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 repercussions 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/bullseye, 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 git python3-certifi \
        python3-libvirt python3-requestbuilder python3-yaml \
        python3-clint python3-vagrant python3-paramiko python3-pyasn1 \
        python3-pyasn1-modules python3-requests python3-git
        vagrant-mutate vagrant-libvirt ebtables dnsmasq-base \
        libvirt-clients libvirt-daemon-system qemu-kvm qemu-utils
root:~# adduser --disabled-password fdroid
root:~# su fdroid

Clone source code running as fdroid user:

fdroid:~$ cd ~
fdroid:~$ git clone

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

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

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

Setting up a build server

In addition to the basic setup previously described, we ship a Vagrant-compatible Debian/bullseye base box called ‘fdroid/bullseye64’.

We are bootstrapping the Debian Vagrant boxes for our buildserver from scratch. Fetching and verifying our pre-build Vagrant boxes is fully automated. (If you are interested in this process or want to bootstrap those by yourself you should look at: F-Droid Base Box)

Creating the F-Droid buildserver box

Create a config file for Vagrant as ~/fdroidserver/buildserver/Vagrantfile.yaml which contains:

vm_provider: libvirt

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

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

This will take a long time, use a lot of bandwidth and disk space - 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.

Once it’s complete you’ll have a new base box called ‘buildserver’ which is what’s used for your App build runs. Now you can build packages as you used to, but when you run fdroid build --verbose --server ... App build runs will be isolated inside a virtual machine.

While the created image has allocated a limited amount of CPU cores and memory, you can edit ~/fdroiddata/builder/Vagrantfile to modify them dynamically at run time, eg. libvirt.cpus = 6 and libvirt.memory = 12288, but do make sure to not go over the host machines’ limits else the VM might get killed.

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 a switch: fdroid build --resetserver ....

makebuildserver caching tweaks (optional)

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

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

Setting up QEMU/KVM/libvirt

While VirtualBox was used in the past, QEMU/KVM guest VMs via libvirt is still the recommended setup since that is what is used by In order to make the libvirt image files directly readable by vagrant package, libvirt’s QEMU needs to be configured to always set the ownership to libvirt.libvirt.

root:~# cat << EOF >> /etc/libvirt/qemu.conf
user = "libvirt"
group = "libvirt"
dynamic_ownership = 1
root:~# service libvirtd restart
Debian/bullseye and Ubuntu/xenial
root:~# adduser fdroid libvirt
root:~# adduser fdroid libvirt-qemu
older Debian and Ubuntu
root:~# adduser fdroid libvirtd
root:~# adduser fdroid kvm

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.