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What is this Multiarch?

Multiarch lets you install library packages from multiple architectures on the same machine. This is useful in various ways, but the most common is installing both 64 and 32-bit software on the same machine and having dependencies correctly resolved automatically. In general you can have libraries of more than one architecture installed together and applications from one architecture or another installed as alternatives. Note that it does not enable multiple architecture versions of applications to be installed simultaneously.

Being able to actually *run* the installed packages completely depends on the kernel and possible qemu-user configuration:

Notably, while Multiarch allows to install packages for a different kernel, e.g. Hurd or kFreeBSD binaries on a Linux system or vice-versa, running them will *not* work, one really needs to run a full VM to run the corresponding actual kernel and run the binaries inside them.


There is a current machine architecture, as printed by dpkg --print-architecture. It is built-in to the currently installed dpkg package.

( Note that architecture here actually refers to an 'ABI' (Application Binary Interface), not an instruction set (ISA). So for example, armel and armhf are different architectures, even though they use (near enough) the same instruction set, because they have different library-calling ABIs. )

Packages can now be specified as 'package:architecture' pretty-much anywhere that was previously just 'package', so we have libc:i386 and libc:amd64, unfortunately the semantics in dpkg and apt are slightly different so you might get different results, but it should always be safe and unambiguous to arch-qualify packages. The bare name 'package' refers to the current machine architecture in apt.

Other available architectures are shown by dpkg --print-foreign-architectures. dpkg will manage packages for these architectures as well as the machine architecture.

There is a 'Multi-Arch' header in the package metadata of any multiarch-aware package.

Existing packages work fine in a multiarch environment, just as before, but to gain the benefits of co-installation or cross-architecture dependencies, many packages need to be made 'multiarch-aware'.

Packages marked 'Multi-Arch: allowed' also exist which can be treated as either :same or :foreign depending on how they are depended-on.

Packagers are currently working through the distro, starting with the most useful packages for making multi-arch aware. See the multiarch spec and implementation howto for details of how it all actually works, and how to update packages to take advantage of the functionality.


You need a multiarch-aware dpkg and apt.

In Debian dpkg this is present since 1.16.2. In Ubuntu this is present since natty (v1.15.8.10ubuntu1). Check by seeing if dpkg --print-foreign-architectures is understood.

Apt is multiarch-aware if it supports -o APT::Architectures. This is available from version 0.8.13 onwards. However there are many multiarch-related improvements and bug-fixes in later apt versions (some required by Debian dpkg 1.16.2 to properly enable multiarch), such as apt-get build-dep -a cross-dependency support, so the later the better in general up to at least 0.9.4.

Prior to apt 0.9 in Debian, dpkg can get stuck (but only if multiarch is enabled) during upgrades when it is not told which arch package it should be configuring by apt. (dpkg: error: --configure needs a valid package name but 'gcc-4.7-base' is not: ambiguous package name 'gcc-4.7-base' with more than one installed instance) dpkg --configure -a will unbung this.


Configuring architectures

To add an extra architecture (in Debian from dpkg 1.16.2 onwards):

dpkg --add-architecture <arch>


dpkg --add-architecture armhf

Note that nothing will really change until you do an

apt-get update

to update the available package lists.

To remove an architecture

dpkg --remove-architecture <arch>

dpkg architectures are stored in /var/lib/dpkg/arch.

Note that you need to remove all packages of that architecture before removing it:

apt-get purge ".*:<arch>"

Note that the Ubuntu dpkg in natty (1.16.0~ubuntu7 (reports, oneiric and precise ( uses a different syntax:

echo "foreign-architecture armhf" >> /etc/dpkg/dpkg.cfg.d/architectures

Setting up apt sources

Apt defaults to using the set of architectures reported by dpkg, and any unqualified architecture deb lines in /etc/apt/sources.list, which is usually what you wanted. This can be overridden using APT::Architecture=<arch> to set the default architecture or APT::Architectures="<arch> <arch>".

apt-sources can be architecture qualified with this syntax. This is very useful on Ubuntu's split archive. It is not normally necessary on Debian unless your normal archive does not mirror the extra architectures you are interested in.

deb [arch=amd64,i386] quantal main universe
deb [arch=armel,armhf] quantal main universe

Arch-qualifying deb-src lines doesn't make any sense.

Note: There is a bug in apt versions >=0.9.7 and < which means that putting 'arch=armel,armhf' on one line didn't work - you needed two separate entries.

Don't forget to

apt-get update

after adding new architectures.

Installing/removing packages

To install a package of the non-default architecture just specify that architecture on the command line:

apt-get install package:architecture

That package's dependencies will be installed automatically for the correct architectures (same-arch library deps, machine-arch for other deps) e.g

apt-get install links:i386

dpkg -i package_version_architecture.deb
dpkg -r package:architecture

Installing cross-dependencies

To install build-dependencies of a package before cross-building:

apt-get build-dep -a <arch> <package>

This only works when all the 'tools' packages depended-on are marked Multi-Arch: foreign, any depended-on libraries which are also needed on the BUILD machine, and -dev packages which are needed for both HOST and BUILD architectures are made co-installable ('Multi-Arch: same' with arch-qualified paths), and any exceptions to the default rules are marked package:any or package:native in the package source. This process is ongoing.

When it doesn't work you can often get the dependencies installed with a manual apt-get line: e.g instead of

apt-get build-dep -a armhf acl

, do

apt-get install autoconf automake debhelper gettext libtool libattr1-dev:armhf

Details of how this resolves are on MultiarchCross.

Installing Android SDK compat libraries

Some users using the Android SDK might encounter problems when trying to run build-tools or platform-tools on amd64 bit platform. As replacement for ia32-libs, users should be fine just installing the following libraries:

dpkg --add-architecture i386
apt-get update
apt-get install libstdc++6:i386 libgcc1:i386 zlib1g:i386 libncurses5:i386

When to use :native and when to use :any?

The purpose of :any is to annotate a dependency and indicate that the architecture of the target package does not matter. In practice, it does matter though as one usually wants it to be executable, but dpkg has no concept of an architecture being executable on a particular processor. So in practice, you almost always get a native package when you annotate :any. The native architecture is defined to be the architecture of the dpkg package. While package building, the native architecture usually equals the build architecture.

The purpose of :native is to request a package for the build architecture instead of the host architecture while satisfying cross Build-Depends.

  1. You cannot use :native in binary package dependencies. It is only applicable to Build-Depends. Doing so anyway usually results in a dependency parsing error.

  2. You cannot use :any unless the target package is marked Multi-Arch: allowed. Doing so anyway usually results in the dependency becoming unsatisfiable.

  3. If you have a choice between :any and :native and your target package is a python interpreter, you should use :any, because dh-python parses the dependency and fails on :native.

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