets pulled from local distcc. Some of the remaining stuff gets built locally. The rest gets sent over to various machines in the distcc pool. We can break those things down into 3 categories: (1) stuff that’s never been built anywhere, (2) stuff that’s been built on a different distcc host, and (3) stuff that’s been built on the same distcc host. #3 is a win. #1 is unavoidable, it’s the basic cost of doing business. (Actually, there’s another dimension, which is whether something has been built before on a non-distcc host. I’ll ignore that for now. Conceptually, you can make it go away by making every slave a distcc server.)

#2 is waste. But it’s less waste than we have now, if the distcc pool is smaller than the whole build pool, because you’re doing one redundant build per distcc host rather than one per builder. And it’s self-limiting: a distcc host that has a build cached returns it immediately, meaning it’s more likely to get stuck with something it needs to build, which sucks but at least it populates its ccache so it won’t have to do it again.

Now, I am assuming here that compile costs are greater than communication + ccache lookup costs, which is an insanely flawed assumption. But it’s very very true for my personal builds — I have my own distcc server, and my clobber builds (actually, *all* my builds) feel way way faster when I’m using it. So I don’t think the question is so much “would this work?” as it is “what would we need to do to make this work?”

For starters, do no harm: it would be great if we could partition the network so that distcc servers are separate from the current communication channels. Every build host would sit on two VLANs, say: the regular one and the distcc one. That would reduce chances of infrastructure meltdown through excessive distcc traffic. (I am not a network engineer, nor do I play one on TV, and this may require separate physical networks and possibly Pringles cans.)

On a related note, it might be wise to start out by restricting the slaves from doing too many distcc jobs at a time, to prevent the distcc jobs from getting bogged down through congestion. I do this for my own builds through a ~/.distcc/hosts file containing: “localhost/4 192.168.1.99/7”. That means you can use -j666, and it’ll still only do 4 jobs on localhost and 7 jobs on 192.168.1.99 simultaneously. (Actually, that’s my home ~/.distcc/hosts file. My server at work is beefier, and there I allow the remote to do 12 jobs at once. I have a cron job that checks every 5 minutes to see what network I’m on and sets a ~/.distcc/hosts symlink accordingly. But I digress.)

More worrying is the reason behind all that clobbering. If a slave turns to the dark side, runs amok, gets hit by a cosmic ray, or is just having a bad day, do we really want to use its ccached builds? More to the point, when something goes wrong, what do we need to clobber? Right now everything is local to a slave, so it’s straightforward to pull a slave from the pool, take it out behind the garage, and beat the crap out of it with a stick. With distcc and ccache, it’s harder to tell which server to blame.

Still, how often does this happen? (I have no idea. I’m just a troublemaking developer, dammit.) We can always wipe the ccache on the whole distcc pool. It’d be nice to be able to track problems to their source, though. Maybe we could use the distcc pool redundancy to our advantage: have them cross-check the checksums of their builds with each other. Same input, same output. But that’s even more speculative.

It’s not all bad, though — I’m guessing that most clobbers result from the build system not being able to handle various types of change. If the ccache/distcc/ccache sandwich makes clobbers substantially cheaper, we can be a lot freer with them. Someone accidentally cancelled an m-c build partway through? Clobber the world! Let’s make bacon!!

wtf;yai;bdb: (what the f#@; you’re an idiot; been done before)

Reality check
  • We use local ccache already – see bug 488412
  • distcc has been proposed a number of times, but for the life of me I cannot find the bug. There are most likely some very valid reasons not to use it. Such as making a complete interdependent hairball out of our build system where one machine can kill everything.
  • Given the results in bug 488412, it’s very plausible that remote ccaches would be of no benefit or a net loss. (Though those numbers were using NFS to retrieve remote ccache results, and I deeply distrust NFS.)

Screw Reality. What has it ever done for me?

Hey, if we really needed to conceal network latency and redundant rebuilds across different hosts, we could stream out ccache results before they were even needed! But that’s crazy talk.

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4 comments

  1. It’s definitely worth looking at. Using ccache on both ends of the distcc invocation is a neat idea. How well does distcc do load balancing from M build hosts trying to use N distcc servers?

  2. Part of the problem with distcc is that our build isn’t parallel enough for it to be super useful. There are only two directories (content and layout) where we compile enough source files in parallel to even bother.

  3. It has limit options for both sides — the client side can say how many concurrent jobs it will send to a given server, and a server has a limit to the number of concurrent jobs it’ll run. I doubt it has anything more sophisticated than that. You can run also it from inetd, so if your inetd can do fancy load-balancing or something, then distcc might be able to take advantage of it.

    On the client side, the default is 2 jobs on localhost, 4 on each remote host. On the server side, the default is #cores + 2. It’d probably require a fair bit of experimentation to figure out the best tuning.

    I wonder how an NFS-mounted host with a couple of SSDs would do as a shared ccache server… Or maybe there’s something better for read-mostly shared storage.

  4. I thought somebody recently added something to do (selected) directories in parallel?

    I tend to do a lot of recompiling in js/src, and there are lots of files to choose from there.

    How many files do you need in order for it to pay off? I randomly picked a directory — xpcom/io — and there are 25 .cpp files there. My next random sample, widget/src/gtk2, has 27. Surely that’s enough? If not, why not?

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