Tiny Rocket

At the recent 2018 Rust All Hands, I met up with Katharina @spacekookie, who works on an open source project that creates software for Embedded Linux Devices. She had talked with the other engineers on the project about including some Rust components, however with their limited flash storage space (8MB for the whole firmware, including operating system and all other software), she was worried that the Rust binaries wouldn't fit. The current webserver component for their project was measured in the 100's of KB, while the Rust binary she produced was already multiple MBs, even with a --release build!

If you just want to see what the results were without more details, you can skip ahead to the TL;DR at the end!

Also make sure you check out the repository for this post, as it has all steps as individual commits you can step through.

You can also discuss on:

I had also done some work on Embedded Linux devices before for my current employer, though the devices we were working on had 100's of MBs of flash, so size optimization hadn't been something that had been necessary yet. Luckily, I had some experience with tricks used for bare metal systems written in Rust, so I offered to take a look at what we could do.

The goal was to get the binary down under 1MB, and ideally under 500KB. Lets see where we are starting from:

The Environment

All of these tests were performed on an Arch Linux machine, with the current (as of this writing) Nightly version of Rust. Some details:

$ uname -a
Linux archmbp13 4.15.9-1-ARCH #1 SMP PREEMPT Sun Mar 11 17:54:33 UTC 2018 x86_64 GNU/Linux
$ rustup show
Default host: x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu
...
active toolchain
----------------

nightly-x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu (default)
rustc 1.26.0-nightly (9cb18a92a 2018-03-02)

The Base Case

Here is what our "Hello World" binary looks like (you can also find the code for this experiment in spacekookie's repo).

#![feature(plugin)]
#![plugin(rocket_codegen)]

extern crate rocket;

#[get("/")]
fn index() -> &'static str {
    "Hello, world!"
}

fn main() {
    rocket::ignite().mount("/", routes![index]).launch();
}

I started off by building dev and release and release builds of this project:

# dev build
$ cargo build
# ...
   Compiling tinyrocket v0.1.0 (file:///home/james/personal/tinyrocket)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 46.59 secs

# release build
$ cargo build --release
# ...
   Compiling tinyrocket v0.1.0 (file:///home/james/personal/tinyrocket)
    Finished release [optimized] target(s) in 106.88 secs

And these were the binary sizes we got:

$ ls -al target/debug/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users 22900656 Mar 31 15:10 target/debug/tinyrocket
$ ls -al target/release/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users 6706984 Mar 31 15:12 target/release/tinyrocket

Current size status

build modifications size (bytes) size (human) % change
dev none 22900656 22M 0%
release none 6706984 6.4M 0%

Ouch. 22MB for the dev build, and 6.4MB for the release build. Those won't work for us!

Stripping the Binary

By default, Rust and LLVM retain lots of information in the binary that is very useful for debugging. However, this information is not strictly necessary for running the program. binutils provides us with a binary called strip, which removes the information. Lets try that. At this stage, there is no modification to the Rust code or compiler settings, just adding a step to your build and release process.

$ strip target/debug/tinyrocket
$ strip target/release/tinyrocket
$ ls -al target/debug/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users 4022576 Mar 31 15:21 target/debug/tinyrocket
$ ls -al target/release/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users 1749216 Mar 31 15:21 target/release/tinyrocket

Current size status

build modifications size (bytes) size (human) % change
dev none 22900656 22M 0%
dev stripped 4022576 3.9M -82.4%
release none 6706984 6.4M 0%
release stripped 1749216 1.7M -73.9%

Not bad for a first step! These binaries will work pretty much the same as the original ones, though they would be harder to debug effectively. This is also often standard practice when releasing binaries.

Removing jemalloc

Also by default, Rust uses an allocator called jemalloc, which tends to have better performance for many use cases. However, this is not a requirement to use, and for applications that are not required to be high-performance, or that don't make heavy use of dynamic memory allocation, the difference will be negligible.

Since jemalloc is not provided by the system, and must instead be compiled and included in the Rust binary, it increases the total binary size. Lets see what happens when we tell the Rust compiler to instead make use of the existing system allocator, which is typically malloc. I will also be making the use of jemalloc optional using a configurable feature.

