Build D for Android

From D Wiki
Revision as of 16:28, 10 October 2020 by Little Wally (talk | contribs) (Native compilation)
Jump to: navigation, search

These instructions show you how to build D command-line executables and OpenGL ES GUI apps for Android, either by using the desktop D compilers for Windows, Mac, or Linux available here or a native Android compiler. There are separate steps for cross-compilation, ie building apps on a Windows/Linux PC or Mac and running the app on Android, versus native compilation, both building and running on your Android device itself.

Since you cannot install the Android SDK on Android, I end by showing how to package a GUI Android app, a zip file called an .apk, from scratch, by using the tools available in the Termux app for Android, a terminal emulator app and open-source package manager/repository for Android devices.



  • A command shell on your host PC/Mac, where you'll run the LDC D compiler
    • Either a DOS command prompt or Powershell should work on Windows.
    • Any shell should work on Mac and Linux, typical commands for the bash shell are shown.
  • A recent version of the Android NDK and optionally the SDK
    • The SDK is necessary to package a GUI app; the NDK is enough if you just want to build a command-line binary.
  • A recent LDC compiler for your host platform
    • It's best to use an official release from GitHub, as it's built against a slightly tweaked LLVM with custom TLS emulation for Android targets. If using LDC from your distro or elsewhere, make sure it was built against our tweaked LLVM, otherwise it will not compile properly for Android.
  • Android, whether a device or emulator, to run your D code
    • The SDK comes with an emulator. I use actual hardware, so that's what I'll discuss.
    • When using a device, you need some way to transfer the app over. There are several ways to do this, here are a few I've tried:
  1. Install an ssh server app on your Android device and scp the app over. Alternately, set up an ssh server on your host PC/Mac, and use an ssh/scp client on Android to get the app. This is what I do, by using the OpenSSH package in Termux.
  2. Host the app in a web server and get it by using your Android browser or a downloader app.
  3. Setup the Android Debug Bridge (adb) on your device and use the SDK tools to push your files over.

Native compilation

  • Android Version 10 ("Q"), as LDC compiler support does not exist for Android Version 9 ("Pie") and earlier.
  • Termux for Android, available in the official Play Store, APKMirror, or F-Droid
  • LDC for Termux: apt install ldc With Android version 9 and earlier, the install will fail.

Cross-compilation setup

Once you have LDC and have unzipped the Android NDK, it's time to set up LDC for the desired Android target(s). See Cross-compiling with LDC for the general guide; I present two examples for a quick summary:

  • Targeting 32-bit Android/ARMv7-A on a Win64 host:
    1. Download the prebuilt android-armv7a package from GitHub matching the version of your LDC.
    2. Extract the lib directory into your LDC installation directory and rename it, e.g., to lib-android_armv7a.
    3. Open <LDC install dir>\etc\ldc2.conf in a text editor and append a section like this, adapting lib and NDK paths as needed:
    switches = [
    lib-dirs = [
    rpath = "";
  • Targeting 64-bit Android/AArch64 on a Linux host:
    1. Download the prebuilt android-aarch64 package from GitHub matching the version of your LDC.
    2. Extract the lib directory into your LDC installation directory and rename it, e.g., to lib-android_aarch64.
    3. Open <LDC install dir>/etc/ldc2.conf in a text editor and append a section like this, adapting lib and NDK paths as needed:
    switches = [
    lib-dirs = [
    rpath = "";

The prebuilt Android packages also include the corresponding x86 simulator libraries, so 32/64-bit x86 Android simulator targets can be set up the same way.

Build a command-line executable

Now that we have a D compiler setup for (one or more) Android targets, let's try building a small program, the classic Sieve of Eratosthenes single-core benchmark, which finds all prime numbers up to a number you choose. Install the curl package in Termux if you're natively compiling, apt install curl.

# Load this link in your browser and download the file otherwise 
curl -L -O

# Cross-compile & -link to ARMv7-A (on any host)
ldc2 -mtriple=armv7a--linux-androideabi sieve.d

# Cross-compile & -link to AArch64 (on any host)
ldc2 -mtriple=aarch64--linux-android sieve.d

# Compile & link natively in Termux
ldc2 sieve.d


Copy this sieve program onto an Android device or emulator and set its permissions with the chmod command. Here's how I do it in Termux, with an ssh server running on the host PC/Mac with IP address

apt install openssh
scp jo@ .
chmod 700 sieve

Run the sieve program

The sieve program will tell you how many prime numbers there are in the first n integers, a limit you can specify. Run this command to find how many primes there are in the first million integers:

