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Building and running the MLDB Community Edition Docker image

These instructions are designed for a vanilla installation of Ubuntu 16.04 or 18.04 and the GCC 6, 7 or 8 compiler and assume that you have a Github account with SSH keys.

It will take around 5 minutes on a 32-core machine with 244GB of RAM to run through these steps (i.e. on an Amazon EC2 r3.8xlarge instance) and longer on smaller machines.

Installing the correct compiler toolchain

MLDB requires GCC version 6 or above, or clang 3.8 or above. If you are using clang, then g++ must also be installed as on Ubuntu, clang is configured to use the c++ header files and standard library from GCC.

Under Ubuntu 18.04

apt-get install -y g++  # To compile with GCC 7 (default)

If you want to use a different toolchain (if you're not sure, you don't), you will need to install it:

apt-get install -y g++-6 # To compile with GCC 6 using toolchain=gcc6
apt-get install -y g++-8 # To compile with GCC 8 using toolchain=gcc8
apt-get install -y clang-6.0 g++ # To compile with clang version 6 using toolchain=clang

Under Ubuntu 16.04

Since g++ 6.0 or later is not available on Ubuntu 16.04 as a native package, it needs to be added as an apt source. If you attempt to build MLDB without installing a newer gcc, you will get a message that gcc 5 (which comes with Ubuntu 16.04) is not supported.

add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-toolchain-r/test
apt update

and then one of

apt-get install -y g++-8 # To compile with GCC8 using toolchain=gcc8 (recommended)
apt-get install -y g++-6 # To compile with GCC6 using toolchain=gcc6
apt-get install -y g++-7 # To compile with GCC7 using toolchain=gcc7
apt-get install -y g++-8 clang-6.0 # To compile with clang 6.0 using toolchain=clang

You will need to set the toolchain=gcc6, toolchain=gcc7, `tool

Installing system dependencies via apt-get

For C++ code to compile and the Python modules to install correctly, the following system packages need to be installed:

apt-get install -y \
  git \
  autoconf \
  build-essential \
  language-pack-en \
  libblas-dev \
  libboost-all-dev \
  libcap-dev \
  libcrypto++-dev \
  libcurl4-openssl-dev \
  libffi-dev \
  libmagic-dev \
  libfreetype6-dev \
  liblapack-dev \
  liblzma-dev \
  libpng-dev \
  libpq-dev \
  libpython3-dev \
  libsasl2-dev \
  libssh2-1-dev \
  libtool \
  libyaml-cpp-dev \
  python3-virtualenv \
  python3-pip \
  unzip \
  valgrind \
  uuid-dev \
  libxml++2.6-dev \
  libsnappy-dev \
  libssl-dev \
  libbz2-dev \
  libavutil-dev \
  libavcodec-dev \
  libavformat-dev \

Installing Docker

To build and run the Docker image, you will need to install Docker:

Cloning, compiling and testing

You will first need to have a Github account with SSH keys set up because the repo uses SSH paths in its submodule configuration. You can test that keys are correctly set up by running the following command and seeing "successfully authenticated":

ssh -T

Note the master branch is bleeding edge and the demos or documentation may be slightly out of sync with the code at any given point in time. To avoid this, it is recommended to build the Community Edition from the latest tagged release which is tracked by the release_latest branch.

git clone
cd mldb
git checkout release_latest
git submodule update --init --recursive
make dependencies toolchain=<see above>
make -k compile toolchain=<see above>
make -k test toolchain=<see above>

To speed things up, consider using the -j option in make to leverage multiple cores: make -j8 compile.

NOTE Occasionally, build ordering issues may creep into the build which don't affect the viability of the build, but may cause make to fail. In that case, it is acceptable to repeat the make -k compile step, which may successfully complete on a second pass. (The build order is regression tested, but the regression tests for the build ordering are run less frequently than other tests).

NOTE Occasionally, tests may fail spuriously, especially due to high load on the machine when running time-sensitive tests or network issues when accessing external resources. Repeating the make -k test step may allow them to pass. It is OK to use MLDB if the tests don't all pass; all code merged tagged for release has passed regression tests in the stable testing environment.

Build output lands in the build directory and there is no make clean target: you can just rm -rf build. You can speed up recompilation after deleting your build directory by using ccache, which can be installed with apt-get install ccache. You can then create a file at the top of the repo directory called with the following contents:


N.B. To use ccache to maximum effect, you should set the cache size to something like 10GB if you have the disk space with ccache -M 10G.

To avoid building MLDB for all supported architectures and save time, check

To have a faster build, you can use clang instead of gcc. Simply add toolchain=clang at the end of your make command.

To run a single test, simply specify its name as the target. For python and javascript, include the extension (.py and .js). For C++, omit it.