After modification, our main.rs now looks like this:

#![feature(plugin)]
#![plugin(rocket_codegen)]
#![feature(global_allocator)]
#![feature(allocator_api)]

// When the `system-alloc` feature is used, use the System Allocator
#[cfg(feature = "system-alloc")]
mod allocator {
    use std::heap::System;

    #[global_allocator]
    pub static mut THE_ALLOC: System = System;
}

// When the `system-alloc` feature is not used, do nothing,
// retaining the default functionality (using jemalloc)
#[cfg(not(feature = "system-alloc"))]
mod allocator {
    #[allow(dead_code)]
    pub static THE_ALLOC: () = ();
}

#[allow(unused_imports)]
use allocator::THE_ALLOC;

extern crate rocket;

#[get("/")]
fn index() -> &'static str {
    "Hello, world!"
}

fn main() {
    rocket::ignite().mount("/", routes![index]).launch();
}

We also had to add the following lines to our Cargo.toml in order to tell Cargo about the new feature we added:

[features]
system-alloc = []

With these changes made, I did a cargo clean, and some new cargo builds.

# dev build
$ cargo build --features system-alloc
# ...
   Compiling tinyrocket v0.1.0 (file:///home/james/personal/tinyrocket)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 47.23 secs

# release build
$ cargo build --features system-alloc --release
# ...
   Compiling tinyrocket v0.1.0 (file:///home/james/personal/tinyrocket)
    Finished release [optimized] target(s) in 106.73 secs

Our compile times didn't change much, lets see what kind of binary size we got:

$ ls -al target/debug/tinyrocket target/release/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users 20508800 Mar 31 15:49 target/debug/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users  4293464 Mar 31 15:50 target/release/tinyrocket

Not bad! But don't forget, we can stack these changes with strip!

  tinyrocket git:(with-docs) ✗ strip target/debug/tinyrocket
  tinyrocket git:(with-docs) ✗ strip target/release/tinyrocket
  tinyrocket git:(with-docs) ✗ ls -al target/debug/tinyrocket target/release/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users 3751920 Mar 31 15:53 target/debug/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users 1474464 Mar 31 15:53 target/release/tinyrocket
build modifications size (bytes) size (human) % change
dev none 22900656 22M 0%
dev stripped 4022576 3.9M -82.4%
dev malloc 20508800 19.6 -10.4%
dev all above 3751920 3.6M -83.6%
release none 6706984 6.4M 0%
release stripped 1749216 1.7M -73.9%
release malloc 4293464 4.1M -36.0%
release all above 1474464 1.5M -78.0%

We're getting closer to the 1MB threshold! But we can still do better...

Panic Abort

By default, Rust also provides useful information when a panic occurs, or gives some ability to unwind a panic. These behaviors are useful, but also usefully optional! We can tell Cargo to just abort on a panic condition, which removes the need for any code that supports nicer panic behavior. We can disable this behavior for both debug and release builds by adding the following lines to our Cargo.toml:

[profile.release]
panic = "abort"

[profile.dev]
panic = "abort"

I reran the build, first with jemalloc still included:

# dev build
$ cargo build
# ...
   Compiling tinyrocket v0.1.0 (file:///home/james/personal/tinyrocket)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 46.41 secs

# release build
$ cargo build --release
# ...
   Compiling tinyrocket v0.1.0 (file:///home/james/personal/tinyrocket)
    Finished release [optimized] target(s) in 106.17 secs

$ ls -al target/debug/tinyrocket target/release/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users 22873512 Mar 31 16:05 target/debug/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users  6674328 Mar 31 16:06 target/release/tinyrocket

I then also reran the build with all of our current optimizations, including strip. Here are the results:

build modifications size (bytes) size (human) % change
dev none 22900656 22M 0%
dev stripped 4022576 3.9M -82.4%
dev malloc 20508800 19.6 -10.4%
dev panic abort 22873512 21.8M -0.1%
dev all above 3715056 3.6M -83.8%
release none 6706984 6.4M 0%
release stripped 1749216 1.7M -73.9%
release malloc 4293464 4.1M -36.0%
release panic abort 6674328 6.4M -0.5%
release all above 1458080 1.4M -78.3%

Okay, that one wasn't as impressive, but every little bit helps! What else can we try?

Use LLVM's full LTO

Rust's compiler was designed to take full advantage of parallel building. This is great for compile times, however it comes at a cost of making it harder to perform total optimization of the binary. This behavior can be disabled, trading better optimization for increased compile times. We can enable these changes by changing the following in our Cargo.toml:

[profile.release]
panic = "abort"
lto = true
codegen-units = 1
incremental = false

[profile.dev]
panic = "abort"
lto = true
codegen-units = 1
incremental = false

For the initial test, I also disabled panic = "abort", so the changes could be seen in isolation. jemalloc was also used for this build.

