Most archive formats record metadata that will capture details about the build environment if no care is taken. File last modification time is obvious, but file ordering, users, groups, numeric ids, and permissions can also be of concern. Tar will be used as the main example but these tips apply to other archive formats as well.

File modification times

Most archive formats will, by default, record file last modification times, while some will also record file creation times.

Tar has a way to specify the modification time that is used for all archive members:

$ tar --mtime='2015-10-21 00:00Z' -cf product.tar build

(Notice how Z is used to specify that time is in the UTC timezone.)

For other archive formats, it is always possible to use touch to reset the modification times to a predefined value before creating the archive:

$ find build -print0 |
    xargs -0r touch --no-dereference --date="@${SOURCE_DATE_EPOCH}"
$ zip -r product.zip build

In some cases, it is preferable to keep the original times for files that have not been created or modified during the build process:

$ find build -newermt "@${SOURCE_DATE_EPOCH}" -print0 |
    xargs -0r touch --no-dereference --date="@${SOURCE_DATE_EPOCH}"
$ zip -r product.zip build

A patch has been written to simplify the latter operation with GNU Tar. It is currently available in Debian since tar version 1.28-1. Hopefully it will be integrated upstream soon, but you might want to use it with caution. It adds a new --clamp-mtime flag which will only set the time when the file is more recent than the value specified with --mtime:

# Only in Debian unstable for now
$ tar --mtime='2015-10-21 00:00Z' --clamp-mtime -cf product.tar build

This has the benefit of leaving the original file modification time untouched.

File ordering

When asked to record directories, most archive formats will read their content in the order returned by the filesystem which is likely to be different on every run.

With version 1.28, GNU Tar has gained the --sort=name option which will sort filenames in a locale independent manner:

# Works with GNU Tar 1.28
$ tar --sort=name -cf product.tar build

For older versions or other archive formats, it is possible to use find and sort to achieve the same effect:

$ find build -print0 | LC_ALL=C sort -z |
    tar --no-recursion --null -T - -cf product.tar

Care must be taken to ensure that sort is called in the context of the C locale to avoid any surprises related to collation order.

Users, groups and numeric ids

Depending on the archive format, the user and group owning the file can be recorded. Sometimes it will be using a string, sometimes using the associated numeric ids.

When files belong to predefined system groups, this is not a problem, but builds are often performed with regular users. Recording of the account name or its associated ids might be a source of reproducibility issues.

Tar offers a way to specify the user and group owning the file. Using root/root and --numeric-owner is a safe bet, as it will effectively record 0 as values:

$ tar --owner=root --group=root --numeric-owner -cf product.tar build

Full example

The recommended way to create a Tar archive is thus:

# requires GNU Tar 1.28+
$ tar --sort=name \
      --mtime="@${SOURCE_DATE_EPOCH}" \
      --owner=root --group=root --numeric-owner \
      -cf product.tar build

Post-processing

If tools do not support options to create reproducible archives, it is always possible to perform post-processing.

strip-nondeterminism already has support to normalize Zip and Jar archives. Custom scripts like Tor Browser’s re-dzip.sh might also be an option.

Static libraries

Static libraries (.a) on Unix-like systems are ar archives. Like other archive formats, they contain metadata, namely timestamps, UIDs, GIDs, and permissions. None are actually required for using them as libraries.

GNU ar and other tools from binutils have a deterministic mode which will use zero for UIDs, GIDs, timestamps, and use consistent file modes for all files. It can be made the default by passing the --enable-deterministic-archives option to ./configure. It is already enabled by default for some distributions1 and so far it seems to be pretty safe except for Makefiles using targets like archive.a(foo.o).

When binutils is not built with deterministic archives by default, build systems have to be changed to pass the right options to ar and friends. ARFLAGS can be set to Dcvr with many build systems to turn on the deterministic mode. Care must also be taken to pass -D if ranlib is used to create the function index.

Another option is post-processing with strip-nondeterminism or objcopy:

objcopy --enable-deterministic-archives libfoo.a
  1. Debian since version 2.25-6, Ubuntu since version 2.25-8ubuntu1. It is the default for Fedora 22 and Fedora 23, but it seems this will be reverted in Fedora 24.