Firefox 51 on sparc64 - we did not hit the wall yet

February 08, 2017 posted by Martin Husemann


I am using a sparc64 Sun Blade 2500 (silver) as a desktop machine - for my pretty light "desktop" needs. Besides the usual developer tools (editors, compilers, subversion, hg, git) and admin stuff (all text based) I need mpg123 and mserv for music queues, Gimp for image manipulation and of course Firefox.

Recently I updated all my installed pkgs to pkgsrc-current and as usual the new Firefox version failed to build.

Fortunately the issues were minor, as they all had been handled upstream for Firefox 52 already, all I needed to do was back-porting a few fixes. This made the pkg build, but after a few minutes of test browsing, it crashed. Not surprisingly this was reproducible, any web site trying to play audio triggered it. A bit surprising though: the same happened on an amd64 machine I tried next. After a bit digging the bug was easy to fix, and upstream already took the fix and committed it to the libcubeb repository.


So I am now happily editing this post using Firefox 51 on the Blade 2500.

I saw one crash in two days of browsing, but unfortunately could not (yet) reproduce it (I have gdb attached now). There will be future pkg updates certainly.

Future Obstacles

You may have read elsewhere that Firefox will start to require a working Rust compiler to build.

This is a bit unfortunate, as Rust (while academically interesting) is right now not a very good implementation language if you care about portability. The only available compiler requires a working LLVM back end, which we are still debugging. Our auto-builds produce sparc sets with LLVM, but the result is not fully working (due to what we believe being code gen bugs in LLVM). It seems we need to fix this soon (which would be good anyway, independent of the Rust issue). Besides the back end, only very recently traces of sparc64 support popped up in Rust. However, we still have a few firefox versions time to get it all going. I am optimistic.

Another upcoming change is that Cairo (currently used as 2D graphics back end, at least on sparc64) will be phased out and Skia will be the only supported software rendering target. Unfortunately Skia does (as of now) not support any big endian machine at all. I am looking for help getting Skia to work on big endian hardware in general, and sparc64 in particular.


Just in case, I tested a few other browsers and (so far) they all failed:
  • NetSurf
    Nice, small, has a few "tweaks" and does not yet support JavaScript good enough for many sites
  • Midori
    They call it "lightweight" but it is based on WebKit, which alone is a few times more heavy than all of Firefox. It crashes immediately at startup on sparc64 (I am investigating, but with low priority - actually I had to replace the hard disk in my machine to make enough room for the debug object files for WebKit - it takes ~20GB)

So, while it is a bit of a struggle to keep a modern browser working on my favorite odd-ball architecture, it seems we will get at least to the Firefox 52 ESR release, and that should give us enough time to get Rust working and hopefully continue with Firefox.




Try Qupzilla, I find it to be faster on my mipsel machine than Firefox.

Posted by EricB on February 09, 2017 at 06:03 PM UTC # runs on OpenBSD pretty well should not be problem on NetBSD. :)

Posted by Jay on February 10, 2017 at 09:57 AM UTC #

Pale Moon is another option. It uses its own engine (Goanna) and is written in more portable languages.

Posted by BGB on February 25, 2017 at 11:59 PM UTC #

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