# dev build
$ cargo build
# ...
   Compiling tinyrocket v0.1.0 (file:///home/james/personal/tinyrocket)
    Finished dev [unoptimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 46.41 secs

# release build
$ cargo build --release
# ...
   Compiling tinyrocket v0.1.0 (file:///home/james/personal/tinyrocket)
    Finished release [optimized] target(s) in 106.17 secs

$ ls -al target/debug/tinyrocket target/release/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users 13628168 Mar 31 16:17 target/debug/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users  4885384 Mar 31 16:19 target/release/tinyrocket

As you can see, our binary decreased in size considerably, however our compile times have also increased. Lets reapply all of our optimizations, and see where we are so far.

build modifications size (bytes) size (human) % change
dev none 22900656 22M 0%
dev stripped 4022576 3.9M -82.4%
dev malloc 20508800 19.6 -10.4%
dev panic abort 22873512 21.8M -0.1%
dev No ThinLTO 13628168 13M -40.5%
dev all above 3182496 3.1M -86.1%
release none 6706984 6.4M 0%
release stripped 1749216 1.7M -73.9%
release malloc 4293464 4.1M -36.0%
release panic abort 6674328 6.4M -0.5%
release No ThinLTO 4885384 4.7M -27.2%
release all above 1228600 1.2M -81.7%

We are so close to that 1MB threshold, but there are still more optimizations to be had!

Optimize for Size

Another default behavior the Rust compiler has is to use no optimizations for debug builds, and to use -O3 (or roughly, optimize for speed at all costs) for release builds. Since we are optimizing for size here, lets tell Cargo to do that instead! We would like to use LLVM's -Oz setting, which is like -Os (for size), plus a couple more optimizations. To do this, lets change the Cargo.toml again:

[profile.release]
panic = "abort"
lto = true
codegen-units = 1
incremental = false
opt-level = "z"

[profile.dev]
panic = "abort"
lto = true
codegen-units = 1
incremental = false
opt-level = "z"

As before, for the first test, I will disable all other optimizations, and only apply this one at first.

# dev build
$ cargo build
# ...
   Compiling tinyrocket v0.1.0 (file:///home/james/personal/tinyrocket)
    Finished dev [optimized + debuginfo] target(s) in 99.70 secs

# release build
$ cargo build --release
# ...
   Compiling tinyrocket v0.1.0 (file:///home/james/personal/tinyrocket)
    Finished release [optimized] target(s) in 84.18 secs

$ ls -al target/debug/tinyrocket target/release/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users 20285896 Mar 31 16:32 target/debug/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users  6631248 Mar 31 16:34 target/release/tinyrocket

This had a slight impact on our build times, increasing debug because we were not doing any optimizations before, and decreasing release, for reasons I am not sure about, other than there are probably fewer or less aggressive optimizations for speed than for size.

Lets reapply all optimizations and see where we are now.

build modifications size (bytes) size (human) % change
dev none 22900656 22M 0%
dev stripped 4022576 3.9M -82.4%
dev malloc 20508800 19.6 -10.4%
dev panic abort 22873512 21.8M -0.1%
dev No ThinLTO 13628168 13M -40.5%
dev -Oz 20285896 20M -11.4%
dev all above 1036176 1012K -95.5%
release none 6706984 6.4M 0%
release stripped 1749216 1.7M -73.9%
release malloc 4293464 4.1M -36.0%
release panic abort 6674328 6.4M -0.5%
release No ThinLTO 4885384 4.7M -27.2%
release -Oz 6631248 6.4M -1.1%
release all above 1019704 996K -84.8%

Success! We have broken our 1M threshold for the release build! We also have a pretty small debug build, though it probably isn't very useful for debugging anymore. However, we still have a couple tricks up our sleeve to try and get to that reach goal of 500K...

Xargo and rebuilding core and std

But wait! We compiled our application code using all of the great optimizations we've outlined above, but the core and std components of the Rust standard library are shipped as pre-built binaries. We can rebuild those components with a convenient tool called xargo, which is typically used for compiling core and std for targets that don't have official pre-built binaries. xargo uses the profile settings from your host crate, so it will have all of the optimizations we've made above.

NOTE: At the moment, xargo requires a nightly compiler. Since our crate is using rocket, which requires nightly anyway, it isn't a problem. xargo requires a nightly compiler, because a nightly compiler is required to build core and std at the moment. If use of a nightly compiler is a problem for you, you may want to skip this optimization.

Lets create a new file, Xargo.toml, which is used to configure xargo. We will fill that file with the following info:

[dependencies.std]
default-features = false
features = ["force_alloc_system", "panic_unwind"]

These settings inform xargo that we would like to rebuild std (and core), and we further configure std to force use of the system provided allocator. Because of this, we can remove the changes we made during the "Removing jemalloc" step, since it is now no longer an option.

