EPCC RISC-V testbed team
EPCC RISC-V testbed team


  • Issues

In this post we cover the toolchains and debugging tools available to compile applications for RISC-V. These allow users to cross-compile RISC-V executables on the login node, which can then be run on the testbed nodes. The toolchains provide various binutils, such as ld - linker, as - assembler, and objdump - displays object file information.

GNU toolchain

The first toolchain is the RISC-V GNU Compuler Toolchain, which is available at https://github.com/riscv-collab/riscv-gnu-toolchain. The README provides comprehensive instructions to compile the toolchain.

Different versions of this toolchain have already been installed on the login node and can be directly be loaded using module load, following the instructions here. Once loaded, the compilers and binutils can be called directly, e.g.

[username@riscv-login ~]$ module load riscv64-linux/gnu-12.2
[username@riscv-login ~]$ riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu-gcc --version
riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu-gcc (g) 12.2.0
Copyright (C) 2022 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This is free software; see the source for copying conditions.  There is NO


  • The toolchain can be compiled with two C standard libraries: GNU C Library (glibc) and Newlib. Newlib provides ISO C, is focused on size and is intended for embedded systems. On top of ISO C, glibc also provides other APIs including POSIX, BSD, XPG, making it more suitable for linux applications. Toolchains for both newlib and glibc in 32/64-bit are provided and can be loaded directly.
  • The binaries have the prefix riscv(32/64)-unknown-(elf/linux-gnu)- for (32/64)-bit and (newlib/glibc) respectively
  • When using the gnu compiler, the isa can be specified by -march=ISA-string, e.g. -march=rv64gc. For more options, see https://gcc.gnu.org/onlinedocs/gcc/RISC-V-Options.html


The toolchain also includes a simulator (e.g. QEMU), which allows us to run RISC-V binaries on the host. To build the simulator, after configuring and building the gnu toolchain, additionally run $ make build-sim SIM=qemu. To use the simulator, just run $ qemu-riscv64 (application).


  • This has also been installed in the module riscv64-linux/gnu-12.2 on riscv-login
  • If the default compilers are too old, modify Makefile.in under build-qemu and add the following flags to configure:
    --cc=[c compiler] \
    --cxx=[c++ compiler]

LLVM toolchain

LLVM also supports RISC-V, and at the moment provides better vector (1.0) support than gcc. To build the LLVM project, the gnu toolchain has to be first built. For reference see https://llvm.org/docs/CMake.html and https://llvm.org/docs/GettingStarted.html. Most important for building LLVM for RISC-V, the following flags have to be added to cmake (e.g. for 64-bit):

     -DLLVM_ENABLE_PROJECTS="clang;lld" \
     -DLLVM_ENABLE_RUNTIMES="compiler-rt;libcxx;libcxxabi;libunwind" \
     -DLLVM_DEFAULT_TARGET_TRIPLE="riscv64-linux-gnu" \

where $(INSTALL_DIR) is the gcc toolchain install directory. However, since the -DDEFAULT_SYSROOT is set, the flag DGCC_INSTALL_PREFIX will be ignored, which is actually necessary to find libgcc. A workaround is to merge the paths.

This has been implemented in a PR https://github.com/riscv-collab/riscv-gnu-toolchain/pull/1166, which is currently the easiest way to build the LLVM project. To build this toolchain

$ git clone https://github.com/cmuellner/riscv-gnu-toolchain.git
$ cd riscv-gnu-toolchain/
$ git checkout origin/llvm-new
$ ./configure --prefix=$(prefix) --with-arch=rv64gc --with-abi=lp64d --enable-llvm --enable-linux
$ make 

The LLVM binaries will be built in the same location in $prefix.


  • The LLVM project can currently be built only with glibc
  • LLVM RISC-V reference: https://llvm.org/docs//RISCVUsage.html
  • At the moment this PR will build LLVM 15.0. To build with an up to date LLVM, run git submodule update --init --recursive , then cd LLVM and git fetch to pull the latest LLVM.
  • When configuring LLVM build, by default the C compiler uses /usr/bin/cc and CXX compiler uses /usr/bin/c++ . If the default compilers are too old, modify Makefile.in under build-llvm-linux and add the following flags to cmake:
-DCMAKE_C_COMPILER="[c compiler]" \
-DCMAKE_CXX_COMPILER="[c++ compiler]" \


The upstream LLVM Compiler (clang) by default supports the vector extension and auto-vectorization. To build gcc with vector support and auto-vectorization, the rvv-next branch needs to checked out.


  • To enable vectorization in clang, add the flags -march=rv64gcv -menable-experimental-extensions -O2 -mllvm --riscv-v-vector-bits-min=128 or -march=rv64gcv -menable-experimental-extensions -O2 -mllvm -scalable-vectorization=on
  • To enable vectorization in gcc, add the flags --with-arch=rv64gcv -O3
  • For more information, see the Compiling Vector Code page


The toolchain contains the debugger riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu-gdb. To debug RISC-V executables on the host, we need to use it in conjunction with the QEMU simulator. To do so, we first connect QEMU to the application by adding the -g (port) flag, e.g.

$ qemu-riscv64 -g 1234 ./hello-world

Next we need to set up gdb to connect to the QEMU instance. In a separate terminal, create the file .gdbinit, and include the target to connect to the port. For example,

$ cat .gdbinit
target remote localhost:1234
tui enable
layout asm
break main

This will allow us to debug with the text user interface, with a breakpoint at main.

Then, we can simply run the debugger

$ riscv64-unknown-linux-gnu-gdb ./hello-world

and commence debugging. There may be additional instructions prompted on screen here, which should be followed.