glibc 2.36 vs. CentOS 7: a tale of failure

Sunday, 20 November 2022

glibc 2.36 vs. CentOS 7: a tale of failure


My favourite part of coding is planning and implementing some cool idea for doing something, especially if it involves some fun maths I read up on Wikipedia a minute beforehand. In reality polishing dirty data, refactoring someone-else's bad code, reverse engineering the use of a module and trying to get stuff to work is what take up most of my time.

Having got cocky I thought I could get the latest GNU library for C (glibc) working on CentOS 7. I failed miserably, here is my sorry tale down the rabbit hole.

In the cluster I am working in the OS is still CentOS 7. A dead distro that came out in 2014 and is no longer supported bar for security support, which even that has it's end of life (EOL) in 2024. It is still in use as Red Hat abandoned the project and CentOS 8 was never properly completely. CentOS Stream 9 is an attempt at moving it along, but was never recommended by Red Hat nor gained universal usage. Rocky Linux is the unofficial successor. Most clusters are moving towards Ubuntu as a result. For example, HTCondor was CentOS 7 only: CentOS Stream 9 is not an option supported by HTCondor, but Ubuntu and Rocky Linux are. This is a rather common situation unfortunately.

This is a problem for an increasing number of Python packages with C-bindings as the system glibc (GNU library for C) is version 2.17, which cannot be updated or circumvented to the best of my knowledge as discussed here.

Example of such packages in compbiochem are pytorch, pyrosetta, rdkit and pymol.

When a package is installed from a wheel or conda and glibc version is not satisfied one gets /lib64/ version GLIBC_2.27' not found (required by package_name). Installing from source may or may not work. For example, pyrosetta will complain about missing functions and if you force it with different tricks the compiled result does not work, in my experience at least.

Classic work-arounds

There are two ways to normally circumvent an old glibc with conda. The first is setting the CONDA_OVERRIDE_GLIBC variable before environment creation in conda or mamba:

CONDA_OVERRIDE_GLIBC=2.36 conda create -n my_new_py38_env python=3.8

The other is using the tool patchelf, which can replace the libraries used by a given package as documented here:

patchelf --add-rpath /path/newer_glibc broken_package

This requires a compiled 2.36 glibc library. However, in the package distributions, there is not a glibc version greater than 2.17 availble for CentOS 7. This explains why the former method does not work:

import platform, os

assert os.environ['CONDA_DEFAULT_ENV'] == 'my_new_py38_env'
print(f'glibc_version = {platform.libc_ver()[1]}')  # 2.17

There is in conda a package called glibc, but this 9 years old and 2.19, so utterly pointless if it even were to work.

Compiling glibc 2.36

To compiled glibc 2.36 modern kernel-headers are requires as CentOS 7 is runs the linux kernel 3, not 6. In a blog post there is a snippet, which makes it sound straightforward, but I failed to compile it myself. Here is what I tried:

  • providing different kernel-headers
  • with the flag to not raise warnings as errors
  • using modern C compilers thanks to conda (clang or gcc)

There is a conda module called kernel-headers_linux-64, which does not seem to take effect, but there are modules for clang (C-language), clangxx (C++ language), ninja, gcc (GNU C compiler), libgc which are handy (because I do not have root access and they system ones are ancient).

# throwing everything at it, including the kitchen sink:
mamba install -y -c anaconda -c conda-forge cmake make kernel-headers_linux-64 clang clangxx ninja gcc libgcc ld_impl_linux-64

mkdir $CONDA_PREFIX_1/custom_lib

tar -xvzf glibc-2.25.tar.gz
cd glibc-2.25/
mkdir build
cd build/
../configure --prefix=$CONDA_PREFIX_1/custom_lib/glibc-2.25/

In the above $CONDA_PREFIX_1 is the path to base conda, while $CONDA_PREFIX is the venv. The c-compiler can be specified with $BUILD_CC or $CC:

CC=`which gcc` ../configure --prefix=$CONDA_PREFIX_1/custom_lib/glibc-2.25/

The above says the compiler is too old with clang (10.0), but with gcc (12.2) it gives:

configure: error: GNU libc requires kernel header files from
Linux 3.2.0 or later to be installed before configuring.
The kernel header files are found usually in /usr/include/asm and
/usr/include/linux; make sure these directories use files from
Linux 3.2.0 or later.  This check uses <linux/version.h>, so
make sure that file was built correctly when installing the kernel header
files.  To use kernel headers not from /usr/include/linux, use the
configure option --with-headers.

Kernel headers

The kernel-headers_linux-64 conda package seems relevant, but it does not seem to add linux or asm to $CONDA_PREFIX/include, so I am not sure what it does.

Downloading the highest version 3 kernel-headers of CentOS 7 x86_64 and providing those will fail:

rpm2cpio kernel-headers-3.10.0-1160.el7.x86_64.rpm | cpio -idmv
cd ~/glibc-2.25/build/

CC=`which gcc` LIBS=$HOME/usr/include ../configure --prefix=$CONDA_PREFIX_1/custom_lib/glibc-2.25/ --with-headers=$HOME/usr/include --disable-werror

As you can see the steps tried were a few and way more than most would try before giving up and using an older version of the glibc-grumpy packages or using a Docker or Singularity image if possible.

Ironically in my case I tried the Docker universe in HTCondor, but I am one version behind and that is a rabbit hole tale for another time!

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