Some time ago, I wanted to use Elm on a server that was running CentOS 5. At first, this proved to be impossible as the target system was not able to run the Elm binaries provided by npm. These binaries are linked against glibc >= 2.14 while the server only had 2.12. This seemed to be a perfect use case for static linking. That turned out to be true, and even though statically compiling the Elm compiler is not something I’d do on a daily basis I had quite a lot of fun.

The final solution uses a musl-based Gentoo container to statically compile a Haskell compiler (GHC) which is then used to statically compile the Elm compiler. Some paths that didn’t lead me to a destination involved Alpine Linux as well as cross-compilation on my host system using crosstools-ng (although I might have given up on those too early).

Update 2017-05-09

The process described for Elm 0.17 can be also used to compile Elm 0.18.

Update 2018-08-27

The process for compiling Elm 0.19 has changed a little, but it is still possible to get a statically linked Elm binary. See my newer post for details.


My computer runs Ubuntu 16.04. Commands run on this system will be prefixed with $ throughout this post. To be able to run Gentoo on this system, you need to install systemd-container. This lets you start a musl-based system in a container. I shortly experimented with docker until I decided I didn’t want to add an extra layer of indirection although it might have made my solution more portable.

$ sudo apt-get install systemd-container

Download and extract a musl-based Gentoo sytem

$ wget
$ wget

We verify the integrity of the file by comparing its checksum to the one in *.DIGESTS.

$ sha512sum stage3-amd64-musl-vanilla-20160804.tar.bz2

$ mkdir stage3
$ tar xfp stage3-amd64-musl-vanilla-20160804.tar.bz2 -C stage3 --xattr

Now, we can change into the just extracted Gentoo system.

$ sudo systemd-nspawn -D stage3 -a

Install portage musl overlays

At this point, we’re inside our build environment which has to be configured further. Commands run inside our build system will be prefixed by # . The following commands mostly follow the guides at and They make sure the important packages on the build system have the necessary patches to be usable with musl.

# emerge --sync

# echo "dev-vcs/git -gpg" >> /etc/portage/package.use
# emerge -q layman dev-vcs/git

# layman -L
# layman -a musl
# echo "source /var/lib/layman/make.conf" >> /etc/portage/make.conf

# emerge -uvNDq world   # may do nothing

Install musl-based GHC

Now, we have to install a musl-based GHC to compile the Elm compiler. Since emerge ghc fails we have to get it elsewhere. We can either cross-compile GHC and copy the resulting binaries to our container. To do this we have to shortly leave our container (note the $ ).

$ sudo cp -r /opt/ghc/ stage3/opt/

Or we can mostly follow the guide at and download a suitable GHC binary by using one of the links at (linked to at In this post we use version 7.10.3. We can continue once we have moved the tarball to our containers’ /root.

# tar xf ghc-7.10.3-x86_64-unknown-linux-musl.tar.xz -C /tmp
# cd /tmp/ghc-7.10.3
# ./configure --prefix=/opt/ghc
# make install

Either way, we have to adapt $PATH.

# echo 'export PATH="$PATH:/opt/ghc/bin"' >> .env-vars
# source .env-vars

# ghc --version
The Glorious Glasgow Haskell Compilation System, version 7.10.3

Now, we have a working GHC, but for the Elm compiler to be built, we need cabal, too.

Bootstrap cabal

# wget
# tar xf cabal-install- -C /tmp/
# cd /tmp/cabal-install-
# ./

# echo 'export PATH="$PATH:/root/.cabal/bin"' >> .env-vars
# source .env-vars

# cabal --version
cabal-install version
using version of the Cabal library

Now that we have cabal installed, we need to configure it to produce statically linked binaries.

# cabal user-config update
# sed --in-place 's/-- ghc-options:/ghc-options: -optl-static/' ~/.cabal/config

With cabal in place and configured, we can start compiling the Elm compiler. With the current setup, we would run into several errors, though. Luckily, all of them can be fixed.

Prevent compile errors


If we tried to compile Elm now, we’d get lots of errors that look like this:

zlib- failed during the configure step. The exception was:
user error ('/opt/ghc/bin/ghc' exited with an error:
cannot find -lgmp
collect2: error: ld returned 1 exit status
zlib-bindings- depends on zlib- which failed to install.

These errors are due to libgmp not being ready for use in static compilation. To solve this, we can add a USE flag to make our Gentoo system produce static libraries and recompile the relevant packages.

