Why Go changes its minimum version requirements for OSes (and hardware)

August 23, 2017

Yesterday I wrote about the unexpected (to me) risk of Go ending support for older OS versions. This raises the obvious question of why Go does this and the related question of what is affected by the increased version requirements. I'm not going to try to give exhaustive answers here; instead, I have some examples.

There are several reasons why Go changes its requirements, depending on what is moving forward. To start with CPU architecture requirements, Go 1.8 said about its ARM support:

Go 1.8 will be the last release to support Linux on ARMv5E and ARMv6 processors: Go 1.9 will likely require the ARMv6K (as found in the Raspberry Pi 1) or later. [...]

Requiring more recent processors lets Go use instructions and other CPU features that first became available on those processors, which simplifies and improves code generation and so on. In a casual scan of the Go commit log, I can't spot a specific change that requires ARMv6K or later, but this issue comes close and is illustrative of the sort of things that come up.

Next we have the case of OpenBSD in Go 1.9's draft release notes:

Go 1.9 now enables PT_TLS generation for cgo binaries and thus requires OpenBSD 6.0 or newer. Go 1.9 no longer supports OpenBSD 5.9.

This is for thread local storage, per the OpenBSD ELF manpage, and PT_TLS is supported on other platforms. The code review, Github issue, and especially the commit show how removing the special case for OpenBSD not supporting PT_TLS simplified various bits of code.

Finally, moving a minimum OS version requirement forward lets the standard library use better system calls and so on that are only supported on more recent versions of the OS (or drop workarounds for things that are no longer needed). See, for example, this issue about (future) code cleanups when Go drops support for FreeBSD 9.x and below, or this commit fixing Go 1.9 on FreeBSD 9.3, where the problem is that FreeBSD 9.3 doesn't have a nicer, newer system call for pipe creation.

(While I'm accumulating links, there is are Go issues for defining the OS version deprecation policy and defining it for old architectures. The agreed on policy appears to be that people get one release's advance warning.)

For CPU architecture changes and changes like the OpenBSD case, the impact is generally going to be pervasive or at least unpredictable (Go may not generate PT_TLS ELF segments all of the time, but I have no idea when it will or won't). You should probably assume that all code generated by an updated compiler is affected and will probably not run in unsupported environments. For changes in the standard library, you might get away with an unsupported environment if you don't do anything that touches the changed area. However, this is not as simple as not using os.Pipe() (for example), because other things in the standard library (and other packages that you us) may use the changed bit. For os.Pipe() you'd need to avoid a number of things in os.exec and possibly other things elsewhere.

Written on 23 August 2017.
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Last modified: Wed Aug 23 23:35:49 2017
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