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I've read about how source-based linux distros like Gentoo can have considerable performance increases when compared to pre-built distros like Ubuntu because they install from source with optimizations for your particular system. Is is possible to build Ubuntu from source to get the same kind of benefit?

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Mar 11 '11 at 0:18

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Install Gentoo, not Ubuntu, for that. Seriously, why use a distro that absolutely fails at source-based dependency management instead of one that rocks at it? –  mathepic Mar 11 '11 at 0:13
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I'd be curious to see benchmarks between source and binary where they actually used the same stack versions and configuration. The comparison is usually an Ubuntu release (with its defaults) vs the latest possible Gentoo with an oddball filesystem and bizarre app defaults. The Ubuntu defaults are mostly pretty sane and that's where most of its performance comes from and that's why most straight comparisons put Ubuntu ahead of Gentoo. –  Oli Mar 11 '11 at 0:32
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One great example of a bad comparison is this Linux Magazine article (free registration required to read) where they use different kernels, different Nvidia drivers, different X versions and different desktop environments. You might as well compare two different versions of Ubuntu. They'll show similar scales of difference. –  Oli Mar 11 '11 at 1:02
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Performance increases of what? Network throughput, disk speed, process switching, pure math calculations, 3D-Graphics, bootup-time? –  user unknown Mar 11 '11 at 2:18
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I would only advise to compile software, which needs CPU performance on a large scale (video encoding comes to mind) and is used much by the user and benefits from CPU optimization like for example FMA3 or AVX2. –  otakun85 Jul 17 '13 at 15:51

2 Answers 2

Is is possible to build Ubuntu from source to get the same kind of benefit?

I am not sure about the benefits if you have fairly new hardware components but for the "Ubuntu from source" part of the question the answer is YES, you can build not only your favorite applications from source, but the entire operating system.

Here is how:

You need to install apt-build. Its a comandline tool like apt-get, but instead of downloading and installing the binary package, apt-build downloads the source code of the package, compiles it and then installs it to your system.

After you install it with

sudo apt-get install apt-build

you will be asked for an optimization level (medium is ok), whether you want to create an apt-build repo for APT (Yes) and a question about processor architecture (my intel i7 is considered core2 ). Of course all options can be reconfigured in this way:

dpkg-reconfigure apt-build

The above command offers two additional options for the gcc compiler and make builder. Their descriptions can be found in system manuals: man gcc and man make.

For a manual and available command options check

man apt-build

But the most useful are:

  • apt-build update — updates repo list, (like apt-get update)
  • apt-build upgrade — updates operating system, (like apt-get upgrade)
  • apt-build install program — installs an application,(like apt-get install)
  • apt-build world — something for hard-core users, it recompiles whole system!

For example:

Lets say you want to compile/install Gedit. Instead of apt-get install you just do

sudo apt-build install gedit

Apt-build makes use of deb-src entries contained in the /etc/apt/sources.list file so the compilation and installation processes are fully automatic (similar to emerge found in Gentoo). Apt-build downloads sources of the main application and its dependencies, compiles them, creates a deb package, and finally installs the package.

Some notes about apt-build world.

In my opinion don't attempt it, unless you have 24 or more hours available !

If so first thing you should, remove/disable/uninstall any third party applications (it better to do in a fresh install of Ubuntu) and then do :

sudo su
dpkg --get-selections | awk '{if ($2 == "install") print $1}'> /etc/apt/apt-build.list
exit

The above command will copy your full list of system packages to apt-build.list so that they can be compiled from source. Open that file

sudo gedit /etc/apt/apt-build.list

and remove any GCC/G++ entry

Then you can do :

sudo apt-build world

I suggest to add two options — --yes and --force-yes — to make the rebuilding process fully automatic.

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8  
+1 for the concrete answer, compared to "why build?" answers. I'd prefer to read also a more extensive opinion (even if subjective) about the benefits you could (or could not) obtain using apt-build. –  enzotib May 26 '11 at 12:33
    
There are currently +17 for this answer. But has anyone succesfully done it? –  otakun85 Mar 16 at 16:35
    
@otakun85 I have used apt-build for compiling some packages successfully on Ubuntu (can't remember which release, one of 12.04|12.10|13.04), I did attempt apt-build world which was a mess. The man page for apt-build has this at the end BUGS Many., so expect trouble. –  Phizes Sep 10 at 13:58

You could start a flamewar and a huge debate about this kind of topic, but lets look at real life.

The speed of your OS greatly depends on what hardware you run it and that is the major factor.

I change distros frequently while most of the time staying with Arch, but is Arch way faster than Ubuntu? No.

Gnome with compiz on Ubuntu 10.10 useses about 300ram, on Arch 200ram, I have 4gb of ram, I don't feel the difference, but if you compare Ubuntu with gnome to Arch with awesome, there will be a huge boost in responsiveness and resource usage (300ram vs 50ram), but this only matters if you are choosing a distro for a netbook.

So if you have a fast desktop and don't want to spend time tinkering with your system just use Ubuntu, but if you have a netbook than consider using a lightweight WM on Arch :)

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