Building a Docker image

You'll need to add your user to the docker group otherwise you'll need to sudo to build the Docker image:

sudo usermod -a -G docker `whoami`

To build a development Docker image just run the following command from the top level of this repo:

nice make -j16 -k docker_mldb DOCKER_ALLOW_DIRTY=1

The final lines of output will give you a docker hash for this image, and the image is also tagged as <username>_latest where <username> is your Unix username on the box.

To run a development Docker image you just built, follow the Docker instructions from except where the tag there is latest just substitute <username>_latest and where the container name there is mldb just substitute something unique to you (e.g. <username> is a good candidate!).

Docker images built this way will have the internal/experimental entities shown in the documentation. For external releases, the flags RUN_STRIP=-s is passed which, as a side effect, will hide the internal entities in the documentation.

Basic Build System Commands

These all work from the top-level of this repo:

  • make compile will compile all libraries, executables and tests.
  • make test will execute all tests
  • the -k flag will prevent make from stopping the first time it hits an error
  • the -j<x> flag will cause make to use <x> cores to build
  • makerun <prog> <args> will cause the build system to rebuild and run program <prog> with arguments <args> so long as you put the following into your .bashrc or .profile or equivalent:
makerun() {
    make -j8 run_$name "$name"_ARGS="$*"

Basic Docker commands

To see the running containers (with -a to see all the containers):

docker ps

To see all the images (with --no_trunc to see the full image IDs):

docker images

To kill a running container:

docker kill <container's name>

To erase a killed container:

docker rm <container's name>

To delete an image. Note that you may have a conflict and need to delete a container before deleting an image.

docker rmi <full image ID>

Advanced Docker

The easiest way to get a privileged shell into a running container is to use docker exec:

docker run ...  # start your container as explained at
docker exec -t -i CONTAINER_ID|CONTAINER_NAME /bin/bash

Docker layers

The mldb docker is built on top of a few base images:


Some warnings:

  • you will not be able to push to unless you are a employee
  • if you need to rebuild a layer, you must rebuild all layers which depend on it. (all the ones above it)
  • the build is done from the top level of the mldb repo
  • The build process will build whatever is in the current workspace. It does not depend on the current state of the upstream Git repo and what changes have been pushed.
  • Note that there is no versioning of the resulting images at the moment

This layer is built on top of baseimage, it contains all the required system packages and python modules to run the mldb layer. A change to any of these would require a rebuild of this image:

  • python_requirements.txt
  • python_constraints.txt
  • system package (apt-get)

Build instructions

To rebuild this layer, run:

make mldb_base

make docker_mldb
# When convinced things are ok:
docker tag
docker tag
docker push
docker push

The script used to build this layer is mldb_base/

Some switches are available if you need to do a custom build of that layer for some reason: [-b base_image] [-i image_name] [-w pip_wheelhouse_url]

    -b base_image               Base image to use (
    -i image_name               Name of the resulting image (
    -w pip_wheelhouse_url       URL to use a a pip wheelhouse

This image is a fork of phusion/baseimage:0.9.17 rebuilt to have the latest packages updates. This image contains the base ubuntu packages and a custom init system.

See phusion/baseimage-docker for details.

Build instructions

If the mldb_base layer does a lot of packages upgrade during its creation, it would be useful to rebuild this layer. To do so, run the following commands from the top of the mldb repo:

docker pull ubuntu:14.04
make baseimage
docker tag
docker push

S3 Credentials

Some tests require S3 credentials in order to run, as they access public files in the public-mldb-ai S3 bucket. These credentials are nothing special: they simply require read-only access to public S3 buckets. But they need to be enabled for full test coverage.

To enable these tests, you need to create a file ~/.cloud_credentials with a line with the following format (the fields are tab separated):


The MLDB tests will pick up this file when executing. The Makefile will check for the presence of the file containing an S3 line when deciding whether or not to enable those tests.

Advanced Topics

These topics should only be used by experienced developers, as they are not officially supported

Choosing the toolchain

MLDB is compiled by default using the GCC compiler, version 4.8.

Compiling with GCC 5.x or 6.x

In order to use GCC version 5.x or 6.x, the following commands should be used to install the compiler:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-toolchain-r/test
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install gcc-5 g++-5
sudo apt-get install gcc-6 g++-6

You can then add toolchain=gcc5 or toolchain=gcc6 to the make command line to use the newly installed compiler.

Compiling with clang

In order to compile with the clang compiler, you will firstly need to install it:

sudo apt-get install clang-3.6

You can then add toolchain=clang to compile with the clang compiler.

Environment variables

  • MLDB_CHECK_ROW_SCOPE_TYPES is a boolean (default 0) that tells MLDB whether to do extra type checking of row scopes. Setting to 1 will do so, at the expense of slightly slower code. It may be helpful in debugging of segmentation faults.
  • MLDB_DEFAULT_PATH_OPTIMIZATION_LEVEL controls how MLDB handles optimized code-paths for specific situations. When set to 'always' (the default), optimized paths are always used when available. This leads to maximum speed. When set to 'never', the base (unoptimized) path is used. When set to 'sometimes', the optimized path is taken 50% of the time. This can be used when unit testing to ensure the equivalence of optimized and non-optimized versions of code and thus verify the correctness of the optimized versions.