./sieve 1000000

If you built sieve successfully, it should return

78498 primes

Build a sample OpenGL ES 1.0 GUI app ported to D

Clone the android repository or download its source in a zip file, which contains several headers and sample OpenGL apps from the NDK translated to D:

sudo apt-get install git # In Termux, apt install git
git clone
cd android

# Alternatively, without git:
curl -L -O
cd android-build

Then build the Native Activity app, which is written completely in D. D code for an apk must be compiled to a shared library, which the Android runtime will call:

cd samples/native-activity

ldc2 -I../.. jni/main.d ../../android/sensor.d ../../android_native_app_glue.d \
     -shared -of=libs/arm64-v8a/ \ # or `libs/armeabi-v7a/...` for 32-bit ARM
     -L-soname \
     -mtriple=aarch64--linux-android # only for cross-compilation; use `armv7a--linux-androideabi` for 32-bit ARM
     # possibly needed: -L-llog -L-landroid -L-lEGL -L-lGLESv1_CM


Finally, package the app as the SDK directs: at this point, it's just like building a regular Android app. I document the older Ant approach, which is deprecated, replace it with the Gradle command from a newer SDK. With Ant on Mac or Linux, set the path to your SDK, then run these commands:

export SDK=/path/to/your/android-sdk
$SDK/tools/android update project -p . -s --target 1
ant debug

Transfer the resulting bin/NativeActivity-debug.apk to your Android device, again shown here by using scp from the Termux app.

scp jo@ /sdcard/Download/

Native compilation

Follow the instructions below to package this native shared library into an Android apk.

Install and run the sample GUI app

Go to Settings->Security on your Android device and allow installation of apps from unknown sources, ie from outside the Play Store, then go to /sdcard/Download in your file manager and choose the NativeActivity-debug apk to install it. Open the app after installing or go to your app folder and run the app named NativeActivity: it'll show a black screen initially, then flash a bunch of colors when the screen is touched.

Build a sample OpenGL ES 2.0 GUI app mostly written in D, with some Java

This D app has not been ported to 64-bit Android/ARM yet, only 32-bit ARM compilation will work for now:

cd samples/Teapot

ldc2 -I../.. -Ijni -Jjni \
     ../../ndk_helper/GLContext.d \
     ../../ndk_helper/JNIHelper.d \
     ../../ndk_helper/gestureDetector.d \
     ../../ndk_helper/perfMonitor.d \
     ../../ndk_helper/shader.d \
     ../../ndk_helper/tapCamera.d \
     jni/TeapotNativeActivity.d \
     jni/TeapotRenderer.d \
     ../../android/sensor.d \
     ../../android_native_app_glue.d \
     -shared -of=libs/armeabi-v7a/ \
     -L-soname \
     -mtriple=armv7a--linux-androideabi # only for cross-compilation
     # possibly needed: -L-llog -L-landroid -L-lEGL -L-lGLESv2


Package this shared library into an apk by using the SDK, as you would normally, and try installing and running it on your device.

Native compilation

Install the right Eclipse Java compiler package for your device (the ecj4.6 package if you're running Android 5 or 6), the Android dex tool, and other packages needed to build an Android apk. Generate any Java files needed, compile and dex them, then package everything up into an apk and sign it.

apt install ecj dx aapt apksigner

aapt package  -M ./AndroidManifest.xml -I $PREFIX/share/java/android-21.jar -J src/ -S res -m

ecj-21 -d ./obj -sourcepath src $(find src -type f -name "*.java")

dx --dex --output=./classes.dex ./obj/

aapt package  -M ./AndroidManifest.xml -S res -A assets -F teapot.apk

aapt add teapot.apk classes.dex lib/armeabi-v7a/

apksigner debug.ks teapot.apk teapot-signed.apk

Finally, move teapot-signed.apk into a public directory, from which you can install and run it.

Changes for Android

Now that you've seen some examples, here's a description of changes to D that have been made for Android.

The Android environment doesn't support native Thread-Local Storage (TLS), which is integral to D, since all static and global variables not explicitly marked shared/__gshared/immutable are thread-local by default in D. The Android D runtime supports emulated TLS instead, but this currently requires the ld.bfd linker - or lld won't do.

If building a shared library and not a D command-line executable, you must also initialize and exit the D runtime by calling rt_init() and rt_term() before and after all D code is run, as has been done in the default Android wrapper (rt_init/rt_term are automatically inserted and run for a D executable). Running multiple D shared libraries is currently unsupported on Android, only a single D shared library that statically links against the D runtime will work.

