Firefox 82 on POWER goes PGO

You'll have noticed this post is rather tardy, since Firefox 82 has been out for the better part of a week, but I wanted to really drill down on a couple variables in our Firefox build configuration for OpenPOWER and also see if it was time to blow away a few persistent assumptions.

But let's not bury the lede here: after several days of screaming, ranting and scaring the cat with various failures, this blog post is finally being typed in a fully profile-guided and link-time optimized Firefox 82 tuned for POWER9 little-endian. Although it multiplies compile time by nearly a factor of 3 and the build process intermittently can consume a terrifying amount of memory, the PGO-LTO build is roughly 25% faster than the LTO-only build, which was already 4% faster than the "baseline" -O3 -mcpu=power9 build. That's worth an 84-minute coffee break! (-j24 on a dual-8 Talos II [64 threads], 64GB RAM.)

The problem with PGO and gcc (at least gcc 10, anyway) is that all the .gcda files end up in the same directory as the built objects in an instrumented build. The build system, which is now heavily clang-centric (despite the docs, gcc is clearly Tier 2, since this and other things don't work), does not know how to handle or transfer the resulting profile data and bombs after running the test load. We don't build with clang because in previous attempts it never managed to fully build the browser on ppc64le and I'm sceptical of its code quality on this platform anyway, but since I wanted to verify against a presumably working configuration I did try a clang build first to see if anything had changed. It breaks fairly early now, interestingly while compiling a Rust component:

4:33.00 error: /home/censored/src/mozilla-release/obj-powerpc64le-unknown-linux-gnu/release/deps/ undefined symbol: __muloti4
4:33.00 --> /home/censored/src/mozilla-release/third_party/rust/phf_macros/src/
4:33.00 227 | #[::proc_macro_hack::proc_macro_hack]
4:33.00    |      ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
4:33.00 error: aborting due to previous error
4:33.00 error: could not compile `phf_macros`.

So there's that. I'm not very proficient in Rust so I didn't do much more diagnosis at this point. Back to the hippo gcc.

What's needed is to hack the build system to copy the .gcda files generated during profiling out of instrumented/ into the regular build tree for the actual (second) build phase, which is essentially the solution proposed in bug 1601903 except without any explanation as to how you actually do it. The PGO driver is fortunately in a standalone Python script, so I decided to simply hijack that. At the end is code to coalesce the .profraw files from a successful instrumented clang build, which shouldn't be running anyway if the compiler is gcc, so I threw in a couple lines to terminate instead after it runs this shell script:

#!/bin/csh -f

set where=/tmp/mozgcda.tar

# all on one line yo
cd /home/censored/src/mozilla-release/obj-powerpc64le-unknown-linux-gnu/instrumented || exit
tar cvf $where `find . -name '*.gcda' -print`
cd ..
tar xvf $where
rm -f $where

This repopulates the .gcda files in the right place before we rebuild with the profile data, but because of this subterfuge, gcc thinks the generated profile is not consistent with the source and spams an incredible amount of complaint messages ... which made it difficult to spot the internal compiler error that the profile-guided rebuild triggered. This required another rebuild with some tweaks to turn that off and some other irrelevant warnings (I'll probably upstream at least one of these changes) so I could determine where the ICE was in the scrollback. Fortunately, it was in a test binary, so I just commented it out in the and it finally stuck. And so far, it's working impressively well. This may well be the fastest the browser can get while still lacking a JIT.

After all that, it's almost an anticlimax to mention that --disable-release is no longer needed in the build configs. You can put it in the Debug configuration if you want, but I now use --enable-release in optimized builds and it seems to work fine.

If you want to try compiling a PGO-LTO build yourself, here is a gist with the changes I made (they are all trivial). Save the shell script above as gccpgostub.csh in ~/src/mozilla-release and/or adjust paths as necessary, and make sure it is chmodded +x. Yes, there is no doubt a more elegant way to do this in Python itself but I hate Python and I was just trying to get it to work. Note that PGO builds can be exceptionally toolchain-dependent (and ICEs more so); while TestUtf8 was what triggered the ICE on my system (Fedora 32, gcc 10.2.1), it is entirely possible it will halt somewhere else in yours, and the PGO command line options may not work the same in earlier versions of the compiler.

Without further ado, the current .mozconfigs, starting with Optimized. Add ac_add_options MOZ_PGO=1 to enable PGO once you have patched your tree and deposited the script.

export CC=/usr/bin/gcc
export CXX=/usr/bin/g++

mk_add_options MOZ_MAKE_FLAGS="-j24"
ac_add_options --enable-application=browser
ac_add_options --enable-optimize="-O3 -mcpu=power9"
ac_add_options --enable-release
ac_add_options --enable-linker=bfd
ac_add_options --enable-lto=full

# this is implied by enable-release but left in to be explicit


export CC=/usr/bin/gcc
export CXX=/usr/bin/g++

mk_add_options MOZ_MAKE_FLAGS="-j24"
ac_add_options --enable-application=browser
ac_add_options --enable-optimize="-Og -mcpu=power9"
ac_add_options --enable-debug
ac_add_options --enable-linker=bfd



  1. Wow, thank you for this post! At this moment, I'm still too lazy/bussy to compile Firefox myself and just use the distro-packaged version.

    Maybe I should reserve some time somewhere to try this out on my T2. I'm curious how much faster it would feel in daily use.

    1. It really is a noticeable improvement. It's certainly worth a little extra inconvenience IMHO.

  2. Thank you for documenting all of this!


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