CUDA support

In order to run on a Nvidia GPU, CUDA needs to be enabled and the CUDA drivers set up on the machine.

Machine setup

See here: [] The machine needs to have the Nvidia CUDA packages installed on the machine.

Note that the machine may need to be restarted before the GPUs will be usable.

sudo apt-get install linux-image-generic linux-headers-generic
sudo dpkg -i cuda-repo-ubuntu1404_7.5-18_amd64.deb
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install cuda
nvidia-smi -q | head  // should print Driver Version: 352.68

You will also need cudnn version 5.5 in order to run most models on GPUS. To get this you first need to sign up at the Nvidia page here: [].

Once the registration is done, you can download the two deb files for cudnn:

31899464 libcudnn5_5.1.3-1+cuda7.5_amd64.deb
28456606 libcudnn5-dev_5.1.3-1+cuda7.5_amd64.deb

and install them as follows:

sudo dpkg -i libcudnn5_5.1.3-1+cuda7.5_amd64.deb libcudnn5-dev_5.1.3-1+cuda7.5_amd64.deb

Note that since cudnn can't be distributed with MLDB, it will need to be installed inside the MLDB container (but only the first deb file) so that it can be found at runtime by MLDB.

Hardware compatibility

Note that MLDB requires cards with shader model > 3.0 in order to run on CUDA. You can identify the shader model of your card using the command

nvidia-smi -q

Enabling CUDA in the build

The following should be added to


Or the following to the Make command-line:

make ... WITH_CUDA=1

Building MLDB for ARM64 (aarch64, eg for Tegra X1 or Jetson X1)

First, the machine needs to be set up with cross compilers:

sudo apt-get install \
    g++-aarch64-linux-gnu \
    gcc-aarch64-linux-gnu \
    libc6-arm64-cross \
    libc6-dev-arm64-cross \

Then we need to modify the system's apt sources.list to add the ubuntu-ports repository for the arm64 architecture:

sudo apt-add-repository 'deb [arch=arm64] trusty main restricted multiverse universe'
sudo apt-add-repository 'deb [arch=arm64] trusty-updates main restricted multiverse universe'
sudo apt-get update

Thirdly, we need to download the cross development environment for the target platform. This will be installed under build/aarch64/osdeps

make -j$(nproc) port_deps ARCH=aarch64

Fourthly, we need to make the build tools for the host architecture

make -j$(nproc) build_tools

Finally, we can build the port itself:

make -j$(nproc) compile ARCH=aarch64

Note that currently no version of the v8 javascript engine is available from Debian for arch64. We are working on a solution.

Building for ARM with hardware float (eg, Raspberry Pi with a Ubuntu derivative)

First, the machine needs to be set up with cross compilers:

sudo apt-get install \
    g++-4.8-arm-linux-gnueabihf \
    g++-4.8-multilib-arm-linux-gnueabihf \
    g++-arm-linux-gnueabihf \
    gcc-4.8-arm-linux-gnueabihf \
    gcc-4.8-multilib-arm-linux-gnueabihf \
    gcc-arm-linux-gnueabihf \
    libc6-armhf-cross \
    libc6-dev-armhf-cross \

Then we need to modify the system's apt sources.list to add the ubuntu-ports repository for the armhf architecture:

sudo apt-add-repository 'deb [arch=armhf] trusty main restricted multiverse universe'
sudo apt-add-repository 'deb [arch=armhf] trusty-updates main restricted multiverse universe'
sudo apt-get update

Thirdly, we need to download the cross development environment for the target platform. This will be installed under build/arm/osdeps

make -j$(nproc) port_deps ARCH=arm

Fourthly, we need to make the build tools for the host architecture. Unfortunately this takes quite a lot of time as a lot of Tensorflow is required in order to build itself.

make -j$(nproc) build_tools  ###  NOTE: do _not_ specify `ARCH=arm` here.  ###

Finally, we can build the port itself:

make -j$(nproc) compile ARCH=arm

The version of MLDB will be placed in build/arm/bin and build/arm/lib

Build Options

Using tcmalloc instead of the glibc allocator (TCMALLOC_ENABLED=1)

Google's thread caching allocator (tcmalloc) was at one point better on multithreaded workloads than the builtin glibc allocator (a heavily modified ptmalloc2) but that's not been true for a while (sometimes workloads these days are twice as slow using tcmalloc). It also includes some good tools for memory profiling, which is why support is still provided to build with it.

To use tcmalloc, the google-perftools library needs to be installed:

sudo apt-get install libgoogle-perftools-dev

and the following variable set, either in or on the command line: TCMALLOC_ENABLED=1.