Package an Android app from scratch on your Android device

Install aapt, the Android Asset Packaging Tool, and apksigner, a tool to create a hashed manifest and sign your apps.

apt install aapt apksigner

I'll demonstrate with the NativeActivity app built above.

cd samples/native-activity
aapt package -M AndroidManifest.xml -S res -F NativeActivity-debug-unsigned.apk
APK_DIR=armeabi-v7a # or `arm64-v8a` for 64-bit ARM
aapt add NativeActivity-debug-unsigned.apk lib/$APK_DIR/

This simple app only requires three files, AndroidManifest.xml, resources.arsc, and lib/$APK_DIR/, which you can check with the following aapt command.

aapt list NativeActivity-debug-unsigned.apk

Now let's generate a hashed manifest, just like a Java jar file, and sign the app. If you have your own Java Keystore already, just supply it to apksigner. If not, apksigner will generate a self-signed Keystore file, which we name debug.ks below, which is good enough to sign and install debug apps on your own Android device.

apksigner debug.ks NativeActivity-debug-unsigned.apk NativeActivity-debug.apk

You should see three additional files in the apk, if you list its contents using the command above. At this point, you can install and run the signed app on your own device. If you modify the app, you'll need to build the manifest and sign it again: make sure you use the debug.ks you created before or Android won't allow you to reinstall the same app with a newly generated key, unless you first uninstall the app.

Sign your app using a certificate and OpenSSL

Unfortunately, apksigner only supports Java Keystore files for signing right now and I don't know how to build one from scratch, so if you don't have a keystore and want to release your app to an app store, you'll have to use OpenSSL to sign the app.

For a valid certificate for the final release, there's plenty of information online on how to generate one. I'll just show how to create a self-signed certificate for debugging purposes.

First, install the OpenSSL package in Termux. Then, this OpenSSL command will generate a self-signed debug certificate, apk.cert, and a 2048-bit RSA private key, key.pem, which isn't encrypted with a password. It will ask you for some signing info, for which I've shown what's used by the debug certificate in the Android SDK, but it doesn't matter what you enter, as it's ignored:

apt install openssl-tool

openssl req -x509 -nodes -newkey rsa:2048 -keyout key.pem -out apk.cert

writing new private key to 'key.pem'
You are about to be asked to enter information that will be incorporated
into your certificate request.
What you are about to enter is what is called a Distinguished Name or a DN.
There are quite a few fields but you can leave some blank
For some fields there will be a default value,
If you enter '.', the field will be left blank.
Country Name (2 letter code) [AU]:US
State or Province Name (full name) [Some-State]:.
Locality Name (eg, city) []:
Organization Name (eg, company) [Internet Widgits Pty Ltd]:Android
Organizational Unit Name (eg, section) []:
Common Name (e.g. server FQDN or YOUR name) []:Android Debug
Email Address []:

Now that we have a certificate- self-signed in this case, use your actual release certificate if you want to release the app- and private key, we use them to sign the app. Since the apk is just a zip file, unzip it into a directory and use OpenSSL to generate a new signature file, CERT.RSA, then update the apk with the new signature, and copy the apk to a public user directory from which you can install it:

mkdir unpack
cd unpack/
unzip ../NativeActivity-debug.apk

openssl smime -sign -md sha1 -binary -noattr -in CERT.SF -out CERT.RSA -outform der -inkey ../../key.pem -signer ../../apk.cert

cd ..
aapt remove ../NativeActivity-debug.apk META-INF/CERT.RSA
aapt add ../NativeActivity-debug.apk META-INF/CERT.RSA

cd ..
cp NativeActivity-debug.apk /sdcard/Download/

The OpenSSL commands to generate a certificate and sign the apk were taken from this 2012 blog post, you can follow it further to see what the signature consists of and verify it for yourself. This 2013 blog post was critical for me to understand how apk signing works, I used to run all those commands by hand until the apksigner package was added to the Termux package repo.

Directions for future work

  • Revise the way TLS data is initialized on Android. ld.bfd is required because it's the only linker putting the .tdata and .tbss sections adjacent to each other (by default).
  • Integrate the linux shared library support in druntime's rt.sections_elf_shared, so that multiple D shared libraries can be used. Things may likely get complicated because of LDC's custom TLS emulation; using LLVM's default EmuTLS for Android instead might be an option.