System Image Building

System Image Building

Building the Julia system image

Julia ships with a preparsed system image containing the contents of the Base module, named sys.ji. This file is also precompiled into a shared library called sys.{so,dll,dylib} on as many platforms as possible, so as to give vastly improved startup times. On systems that do not ship with a precompiled system image file, one can be generated from the source files shipped in Julia's DATAROOTDIR/julia/base folder.

This operation is useful for multiple reasons. A user may:

Julia now ships with a script that automates the tasks of building the system image, wittingly named build_sysimg.jl that lives in DATAROOTDIR/julia/. That is, to include it into a current Julia session, type:

include(joinpath(Sys.BINDIR, Base.DATAROOTDIR, "julia", "build_sysimg.jl"))

This will include a build_sysimg function:

build_sysimg(sysimg_path=default_sysimg_path(), cpu_target="native", userimg_path=nothing; force=false)

Rebuild the system image. Store it in sysimg_path, which defaults to a file named sys.ji that sits in the same folder as libjulia.{so,dylib}, except on Windows where it defaults to Sys.BINDIR/../lib/julia/sys.ji. Use the cpu instruction set given by cpu_target. Valid CPU targets are the same as for the -C option to julia, or the -march option to gcc. Defaults to native, which means to use all CPU instructions available on the current processor. Include the user image file given by userimg_path, which should contain directives such as using MyPackage to include that package in the new system image. New system image will not replace an older image unless force is set to true.


Note that this file can also be run as a script itself, with command line arguments taking the place of arguments passed to the build_sysimg function. For example, to build a system image in /tmp/sys.{so,dll,dylib}, with the core2 CPU instruction set, a user image of ~/userimg.jl and force set to true, one would execute:

julia build_sysimg.jl /tmp/sys core2 ~/userimg.jl --force

System image optimized for multiple microarchitectures

The system image can be compiled simultaneously for multiple CPU microarchitectures under the same instruction set architecture (ISA). Multiple versions of the same function may be created with minimum dispatch point inserted into shared functions in order to take advantage of different ISA extensions or other microarchitecture features. The version that offers the best performance will be selected automatically at runtime based on available features.

Specifying multiple system image targets

Multi-microarch system image can be enabled by passing multiple targets during system image compilation. This can be done either with the JULIA_CPU_TARGET make option or with the -C command line option when running the compilation command manually. Multiple targets are separated by ; in the option. The syntax for each target is a CPU name followed by multiple features separated by ,. All features supported by LLVM is supported and a feature can be disabled with a - prefix. (+ prefix is also allowed and ignored to be consistent with LLVM syntax). Additionally, a few special features are supported to control the function cloning behavior.

  1. clone_all

    By default, only functions that are the most likely to benefit from the microarchitecture features will be cloned. When clone_all is specified for a target, however, all functions in the system image will be cloned for the target. The negative form -clone_all can be used to prevent the built-in heuristic from cloning all functions.

  2. base(<n>)

    Where <n> is a placeholder for a non-negative number (e.g. base(0), base(1)). By default, a partially cloned (i.e. not clone_all) target will use functions from the default target (first one specified) if a function is not cloned. This behavior can be changed by specifying a different base with the base(<n>) option. The nth target (0-based) will be used as the base target instead of the default (0th) one. The base target has to be either 0 or another clone_all target. Specifying a non default clone_all target as the base target will cause an error.

  3. opt_size

    This cause the function for the targe to be optimize for size when there isn't a significant runtime performance impact. This corresponds to -Os GCC and Clang option.

  4. min_size

    This cause the function for the targe to be optimize for size that might have a significant runtime performance impact. This corresponds to -Oz Clang option.

Implementation overview

This is a brief overview of different part involved in the implementation. See code comments for each components for more implementation details.

  1. System image compilation

    The parsing and cloning decision are done in src/processor*. We currently support cloning of function based on the present of loops, simd instructions, or other math operations (e.g. fastmath, fma, muladd). This information is passed on to src/llvm-multiversioning.cpp which does the actual cloning. In addition to doing the cloning and insert dispatch slots (see comments in MultiVersioning::runOnModule for how this is done), the pass also generates metadata so that the runtime can load and initialize the system image correctly. A detail description of the metadata is available in src/processor.h.

  2. System image loading

    The loading and initialization of the system image is done in src/processor* by parsing the metadata saved during system image generation. Host feature detection and selection decision are done in src/processor_*.cpp depending on the ISA. The target selection will prefer exact CPU name match, larger vector register size, and larget number of features. An overview of this process is in src/processor.cpp.