Lean Build Bootstrapping

Since version 4, Lean is a partially bootstrapped program: most parts of the frontend and compiler are written in Lean itself and thus need to be built before building Lean itself - which is needed to again build those parts. This cycle is broken by using pre-built C files checked into the repository (which ultimately go back to a point where the Lean compiler was not written in Lean) in place of these Lean inputs and then compiling everything in multiple stages up to a fixed point. The build directory is organized in these stages:

  # Bootstrap binary built from stage0/src/.
  # We do not use any other files from this directory in further stages.
    config.h  # config variables used to build `lean` such as used allocator
    runtime/lean.h  # runtime header, used by extracted C code, uses `config.h`
    lean.mk  # used by `leanmake`
    lean/**/*.olean  # the Lean library (incl. the compiler) compiled by the previous stage's `lean`
    temp/**/*.{c,o}  # the library extracted to C and compiled by `leanc`
    libInit.a libStd.a libLean.a  # static libraries of the Lean library
    libleancpp.a  # a static library of the C++ sources of Lean
    libleanshared.so  # a dynamic library including the static libraries above
    lean  # the Lean compiler & server, a small executable that calls directly into libleanshared.so
    leanc  # a wrapper around a C compiler supplying search paths etc
    leanmake  # a wrapper around `make` supplying the Makefile above

Stage 0 can be viewed as a blackbox since it does not depend on any local changes and is equivalent to downloading a bootstrapping binary as done in other compilers. The build for any other stage starts by building the runtime and standard library from src/, using the lean binary from the previous stage in the latter case, which are then assembled into a new bin/lean binary.

Each stage can be built by calling make stageN in the root build folder. Running just make will default to stage 1, which is usually sufficient for testing changes on the test suite or other files outside of the stdlib. However, it might happen that the stage 1 compiler is not able to load its own stdlib, e.g. when changing the .olean format: the stage 1 stdlib will use the format generated by the stage 0 compiler, but the stage 1 compiler will expect the new format. In this case, we should continue with building and testing stage 2 instead, which will both build and expect the new format. Note that this is only possible because when building a stage's stdlib, we use the previous compiler but never load the previous stdlib (since everything is prelude). We can also use stage 2 to test changes in the compiler or other "meta" parts, i.e. changes that affect the produced (.olean or .c) code, on the stdlib and compiler itself. We are not aware of any "meta-meta" parts that influence more than two stages of compilation, so stage 3 should always be identical to stage 2 and only exists as a sanity check.

In summary, doing a standard build via make internally involves these steps:

  1. compile the stage0/src archived sources into stage0/bin/lean
  2. use it to compile the current library (including your changes) into stage1/lib
  3. link that and the current C++ code from src/ into stage1/bin/lean

You now have a Lean binary and library that include your changes, though their own compilation was not influenced by them, that you can use to test your changes on test programs whose compilation will be influenced by the changes.

Finally, when we want to use new language features in the library, we need to update the stage 0 compiler, which can be done via make -C stageN update-stage0. make update-stage0 without -C defaults to stage1.

Further Bootstrapping Complications

As written above, changes in meta code in the current stage usually will only affect later stages. This is an issue in two specific cases.

  • For non-builtin meta code such as notations or macros in Notation.lean, we expect changes to affect the current file and all later files of the same stage immediately, just like outside the stdlib. To ensure this, we need to build the stage using -Dinterpreter.prefer_native=false - otherwise, when executing a macro, the interpreter would notice that there is already a native symbol available for this function and run it instead of the new IR, but the symbol is from the previous stage!

    To make matters more complicated, while false is a reasonable default incurring only minor overhead (ParserDescrs and simple macros are cheap to interpret), there are situations where we need to set the option to true: when the interpreter is executed from the native code of the previous stage, the type of the value it computes must be identical to/ABI-compatible with the type in the previous stage. For example, if we add a new parameter to Macro or reorder constructors in ParserDescr, building the stage with the interpreter will likely fail. Thus we need to set interpreter.prefer_native to true in such cases to "freeze" meta code at their versions in the previous stage; no new meta code should be introduced in this stage. Any further stages (e.g. after an update-stage0) will then need to be compiled with the flag set to false again since they will expect the new signature.

    For an example, see https://github.com/leanprover/lean4/commit/da4c46370d85add64ef7ca5e7cc4638b62823fbb.

  • For the special case of quotations, it is desirable to have changes in built-in parsers affect them immediately: when the changes in the parser become active in the next stage, macros implemented via quotations should generate syntax trees compatible with the new parser, and quotation patterns in macro and elaborators should be able to match syntax created by the new parser and macros. Since quotations capture the syntax tree structure during execution of the current stage and turn it into code for the next stage, we need to run the current stage's built-in parsers in quotation via the interpreter for this to work. Caveats:

    • Since interpreting full parsers is not nearly as cheap and we rarely change built-in syntax, this needs to be opted in using -Dinternal.parseQuotWithCurrentStage=true.
    • The parser needs to be reachable via an import statement, otherwise the version of the previous stage will silently be used.
    • Only the parser code (Parser.fn) is affected; all metadata such as leading tokens is taken from the previous stage.

    For an example, see https://github.com/leanprover/lean4/commit/f9dcbbddc48ccab22c7674ba20c5f409823b4cc1#diff-371387aed38bb02bf7761084fd9460e4168ae16d1ffe5de041b47d3ad2d22422 (from before the flag defaulted to false).

To modify either of these flags both for building and editing the stdlib, adjust the code in stage0/src/stdlib_flags.h. The flags will automatically be reset on the next update-stage0 when the file is overwritten with the original version in src/.