This article was originally published on the LGP Blog on Tuesday, August 18th, 2009
It is a bit of an arcane artform, making a game that runs on all Linux versions. We do quite well at LGP but there is always room for improvement.
Recently, we came across an issue with PulseAudio (I will rant about Pulse in some other post). It became almost impossible, due to the architecture of alsa, and the combination of our build environment, and our higher level sound libraries, to make sound work – pretty much at all, in Linux games. Those of you with older games will know that for a while they all stopped having sound. Some of them we still haven’t released patches for yet (they will be forthcoming).
Now, one of the big problems was that sound libraries (such as OpenAL or SDL) go through their own motions of opening sound. We have no way of directly controlling what they do or how they do it. This is a common feature with many libraries, they will load their own dependencies in a way we cannot control.
The biggest problem is that OpenAL and SDL try to dlopen libasound, and on some machines, libasound doesn’t work with our binaries. On others, it can actually crash the whole game due to incompatibilities. This is a common issue when dealing with unknown system configurations when sending out a binary-only product into the world. You never know just what peoples systems will have installed, and just how they may confuse the situation. But you cannot just say ‘well, bad luck, it crashes on your machine’, people will be understandably upset.
We came up with a rather horrible system to make this work, and one that I hope may be of use to those of you who come here for our technical insights. This system is deliberately designed to work with libraries that have the potential to actually crash a program. As a simple example that many here will follow, I am using SDL’s audio system as the target, and using it to test whether ALSA works or crashes the program.
static int system_asound_ok=-1;
//This is an error, we couldnt fork() so we just say no to
//system openal working
//This is the child, try and run the open, and then close and exit
//Your code here to remove whichever signal handlers you have set up
//MUST use _exit here not exit
//This is the parent, wait for the child to exit somehow
//The child has now exited somehow, check how
//The child exited ok, we can try and use the system library
//The child probably crashed, dont try and use the system library
At this point you know whether the system asound (ALSA) library is safe to use.
This is a truly truly horrible system, when you actually have to allow an application to crash, you know something is wrong, but sometimes there is no option.
As a technical note, note the use of _exit() instead of exit(). This ensures that when the program ends, no atexit() functions are called. Using exit() could mean things like SDL’s cleanup being called, or who knows what else!
Signal handlers should be removed at the point in the code indicated. They interfere with the proper signaled exit of the program and will prevent WIFEXITED from detecting a crash properly. Bear in mind the signal removing only happens in the child process and will not affect signals in the parent.
So, what can you do knowing that the system works or doesn’t work?
Well, knowing that it works, you can simply run the initialisation as it stands and enjoy the working library.
If you know it fails, you can either skip this system altogether (in this case run without sound) or you can switch to another library. If you setenv an LD_LIBRARY_PATH this will influence the path that dlopen looks for libraries. LD_LIBRARY_PATH is searched before any other directories, and so will override the default location of the library. This means, in this instance, that SDL_InitSubSystem will dlopen the libasound.so in the location you have set the LD_LIBRARY_PATH to.
I hope this will relieve some headaches for some developers out there. It is always difficult making any application when you do not know what the target system will have installed on it. Of course, we can always say ’sorry, you need a specific version of this or that library’ but when you have just bought a game, that is the last thing you want to hear, and so – we have to jump through some hoops to stop that happening.