Build Server Setup

The F-Droid build server isolates the builds for each package within a clean, isolated and secure throwaway virtual machine environment. Building thousands of apps, especially with automated and/or unattended processes, could be considered a dangerous pastime from a security perspective. This is even more the case when the products of the build are also distributed widely and in a semi-automated (“you have updates available”) fashion.

Assume that an upstream source repository is compromised. A small selection of things that an attacker could do in such a situation:

  1. Use custom build steps to execute virtually anything as the user doing the build.
  2. Access the keystore.
  3. Modify the built APK files or source tarballs for other applications in the repository.
  4. Modify the metadata (which includes build scripts, which again, also includes the ability to execute anything) for other applications in the repository.

Through complete isolation, the repurcussions are at least limited to the application in question. Not only is the build environment fresh for each build, and thrown away afterwards, but it is also totally isolated from the signing environment.

Aside from security issues, there are some applications which have strange requirements such as old versions of the NDK. It would be impractical (or at least extremely messy) to start modifying and restoring the SDK on a multi-purpose system, but within the confines of a throwaway single-use virtual machine, anything is possible.

All this is in addition to the obvious advantage of having a standardised and completely reproducible environment in which builds are made. Additionally, it allows for specialised custom build environments for particular applications.

Overview of the setup

This is how to set up a working build server, starting from a completely clean minimal Debian/stable install. This HOWTO assumes you have already setup fdroidserver. Running the fdroidserver tools directly out of git (e.g. ~/fdroidserver/fdroid build org.adaway), will likely be the easiest for now since the build server setup scripts are not really ready for proper packaging. Also, it will likely only work on Debian, Ubuntu and other Debian-derivatives since F-Droid only uses Debian in its infrastructure (we welcome porting contributions!).

The base server needs to be at minimum Debian/jessie, or there will need to be some heavy tweaking. If you run Ubuntu or derivative distro, you can get any packages missing from your version, like vagrant-cachier, from this PPA:

First, install the necessary packages and create a new user to run the whole process here, e.g. fdroid. These are only the packages required by all builds, you might need to install additional packages to build apps, for example, mercurial or subversion. Once the packages are installed and the fdroid user is created, nothing else in this process should be run using root or sudo.

root:~# apt-get install vagrant virtualbox git python3-certifi \
        python3-libvirt python3-requestbuilder python3-yaml \
        python3-clint python3-vagrant python3-paramiko
root:~# adduser --disabled-password fdroid
root:~# su fdroid

Clone source code and configure the buildserver settings, running as fdroid user:

fdroid:~$ cd ~
fdroid:~$ git clone
fdroid:~$ cp fdroidserver/examples/ fdroidserver/
fdroid:~$ sed -i "s@^baseboxurl.*@baseboxurl = \"\"@" fdroidserver/

You also have to make sure your ANDROID_HOME environment variable is set up correctly.

For your convenience you optionally may add the fdroid executable to your path:

fdroid:~$ echo "PATH=\$PATH:$HOME/fdroidserver" >> ~/.bashrc

Create the base buildserver image… (downloading the basebox and all the sdk platforms can take long time).

fdroid:~$ cd fdroidserver
fdroid:~/fdroidserver$ ./makebuildserver

Get all of the app build metadata from the fdroiddata repo…

fdroid:~/fdroidserver$ cd ~
fdroid:~$ git clone
fdroid:~$ cp fdroidserver/examples/ fdroiddata/
fdroid:~$ sed -i "s@^[# ]*build_server_always.*@build_server_always = True@" fdroiddata/

Setting up a build server

In addition to the basic setup previously described, you will also need a Vagrant-compatible Debian/jessie base box called ’jessie64’.

You can use a different version or distro for the base box, so long as you don’t expect any help making it work. One thing to be aware of is that working copies of source trees are moved from the host to the guest, so for example, having subversion v1.6 on the host and v1.7 on the guest would fail.

Creating the Debian base box

The output of this step is a minimal Debian VM that has support for remote login and provisioning.

Unless you’re very trusting, you should create one of these for yourself from verified standard Debian installation media. However, by popular demand, the ./makebuildserver script will automatically download a prebuilt image unless instructed otherwise. If you choose to use the prebuilt image, you may safely skip the rest of this section.

Documentation for creating a base box can be found at

In addition to carefully following the steps described there, you should consider the following:

  1. It is advisable to disable udev network device persistence, otherwise any movement of the VM between machines, or reconfiguration, will result in broken networking.

    For a Debian/Ubuntu default install, just touch /etc/udev/rules.d/75-persistent-net-generator.rules to turn off rule generation, and at the same time, get rid of any rules it’s already created in /etc/udev/rules.d/70-persistent-net.rules.

  2. Unless you want the VM to become totally inaccessible following a failed boot, you need to set GRUB_RECORDFAIL_TIMEOUT to a value other than -1 in /etc/grub/default and then run update-grub.

