[R-SIG-Win] Windows toolchain update: seh vs sjlj

Jeroen Ooms jeroen.ooms at stat.ucla.edu
Sun Sep 13 18:36:55 CEST 2015

Hi all,

Some bad news and then good news on the developments of the new tool
chain for Windows.

Bad news: Over the past week, Kevin and me have found several more
problem cases in which the i686-493-win32-sjlj-rt_v3-s tool chain
would cause R to freeze or segfault in the case of c++ exceptions,
even when compiling with --no-asynchronous-unwind-tables. These
happened mainly within Rcpp modules, but we also found a way to
trigger a segfault without Rcpp [1]. We investigated many workarounds
and tried patches for setjmp.h and psignal.h, but each solution
introduced more problems then it solved.

The good news: the mingw-w64 authors suggest to move away from the
SJLJ exception model, and instead use DWARF on win32 and SEH on win64.
These exception models are the default in mingw-w64 since gcc 4.8
because they are more reliable and performant. So we built a copy of
i686-493-posix-dwarf-rt_v3-s and x86_64-493-posix-seh-rt_v3-s and used
this to compile R. The results are quite amazing: both R and Rcpp pass
all their checks without any special compiler flags (even without
--no-asynchronous-unwind-tables). So far I have not been able to
reproduce a single problem case with this new build, and it is
noticeably faster as well. This confirms the sentiment of the
mingw-w64 authors that SJLJ does not play nice with recent features of

A zip file containing these new tool chains (unzip to c:/rtools) as
well as a recent version of R-devel with DWARF/SEH (dubbed
R-experimental) are available from [2]. I used icu-55.1 from [3] to
build R with this new tool chain because the ICU version from Brian
Ripley was built for SJLJ. Because ICU is the only c++ library
required to build R, all of the other libraries (multi320.zip, Tcl,
Cairo, libcurl) can still be taken from cran/rtools.

So now we are torn on whether we should move away from SJLJ for the
new tool chain. The advantages of DWARF/SEH are obvious:

 - More reliable
 - Better performance
 - Better tested because it is the default
 - Compatibly with GCC 5.x (for future updates)
 - We can use msys2 to build libraries

The disadvantages:

 - No multilib support: requires separate toolchains for win32 and win64.
 - Requires a rebuild of existing C++ static libraries.
 - Windows build servers will need two separate sets of static c++
libs: one set built with SJLJ for the old tool chain (R 3.2) and one
set built with DWARF/SEH for the new tool chain (R 3.3). Mixing them
up will lead to linking errors.

The situation is obviously suboptimal. I am especially concerned about
the last point, because it important that we get CRAN on board, and
this will definitely cause some temporary disruption. However it looks
like this is the only way forward. Obviously if we are going to
migrate I can help out with the rebuilding process.

The good thing is that once we bite the bullet and make the switch, R
on windows will be more prepared for the future. A major advantage of
using the default mingw-w64 exception model is that we can use the
excellent msys2 (the next iteration of cygwin/msys) to build c/c++
libraries for windows. In fact, we might be able to grab DWARF/SEH
builds of most open source libraries straight from their repositories
[3] as I did for ICU. We could even write an msys2 package [4] for R
itself to work towards a more formal, automated build process on
Windows similar to Linux.


[1] https://github.com/kevinushey/RToolsTest/commit/0471218b1e79d2cfd9477299dc1ba5f8213e9f21
[2] http://www.stat.ucla.edu/~jeroen/mingw-w64/
[3] http://repo.msys2.org/mingw/
[4] https://github.com/Alexpux/MINGW-packages

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