Cross compilation

Inko code can be cross compiled to different targets. For example, you can compile your code for macOS while running on Linux. Inko supports cross compiling to x86-64 and AArch64 Linux and macOS, and x86-64 FreeBSD.

Cross compilation involves the following steps:

  1. Decide what toolchain to use: clang, gcc, Zig, or something else.
  2. Install the dependencies necessary to compile to the target platform
  3. Installing the Inko runtime for the target platform
  4. Compiling your code for the target platform

Deciding on a toolchain

Inko makes use of existing technologies (such as the system linker) to compile your code. When compiling for your current platform, objects are linked using the cc executable and an optional linker can be specified (e.g. mold).

When compiling for a different platform, Inko tries to determine what executable and arguments to use for the target platform. This of course only works if you have the necessary executables installed, so let's get to it.

Zig greatly simplifies cross compiling code and so Inko favours using Zig over using gcc or clang, if Zig is installed that is. For details on how to install Zig, refer to the Zig documentation.

If Zig isn't available or desired, you can instead use gcc or clang. If both are installed and you don't explicitly specify which one to use, Inko favours gcc over clang.

If you're not sure whether to use clang, gcc, Zig or something else, we highly recommend using Zig as this makes the whole process much easier.

Installing system dependencies

If you've decided to use Zig, no additional dependencies should be necessary, as Zig bundles everything (e.g. a C standard library) for you.

If you're using clang or gcc, you need to install a compiler toolchain for the target platform. This is where things get difficult: some platforms provide a package providing a toolchain for a different target platform, others don't.

Linux to Linux

When cross compiling from Linux to Linux, you need to install the following package(s) based on your host distribution:

Arch LinuxAArch64GNUaarch64-linux-gnu-gcc
Arch Linuxx86-64muslmusl
FedoraAArch64GNUaarch64-linux-gnu-gcc using this copr repository

To and from macOS

osxcross may prove useful when cross compiling to macOS, but the setup process is difficult and we don't have any experience using it ourselves.

Cross compiling from macOS to Linux or FreeBSD is perhaps even more difficult, as there don't appear to be any commonly used packages to do so. Instead, it appears the usual approach is to use a virtual machine running Linux or FreeBSD and compile the code in the virtual machine.

Because of these complications, we highly recommend using Zig when compiling to/from macOS.

To and from FreeBSD

Similar to compiling to macOS, Linux distributions don't provide the necessary packages to target FreeBSD. FreeBSD in turn doesn't provide packages to compile to Linux or macOS.

Zig should be able to cross compile from FreeBSD to Linux or macOS, but it doesn't support cross compiling to FreeBSD.

Target triples

When cross compiling, we need to specify a target triple when adding a runtime and building our code. The following target triples are available:


Installing the runtime

Inko uses a small runtime library written in Rust, used for scheduling processes, allocating memory, and more. When cross compiling, you'll need to ensure a runtime for the target is installed. A runtime is installed using the command inko runtime add TARGET, where TARGET is one of the target triples listed in the above table.

Runtimes are removed using inko runtime remove TARGET, and you can list the available and installed runtimes using inko runtime list. For more information, run inko runtime --help.

As an example, to install the runtime for compiling to x86-64 macOS, run the following:

inko runtime add amd64-mac-native

Cross-compiling your code

With the system dependencies and the runtime installed, we can start cross compiling our code. We'll cross compile the following program located in the file test.inko:

import std.stdio.STDOUT

class async Main {
  fn async main {'hello')

To build this for AARch64 Linux, run the following:

inko runtime add arm64-linux-gnu # If not done already
inko build --target=arm64-linux-gnu test.inko

If all went well, the resulting test executable is located at ./build/arm64-linux-gnu/test.

If Zig is installed, we can also cross compile to macOS without having to install anything extra:

inko runtime add amd64-mac-native
inko build --target=amd64-mac-native test.inko

Using a custom linker

Inko tries to detect what linker to use based on the compilation target. Depending on the target you're compiling to, you may need to manually specify the linker to use. This can be done using the --linker and --linker-arg options. For example, if we want to explicitly use aarch64-linux-gnu-gcc we can do so as follows:

inko build --target=arm64-linux-gnu --linker=aarch64-linux-gnu-gcc test.inko

The --linker-arg option is used to pass extra options to the linker:

inko build --target=arm64-linux-gnu \
  --linker=clang \
  --linker-arg='--sysroot=/usr/aarch64-linux-gnu' \
  --linker-arg='--target=aarch64-linux-gnu' \

Here we've used clang as the linker, and used the --linker-arg options to specify the toolchain location and the target to compile to.

In general you shouldn't need to manually specify the linker or extra linker arguments.

Using LLD or musl

Inko supports linking using LLD or musl instead of the system linker. When cross compiling with the options --linker=lld or --linker=musl, the inko build command may override the linker depending on the target the code is compiled for. For example, when using gcc for cross compilation the linker is always set to the system linker to reduce the chances of running into any linker related errors (e.g. some linkers don't support certain AArch64 CPUs).

Using C libraries

Using C libraries can greatly complicate cross compilation, as you'll have to install the library for each target you wish to compile to. This likely involves a lot of manual work, such as compiling the libraries from source and placing them in the right directory. For this reason (along with the lack of safety that comes with using C libraries) we recommend you avoid using C libraries as much as possible.

If you have to use C libraries, it's best to compile your code in a virtual machine or container of sorts. Inko doesn't provide anything to make this easier, and likely won't for the foreseeable future, if ever.