Sometimes, you want to edit text files inside CoreOS. Either you have to use the Vim editor which is shipped by default or use a container, e.g. Toolbox. I am not a fan Vim and feel that using a container to launch a text editor for temporal edits is overkill. I am used to GNU nano and I would like to use it instead of Vim. Since there is no package manager in CoreOS (and it shouldn’t have one of course), one has to either copy the nano binary from a donor container or compile it from scratch. The binary is linked dynamically in all Linux distributions, so launching it in CoreOS fails with “library not found” errors. Let’s face it: nano must be compiled in order to work with all the features.

I am used to Ubuntu, so I will cook nano in it’s environment. The following supposes that you have access to the CoreOS command line prompt.

# Override toolbox from Fedora to Ubuntu
echo "TOOLBOX_DOCKER_IMAGE=ubuntu" > ~/.toolboxrc

# The next commands are issued inside the container
apt build-dep nano
apt install libmagic-dev libgpm-dev wget
tar -xf nano-2.7.1.tar.gz
cd nano-2.7.1

build-dep should install the C compiler and all the build dependencies, however, two extra libraries must be installed: libmagic enables nano to select the syntax highlight scheme based on the edited file’s contents (by the way, file command in Linux is based on the same library) and libgpm is one of the opaque dependencies of libncurses. libncurses in turn is the library to create console user interfaces. Basically, every program which has a console UI uses it: vim, mc, less and more and even web browsers like w3m. Usually it is accompanied with libreadline, an essential abstraction layer to work with the terminal prompt, it is used by Bash, Vim, Python REPL, etc. By the way, every time you press Ctrl-R in the terminal, you use libreadline.

mkdir build && cd build
# The tricky part
../configure --enable-utf8 --prefix=/opt CFLAGS="-flto -O2 -march=native" LDFLAGS="-static" LIBS="-ltinfo -lgpm -lz"
make -j$(getconf _NPROCESSORS_ONLN)
mkdir install && make install DESTDIR=$(pwd)/install

The point is, we must compile nano statically linked, because CoreOS’s /etc/ldconfig library paths are all readonly (e.g., /opt/lib could be a good candidate but is not listed). nano’s dependency libraries are indeed not present in CoreOS and there is no way to add them nicely (LD_LIBRARY_PATH, LD_PRELOAD are hacks which should be avoided). If nano was written in Go, there would be no problem since the Go compiler always links programs statically. Unfortunately, we have to deal with C.

nano is traditional GNU software which is built using autotools and make. The build is performed in three steps:

  1. Generate the configure script. Usually, maintainers ship it inside the source tarball.
  2. Run configure script to create the makefiles, check the environment, etc.
  3. Run make - compile everything.
  4. Run make install to put the built files into the desired location. Sometimes, libraries get relinked to match the destination directory.

GCC offers a -static flag which we can inject via LDFLAGS during the configuration step. However, it will fail then. The problem is in dependencies: for example, ncurses depends on libtinfo and it is not linked automatically. The described situation is total hell in case of large programs with plenty of dependencies. We are lucky that we’ve got the tiny nano!

ldd $(which nano) (0x00007ffdc091c000) => /lib64/ (0x00007f6ebe62a000) => /lib64/ (0x00007f6ebe3f1000) => /lib64/ (0x00007f6ebe1c4000) => /lib64/ (0x00007f6ebde01000) => /lib64/ (0x00007f6ebdbeb000) => /lib64/ (0x00007f6ebd9e6000)
    /lib64/ (0x00005597ae3f0000)

The dependencies can be added manually and this is what I did with setting LIBS. libc and libdl are not needed to append - they are system stuff.

Finally, CFLAGS activates link time optimization which is a must-have if you link statically, sets optimization level and allows the compiler to optimize for the current hardware.

mkdir /media/root/opt/{bin,share,etc}
cp install/opt/bin/nano /media/root/opt/bin
cp -r install/opt/share/nano /media/root/opt/share
echo "include /opt/share/nano/*.nanorc" > /media/root/opt/etc/nanorc

Here we are using the fact that CoreOS lists /opt/bin in PATH and effectively allows adding your custom binaries. Additionally, we write the nanorc configuration to activate syntax highlight rules.

That’s it!

nano --version
 GNU nano, version 2.7.1
 (C) 1999..2016 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
 (C) 2014..2016 the contributors to nano
 Email:	Web:
 Compiled options: --enable-utf8

Binary download link.


As we saw, it is possible to statically link C/C++ programs in pretty much the same way Go does it. In Go, you execute go get and you are done. In C, you have to be a good system programmer and to spend an hour struggling with the compiler. My next text editor will be written in Go for sure… or Vim.

This post was written by Vadim Markovtsev. Follow him on Twitter: @vadimlearning.