Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Perils of Multi-Platform Eclipse Development

Writing code for multiple platforms is a challenge. It not only increases the complexity of your code and tests, but it also increases the complexity of your build process. The build process is what I have had trouble with as of late. So, I'm logging my struggles so that I, and you, might have some place to go the next time multi-platform deployment causes headaches.

So, here is my problem. I have a plug-in that has a little bit of platform-specific code in it. The code works on both windows and linux, and I have precompiled binaries for them. In other words, the build of the (C++) native code doesn't need to be part of my build process. I do that separately just because it is easier. Setting up cross-compilers is a nightmare, and takes more time than I have.

So, here is what I do: I separate my native code into plug-in fragments for windows and for linux. After that, I have to go through all of my different manifests to make sure that P2 knows what to do with the the fragments. First, a p2.inf file has to be made for each fragment and the host plug-in, so that P2 knows the fragments are installable units that should be downloaded. OK, that's fine. Then, I have to the feature.xml for the feature that contains my plugins and fragments to make sure that I specify the supporting environments:

OK, then I have to set up my fragments to make sure that the platform filters match their target environment:

Platform filters are basically read as a functional notation, where sets of attributes are bound to operators. For example, (|(osgi.arch=x86)(osgi.arch=x86_64)) binds the selection of the attributes (osgi.arch=x86 and osgi.arch=x86_64) to the logical OR operator (|), so that it reads, "the osgi architecture can be either x86 or x86_64." So, I've got that down. I also had to set up the Bundle-NativeCode attribute in the manifest for the fragment so that my application knows where to find the binaries, but I'll get back to that later.

OK, now one might expect that everything is ready to export. After all, the binaries don't depend on any native Eclipse fragments (they don't reference SWT or anything). So, it seems that my fragments should be able to be packaged up just like anything else.

That's not the case however. When you run a build in PDE, and you put a platform filter on a fragment, Eclipse checks your current target platform and builds only for what you currently have. I, for example, have a machine with Windows XP on it, and that is the version of Eclipse that I downloaded. So, Eclipse will build only the windows fragment for me. There is no option to build for other platforms. If I use the Export Deployable Features wizard, this is what I get:

Even though my fragments don't have any dependencies on any other platform-specific code and all I really need is a jar with my binaries in it, the PDE says, "No! I can't build that for you." OK, that's fine. I know that it is possible to build for multiple platforms (the SWT guys do it), so I did some searching.

It turns out that what I need is something called the Eclipse Delta Pack. The Delta Pack is basically a bunch of fragments for different platforms which include native code for user interfaces and other i/o such as file manipulation. Getting the Delta Pack can transform your Eclipse workbench into a catch-all platform which targets everything that Eclipse can manage.

The unfortunate thing is that the Delta Pack isn't that easy to find. If you go to the Eclipse Download page, you won't find any reference to it. You have to go down to the bottom of the page, and find the Classic Eclipse distribution. And select Other Downloads:

Once there, you will want to get the release that you are targeting (probably somewhere in the 3.5.1 stream or later), and look to the left-hand menu. You will find the Delta Pack there:

Or, you can follow this link for the 3.5.1 drop.

When you download the Delta Pack, you have to unpack it. Make sure that you don't unpack it over your current Eclipse install. That could make things go bad. Instead, unpack it somewhere else and you can tell Eclipse to add it to your target platform.

To do that, go to your Eclipse Preferences, and find the page for Target Platform, select the running platform, and Add the Delta Pack to it as an Eclipse Install:

After that's done, you will have a new magic option in your Export Deployable Features wizard called Export for multiple platforms. That's exactly what I was looking for!

So, one would think at this point that one could simply export all of the features, upload them to a P2 repository, and release the new version. Not so fast. If you are me and you do that, you get this bug report.

It was silly of me. I shouldn't have assumed that the build would work flawlessly without testing. So, I checked my P2 repository, and low-and-behold, the Linux fragment was missing. That seemed strange. After all I did export for Linux. There's no rocket science here. It's just a pre-compiled binary after all.

So, after hours of fighting with trying different combinations of platform filters, and different ways of building, there were no warnings and no errors in the build. Unfortunately, there was also no Linux fragment. It just would not get created on my windows box. I was about to go and file a bug on P2, when I decided that maybe I should just try to get the build on Linux. So, I went through all the above steps again on a fresh install of Eclipse on a Linux machine. What I expected to happen was that it would build fine on the Linux machine, but instead of not having a Linux fragment, I would be left without a windows fragment.

That isn't what happened. I did get a windows fragment. What was missing? You guessed it: the Linux fragment! My Linux machine failed to build the Linux fragment. But, at least I got an error this time:

It looks like there was something about my Bundle-NativeCode property in the Linux fragment which the PDE build system didn't like. So, I went to investigate it.

I had used native code previously in an RCP toy application in which I was experimenting with OpenGL. When I looked up how to do it at that time, I learnt that I was supposed to use various keys such as processor= and os= to tell the plug-in when to use different compiled libraries. In fact, that is what I used in previous versions of Diver. When both the Windows and Linux binaries were in one fragment, it worked fine. But apparently, now that I had them in two fragments, that was very, very wrong:

I didn't really know what to do, though since this is what I had read was correct, and it was previously working. In fact it still works for the different Windows versions. Not for Linux, though. I don't know why. So, after another hour or so on Google, I learned about the key selection-filter which works in the same way that the Eclipse-PlatformFilter does. So, I copied my platform filter into the Bundle-NativeCode like this:

And it works! So, I learned a few things from this whole process:

  1. You Need The Delta Pack. Why you need it for all multi-platform builds, I don't know. In my example, all I needed was to package up pre-compiled binaries into jar files. There doesn't need to be any dependency resolution for that, but the PDE needs the Delta Pack to do the build. That is relatively painless, so I don't mind.

  2. Pay Attention to the Bundle-NativeCode Format. Eclipse won't necessarily tell you what is wrong. It might just fail to build a fragment or two without you even noticing. The safest way to get it to work just seems to be to copy your Eclipse-PlatformFilter directly into the Bundle-NativeCode property. At least you don't have to manage multiple different syntaxes that way.

Anyway, that is all for now. I hope this can be helpful to anyone who is doing builds for multiple platforms. It isn't an easy problem to solve, so there are bound to be pain points. This post will hopefully get you (and me) through them quickly next time.


  1. There are a few bugs in Eclipse PDE around the use of Bundle-NativeCode. See 285229, 285177 and 284806. In general it helps to also have Eclipse-PlatformFilter defined.

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  3. Thanks for a very informative and easy to follow posting. Would you know of any progress or resolution to 285229 posted by Andrew above?


  4. I can not bloody unpack the delta pack! I've tried 7 zip, winzip and all kinds of extractors. Running Windows "retard" Vista, with SP2. The weird thing is that even though the unpacking fails, and windows wont acknowledge the unpacked files, Eclipse can still find them when trying to add them to the eclipse plugins!
    So I can export to several platforms, only thing is I get an error every time I try to do so!
    " Cannot complete the install because one or more required items could not be found.
    Software being installed: JGine 1.0.0 (com.tedl.jgine.product 1.0.0)
    Missing requirement for filter properties ~= $0: JGine 1.0.0 (com.tedl.jgine.product 1.0.0) requires 'com.tedl.jgine.product_root.win32.win32.x86 [1.0.0]' but it could not be found"
    After renaming the .metadata directory to get rid of the plugins it exports just fine, for my current platform, as long as bloody delta pack is not involved!