Proposal: Let's drop i386

Steve Langasek steve.langasek at
Mon May 14 19:38:50 UTC 2018

Hi Tobin,

On Sat, May 12, 2018 at 09:40:06AM -0700, Tobin Davis wrote:
> I've been following this thread for a while, and have some questions.  Are
> we talking about dropping Ubuntu x86 images or i386 packages from the
> repo?  If the former, I don't see an issue here, as the subs (Lubuntu,
> core, etc) can still build release images.  But if Ubuntu is dropping i386
> packages, that brings up a huge issue with software compatibility, at a
> very bad time (at least for me and the projects I support).  I work with
> FPGA accelerators, both at Intel and for a startup.  A majority of the
> tools we use (Quartus, Modelsim in particular) only support 32bit (and very
> old at that).  The companies developing these tools are all too happy to
> ONLY support Redhat Enterprise 6 (and barely RHEL 7), and so far refuse to
> budge.  A wide variety of our customer base prefer Ubuntu and have their
> infrastructure geared towards this, so I have had to be very creative in
> getting everything working for them (adding 32bit support, swapping out the
> linker that ships with these tools, etc). If Ubuntu drops i386 all
> together, this can have a major impact on the whole FPGAaaS model.

> Outside of that, I also have a large collection of older software (games
> mainly) that are still fun, but also 32bit only.  Dropping i386 would
> render them entirely useless, or force people away from Ubuntu.

Compatibility with legacy software is important, but it doesn't
automatically follow that the right way to provide this compatibility is by
continuing to build new versions of the OS for a legacy ABI.

- Users who need support for i386 integrated natively into their OS can use
  Ubuntu 18.04 with security support until April 2023.
- 18.04 can be run in a chroot or container on top of later Ubuntu releases
  until 2023 with security support from Canonical, or beyond that without.
- 32-bit software distributed as snaps built with an 18.04-derived library
  runtime can reasonably[1] be expected to work on later releases of Ubuntu
  for the foreseeable future
- Once we're past the point where security support is available for the
  libraries anyway, maybe there's no advantage anymore to having your 32-bit
  compat libraries managed via the packaging system either; so maybe you
  just make /lib/i386-linux-gnu a straight unpacked tarball of the libs you
  need, and no longer have to worry about the version-lockstep constraints
  of multiarch.

So while the use cases you mention should be taken into consideration, I
don't believe they support the conclusion that we should continue to release
Ubuntu on i386 in future releases.

> The real issue is the costs of maintainership.

Indeed, and this is a cost largely paid by Canonical (both in terms of
infrastructure, and in terms of engineering work to keep the base system
working).  It's not very compelling to say that Canonical should continue
bearing these costs out of pocket on the grounds that some other companies
are unwilling to update their software to an ISA from this millennium :)

Steve Langasek                   Give me a lever long enough and a Free OS
Debian Developer                   to set it on, and I can move the world.
Ubuntu Developer                         
slangasek at                                     vorlon at

[1] If this becomes a recommended solution, of course, we should work with
the Snappy team to ensure it remains supported
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