# sed --in-place 's/USE="/USE="static-libs /' /etc/portage/make.conf
# emerge -uvNDq world

After this change, the linker can find libgmp.

Enable -PIC for GCC

We have fixed one type of errors, but we’d get different ones when we tried to compile Elm now. The C runtime doesn’t use Position independent code (PIC) which makes the linker unable to use the runtime in static linking.

[44 of 44] Compiling Data.Text.Read   ( Data/Text/Read.hs, dist/dist-sandbox-fd83d382/build/Data/Text/Read.o )
/usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-gentoo-linux-musl/4.9.3/../../../../x86_64-gentoo-linux-musl/bin/ld: /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-gentoo-linux-musl/4.9.3/crtbeginT.o: relocation R_X86_64_32 against `__TMC_END__' can not be used when making a shared object; recompile with -fPIC
/usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-gentoo-linux-musl/4.9.3/crtbeginT.o: error adding symbols: Bad value
collect2: error: ld returned 1 exit status

Luckily, ld not only tells us what’s wrong, but also how to fix the errors. We have to recompile GCC with -fPIC and can do so by issuing the following commands.

# sed --in-place 's/CFLAGS="/CFLAGS="-fPIC /' /etc/portage/make.conf
# emerge -vq --oneshot sys-devel/gcc

Fix libz error

We’re now almost ready to actually compile the Elm compiler. There are only two errors left, so be brave and steady! The errors we now get look like this.

[4 of 8] Compiling StaticFiles      ( src/backend/StaticFiles.hs, dist/dist-sandbox-fd83d382/build/elm-reactor/elm-reactor-tmp/StaticFiles.o )
<command line>: can't load .so/.DLL for: /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-gentoo-linux-musl/4.9.3/../../../ (Error loading shared library /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-gentoo-linux-musl/4.9.3/../../../ Exec format error)

In the current setup, /usr/lib/ is a linker script. This script can for some reason not be used by the BuildFromSource.hs process. We can replace the linker script by a symbolic link to libz to make it work.

# mv /usr/lib/ /usr/lib/
# ln -s /lib/ /usr/lib

Recompile zlib with -fPIC

That brings us to our last error. libz has to be recompiled with -fPIC, too.

/usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-gentoo-linux-musl/4.9.3/../../../../x86_64-gentoo-linux-musl/bin/ld: /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-gentoo-linux-musl/4.9.3/../../../libz.a(crc32.o): relocation R_X86_64_32 against `.rodata' can not be used when making a shared object; recompile with -fPIC
/usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-gentoo-linux-musl/4.9.3/../../../libz.a: error adding symbols: Bad value
collect2: error: ld returned 1 exit status

# emerge -vq --oneshot sys-libs/zlib

We repeat the fix for the libz linker script, and we’re finally ready to statically compile the Elm compiler!

# mv -f /usr/lib/ /usr/lib/
# ln -s /lib/ /usr/lib/

Compile the Elm compiler

# mkdir elm-platform && cd elm-platform
# wget

Note: 0.17.1 cannot be compiled because of

# runhaskell BuildFromSource.hs 0.17

# file Elm-Platform/0.17/.cabal-sandbox/bin/elm-make
Elm-Platform/0.17/.cabal-sandbox/bin/elm-make: ELF 64-bit LSB executable, x86-64, version 1 (SYSV), statically linked, stripped
# Elm-Platform/0.17/.cabal-sandbox/bin/elm-make --help
elm-make 0.17 (Elm Platform 0.17.0)
[rest of output omitted]

elm-make and its companions are now ready to be run without dependencies, e. g. outside our build system (note the $ again, denoting we have left our Gentoo-based build system and are again on our Ubuntu-based host system).

$ file stage3/root/elm-platform/Elm-Platform/0.17/.cabal-sandbox/bin/elm-make
stage3/root/elm-platform/Elm-Platform/0.17/.cabal-sandbox/bin/elm-make: ELF 64-bit LSB executable, x86-64, version 1 (SYSV), statically linked, stripped
$ stage3/root/elm-platform/Elm-Platform/0.17/.cabal-sandbox/bin/elm-make --help
elm-make 0.17 (Elm Platform 0.17.0)
[rest of output omitted]

The resulting executables run on a wide variety of Linux systems.

Update 2017-05-09

You can replace 0.17 with 0.18 if you want to compile Elm 0.18.