During Debconf 11, I got access to a fast s390 machine, and I have started to work on a Debian s390x port, the 64-bit version of the s390 port. One of my goal was to help the SPARC64 port, as some of the issues are the same: both are 64-bit big-endian, don’t support unaligned access and behave differently between -fpic and -fPIC.
Why such a port?
When talking about 64-bit ports, we usually hear: “4GB is enough, handling 64-bit takes more memory”. This really sounds like “640K ought to be enough for anybody”. The s390 port is actually 31-bit from the address point of view (one bit is reserved for address space extension from 24 to 31 bits), so each process is limited to 2GB only. Nowadays applications which need more than 2GB are not that uncommon, especially on mainframes. Actually the 2GB limit already causes some problem in Debian: in some cases it’s not possible to build haskell applications or even C applications using GCC. On the other hand, we already require a 64-bit kernel on the s390 port (only the userland is 32-bit), and applications are handling more and more 64-bit or greater values (files offset, time counters, uid, etc.).
What is the status?
Bootstrapping the architecture was not really easy (as for any other new architectures), due to a huge amount of dependencies and build-dependencies loops, as explained by Wookey during Debconf11. Now that this part is mostly done, an autobuilder has been started and currently more than 65% of the packages are built. The s390x port is hosted on debian-ports.org. Unfortunately it is not yet deboostrapable, though that should happen in the next few days (only a few packages are missing).
The main issues are currently packages which fail to build from source due to linker, gcc-4.6 and curl changes, or due to the libjpeg and multiarch transitions, and thus are not directly related to s390x. If your package is in this case, it would be a good idea to fix it. Otherwise if it has a lot of reverse dependencies and the bug is opened for a while, just expect an NMU (as allowed by the 0-day NMU policy). Of course for a few packages s390x specific fixes are needed, some of them are already in the BTS.
How you can help?
The list of bugs blocking the s390x port is available through the s390x usertag, fixing these bugs (a lot of them are general FTBFS) would help a lot. Alternatively if you have access to an s390x machine you can take a look at the packages failing to build.
Update: Fixed the explanation about the 32th bit, thanks to Bastian Blank for the comment.