Creating the F-Droid base box

The next step in the process is to create, using ./examples/ as a reference - look at the settings and documentation there to decide if any need changing to suit your environment. There is a path for retrieving the base box if it doesn’t exist, and an apt proxy definition, both of which may need customising for your environment. You can then go to the fdroidserver directory and run this:


This will take a long time, and use a lot of bandwidth - most of it spent installing the necessary parts of the Android SDK for all the various platforms. Luckily you only need to do it occasionally. Once you have a working build server image, if the recipes change (e.g. when packages need to be added) you can just run that script again and the existing one will be updated in place.

The main sdk/ndk downloads will automatically be cached to speed things up the next time, but there’s no easy way of doing this for the longer sections which use the SDK’s android tool to install platforms, add-ons and tools. However, instead of allowing automatic caching, you can supply a pre-populated cache directory which includes not only these downloads, but also .tar.gz files for all the relevant additions. If the provisioning scripts detect these, they will be used in preference to running the android tools. For example, if you have buildserver/addons/cache/platforms/android-19.tar.gz that will be used when installing the android-19 platform, instead of re-downloading it using android update sdk --no-ui -t android-19. It is possible to create the cache files of this additions from a local installation of the SDK including these:

cd /path/to/android-sdk/platforms
tar czf android-19.tar.gz android-19
mv android-19.tar.gz /path/to/buildserver/addons/cache/platforms/

If you have already built a buildserver it is also possible to get this files directly from the buildserver:

vagrant ssh -- -C 'tar -C ~/android-sdk/platforms czf android-19.tar.gz android-19'
vagrant ssh -- -C 'cat ~/android-sdk/platforms/android-19.tar.gz' > /path/to/fdroidserver/buildserver/cache/platforms/android19.tar.gz

Once it’s complete you’ll have a new base box called ’buildserver’ which is what’s used for the actual builds. You can then build packages as normal, but with the addition of the --server flag to fdroid build to instruct it to do all the hard work within the virtual machine.

The first time a build is done, a new virtual machine is created using the ’buildserver’ box as a base. A snapshot of this clean machine state is saved for use in future builds, to improve performance. You can force discarding of this snapshot and rebuilding from scratch using the --resetserver switch with fdroid build.

Running builds

When using the buildserver, running fdroid directly from a git checkout of fdroidserver will be the easiest. If you don’t already have the fdroidserver tools installed and setup, you will need to do that next: Installing the Server and Repo Tools. That provides all of the dependencies needed to run fdroidserver from git.

Now you are ready to run builds. Test by building the latest fdroid version:

fdroid:~/fdroidserver$ cd ~/fdroiddata
fdroid:~/fdroiddata$ ~/fdroidserver/fdroid build org.fdroid.fdroid -l --server

Optionally using QEMU/KVM/libvirt instead of VirtualBox

It is also possible to QEMU/KVM guest VMs via libvirt instead of the default VirtualBox. VirtualBox is still the recommended setup since that is what is used by, but there are cases where it is not possible to run VirtualBox, like on a machine that is already running QEMU/KVM guests.

root:~# apt-get install vagrant vagrant-mutate vagrant-libvirt ebtables dnsmasq-base \
  libvirt-clients libvirt-daemon libvirt-daemon-system qemu-kvm qemu-utils git

root:~# cat << EOF > /etc/polkit-1/localauthority/50-local.d/50-libvirt-virsh-access.pkla
[libvirt Management Access]

root:~# cat << EOF >> /etc/libvirt/qemu.conf
user = "libvirt"
group = "libvirt"
dynamic_ownership = 1

root:~# service libvirtd restart
root:~# adduser fdroid libvirt

Then create a and add:

vm_provider = 'libvirt'

Advanced nested KVM Setup:

This section is not relevant for using F-Droid in a normal setup. If you want to run fdroid build --server flag inside a KVM, this chaper will help you getting started.

Consider following basic nesting setup:

bare metal host (l0)
\- F-Droid VM (l1)
   \- F-Droid builder VM (l2)

The steps above describe how to setup (l1) and makebuildserver sets up (l2).

First of all you’ll have to check if you cpu support the vmx (or svm on amd) instruction set. You can use this command to list details about your cpu:

root:~# cat /proc/cpuinfo

On (l0) you have to check that nesting is enabled:

root:~# cat /sys/module/kvm_intel/parameters/nested

If it’s not enabled you can turn it on by running:

echo "options kvm-intel nested=Y" > /etc/modprobe.d/kvm-intel.conf

You’ll need to reboot to for this to take effect.

Next you’ll need to make sure that your (l1) vm configuration forwards cpu features required for nesting. So open up your configuration for the VM /etc/libvirt/qemu/my-vm.xml and insert a cpu block inside your domain-tag. (virt-manager also provides a user-interface for this operation.)

<cpu mode='custom' match='exact'>
    <model fallback='allow'>SandyBridge</model>
    <feature policy='require' name='vmx'/>

The actually required configuration here depends on your cpu. You can find details in libvirts manual. The important part is that you forward vmx (or svm on amd) to the guest system.

This is the setup that is used in the Continuous Integration builds as part of the reproducible builds effort. You can see this in action on the Debian Project’s jenkins setup: