Reproducibile Builds

F-Droid supports reproducible builds of apps, so that anyone can run the build process again and reproduce the same APK as the original release. This means that F-Droid can verify that an app is 100% free software while still using the original developer’s APK signatures. Ideally, all of the built APKs will have the exact same hash, but that is a more difficult standard with less payoff. Right now, F-Droid verifies reproducible builds using the APK signature.

This concept is occasionally called “deterministic builds”. That is a much stricter standard: that means that the whole process runs with the same ordering each time. The most important thing is that anyone can run the process and end up with the exact same result.

How it is implemented as of now

Publishing signed binaries from elsewhere (e.g. the upstream developer) is now possible after verifying that they match ones built using a recipe. Everything in the metadata should be the same as normal, with the addition of the Binaries: directive to specify where (with pattern substitution) to get the binaries from.

Publishing only takes place if there is a proper match. (Which seems very unlikely to be the case unless the exact same toolchain is used, so I would imagine that unless the person building and signing the incoming binaries uses fdroidserver to build them, probably the exact same buildserver id, they will not match. But at least we have the functionality to support that.)

This procedure is currently implemented as part of fdroid publish. At the publish step, there are two options: a) sign the built apk, or b) download a signed binary from elsewhere, compare it with the built one, and if they match publish the downloaded (externally signed) one. Option b) is enabled by having a Binaries: directive in the metadata, to provide a URL where the binaries are to be retrieved from (with substitutions for the version number in the APK file name).

Verification builds

Many people or organizations will only be interested in reproducing builds to make sure that the builds match the original source and nothing has been inserted in. In that case, the resulting APKs are not published for installation. The Verification Server automates this process.

Reproducible Builds

An awful lot of builds already verify with no extra effort since Java code is often compiled into the same bytecode by a wide range of Java versions. The Android SDK’s build-tools will create differences in the resulting XML, PNG, etc. files, but this is usually not a problem since the build.gradle includes the exact version of build-tools to use.

Anything built with the NDK will be much more sensitive. For example, even for builds that use the exact same version of the NDK (e.g. r13b) but on different platforms (.e.g OSX version Ubuntu), the resulting binaries will have differences.

Additionally, we’ll have to look out for anything that includes timestamping information, is sensitive to sort order, etc.

Google is also working towards reproducible builds of Android apps, so using recent versions of the Android SDK helps. One specific case is starting with Gradle Android Plugin v2.2.2, timestamps in the APK file’s ZIP header are automatically zeroed out.

platform Revisions

The Android SDK tools were changed in 2014 to stick two data elements in AndroidManifest.xml as part of the build process: platformBuildVersionName and platformBuildVersionCode. platformBuildVersionName includes the “revision” of the platforms package built against (e.g. android-23), however different “revisions” of the same platforms package cannot be installed in parallel. Plus the SDK tools do not support specifying the required revision as part of the build process. This often results in an otherwise reproducible build where the only difference is the platformBuildVersionName attribute.

The “platform” is part of the Android SDK that represents the standard library that is installed on the phone. They have two parts to their version: “version code”, which is an integer that represents the SDK release, and the “revision”, which represents bugfix versions to each platform. These versions can be seen in the included build.prop file. Each revision has a different number in Gradle has no way to specify the revision in compileSdkVersion or targetSdkVersion. Only one “platform-23” can be installed at a time, unlike build-tools, where every release can be installed in parallel.

Here are two examples where I think all the differences came from just different revisions of the platform:


PNG Crush/Crunch

A standard part of the Android build process is to run some kind of PNG optimization tool, like aapt singleCrunch or pngcrush. These do not provide deterministic output, it is still an open question as to why. Since PNGs are normally committed to the source repo, a workaround to this problem is to run the tool of your choive on the PNG files, then commit those changes to the source repo (e.g. git). Then, disable the default PNG optimization process by adding this to build.gradle:

android {
    aaptOptions {
        cruncherEnabled = false

Build Server IDs

To describe the build environment used by F-Droid builds, APKs have two files inserted into them:

  • META-INF/fdroidserverid - git commit hash of fdroidserver used for the build
  • META-INF/buildserverid - git commit hash of makebuildserver used for the build

To ensure reproducibility, use the exact same revision of the ./makebuildserver and fdroid build. You can find the commit hash of fdroidserver by going to your git clone and running git log -n1. The build server instance is stamped with the git commit hash on creation, and that ID is included in builds.

Migration to reproducible builds


  • NDK inserts changing build-id, probably via ld
  • jar sort order for APKs
  • faketime integrated into F-Droid NDK builds?
  • aapt versions produce different results (XML and res/ subfolder names)
  • faketime <timestamp> ant clean release feasible?