From now own, we will also only be looking at the release build. Lets kick off xargo, and strip our binary:

$ xargo build --target x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu --release
   Compiling core v0.0.0 (file:///home/james/.rustup/toolchains/nightly-x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/lib/rustlib/src/rust/src/libcore)
   ...
  Compiling std v0.0.0 (file:///home/james/.rustup/toolchains/nightly-x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/lib/rustlib/src/rust/src/libstd)
  Compiling tinyrocket v0.1.0 (file:///home/james/personal/tinyrocket)
    Finished release [optimized] target(s) in 109.83 secs

$ ls -al target/x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/release/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users 1181920 Mar 31 19:39 target/x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/release/tinyrocket

$ strip target/x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/release/tinyrocket
$ ls -al target/x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/release/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 2 james users 835320 Mar 31 19:41 target/x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/release/tinyrocket

So where are we standing now?

build modifications size (bytes) size (human) % change
release none 6706984 6.4M 0%
release stripped 1749216 1.7M -73.9%
release malloc 4293464 4.1M -36.0%
release panic abort 6674328 6.4M -0.5%
release No ThinLTO 4885384 4.7M -27.2%
release -Oz 6631248 6.4M -1.1%
release all above 1019704 996K -84.8%
release above + xargo - strip 1181920 1154K -82.4%
release everything 835320 816K -87.5%

So, now we are clear of our 1M goal by almost 200K, and I've exhausted all of the Rust tricks I know. But, I do have one last trick up my sleeve...

UPX - The Ultimate Packer for eXecutables

For times when binaries absolutely have to be small at any cost, there are tools that perform compression on the binary itself, and replace the initial code with code that extracts the rest of the compressed binary at runtime.

This tool is most commonly used for two purposes:

Using an application packer is not recommended for shipping binaries to regular desktop users, however for embedded systems where we control the total firmware, and can pay the slight memory and startup time cost for a smaller binary, application packers are an acceptable choice.

Lets run UPX at maximum settings to get the smallest binary possible:

$ upx --ultra-brute target/x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/release/tinyrocket
# ...

$ ls -al target/x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/release/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 1 james users 247840 Mar 31 19:41 target/x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/release/tinyrocket

Welp, thats about all we can do here. Lets look at our final standings:

build modifications size (bytes) size (human) % change
release none 6706984 6.4M 0%
release stripped 1749216 1.7M -73.9%
release malloc 4293464 4.1M -36.0%
release panic abort 6674328 6.4M -0.5%
release No ThinLTO 4885384 4.7M -27.2%
release -Oz 6631248 6.4M -1.1%
release all above 1019704 996K -84.8%
release above + xargo - strip 1181920 1154K -82.4%
release everything 835320 816K -87.5%
release everything + upx 247840 243K -96.3%

Conclusion

Well, hopefully this has been a good look at different ways to shrink a binary in Rust. Overall, I believe most of the default behavior of the Rust Compiler are perfectly sane defaults. I also appreciate that it is easy to change these settings, without too much arcane knowledge.

We ended up with a binary that was less than 4% of the original size, with only minor tradeoffs in convienence and performance.

Just one last step, proof that our binary still works after all of these optimizations:

$ ls -hal target/x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/release/tinyrocket
-rwxr-xr-x 1 james users 243K Mar 31 19:41 target/x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/release/tinyrocket
$ ./target/x86_64-unknown-linux-gnu/release/tinyrocket &
[1] 31353
🔧  Configured for development.
    => address: localhost
    => port: 8000
    => log: normal
    => workers: 8
    => secret key: generated
    => limits: forms = 32KiB
    => tls: disabled
🛰  Mounting '/':
    => GET /
🚀  Rocket has launched from http://localhost:8000

$ curl http://localhost:8000

GET /:
    => Matched: GET /
    => Outcome: Success
    => Response succeeded.

Hello, world!

TL;DR

Here are the binary sizes we were able to achieve:

build modifications size (bytes) size (human) % change
release none 6706984 6.4M 0%
release stripped 1749216 1.7M -73.9%
release malloc 4293464 4.1M -36.0%
release panic abort 6674328 6.4M -0.5%
release No ThinLTO 4885384 4.7M -27.2%
release -Oz 6631248 6.4M -1.1%
release all above 1019704 996K -84.8%
release above + xargo - strip 1181920 1154K -82.4%
release everything 835320 816K -87.5%
release everything + upx 247840 243K -96.3%

Here are the steps we took to reduce the binary size, and the tradeoffs made for binary size:

  1. Strip the binary using strip from binutils - harder to debug
  2. Use the system allocator instead of jemalloc - less performant dynamic allocations
  3. Use Abort on Panic - Less helpful panics
  4. Disable ThinLTO - Slower builds
  5. Optimize for binary size instead of speed - less performant
  6. Rebuild std and core with optimizations using xargo - slower build, requires nightly compiler
  7. Use an application packer like upx - slower startup, slightly more memory usage, may be flagged by virus scanners
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