Bazel cheatsheet

This cheatsheet provides quick tips on how to build and test code in our repository using Bazel.

Start here if you're completely new to Bazel.

The original design documents for our Bazel build can be found at the following Golinks:

Initial setup

This section includes steps every engineer should follow to get a consistent development experience.

Install Bazelisk

Bazelisk is a wrapper for Bazel that downloads and runs the version of Bazel specified in //.bazelversion. It serves a similar purpose as nvm does for NodeJS.

Bazelisk is recommended over plain Bazel because the bazel command on our gLinux workstations is automatically updated every time a new version of Bazel is released.

To install Bazelisk, grab the latest binary for your platform from GitHub, then add it to your PATH.


  • Make a Bash alias with alias bazel="bazelisk" and add it to your ~/.bash_aliases file.
  • Set the full path to bazel to be the full path to bazelisk in your IDE of choice. This is necessary for some extensions to work correctly, such as the Bazel plugin for Visual Studio Code.

Set up RBE access

Remote Build Execution (RBE) allows faster build and test execution times by distributing build and test actions across multiple machines.

Run the following command to get access our RBE instance:

$ gcloud auth application-default login

This should enable you to utilize RBE by including the flag --config=remote in your Bazel invocations. For more details on this flag, see below.

Then, create a //bazel/user/bazelrc file in your repository checkout with the following contents:

build:mayberemote --config=remote

This will enable RBE for any Bazel invocations in scripts, Make targets, etc.

Warning: Do not use --config=mayberemote in your manual Bazel invocations. The “mayberemote” configuration is only intended to be used from scripted actions. For manual Bazel invocations, use --config=remote instead, which will explicitly let you know if there are any problems with your RBE setup. For more details on the --config=mayberemote flag and why it is necessary, see below.


We use Gazelle to automatically generate BUILD.bazel files for most of our Go and TypeScript code.

Note that we occasionally edit Gazelle-generated BUILD.bazel files by hand, e.g. to mark tests as flaky.


Run make gazelle from the repository's root directory.

TypeScript support

TypeScript support is provided via a custom Gazelle extension which can be found in //bazel/gazelle/frontend.

Tip: See here for details on how this extension decides which rule to generate for a given TypeScript file.


Buildifier is a linter and formatter for BUILD.bazel files and other Bazel files (WORKSPACE, *.bzl, etc.).


Run bazel run //:buildifier.

Bazel CI tasks

Our repository is built is tested on RBE with the following CI tasks:

  • Infra-PerCommit-Build (roughly equivalent to bazel build //... --config=remote)
  • Infra-PerCommit-Test (roughly equivalent to bazel test //... --config=remote)

We regard the above tasks as the source of truth for build and test correctness.

Building and testing

Use commands bazel build and bazel test to build and test Bazel targets, respectively. Examples:

# Single target.
$ bazel build //go/util:util
$ bazel test //go/util:util_test

# All targets under a directory and any subdirectoriews.
$ bazel build //go/...
$ bazel test //go/...

# All targets in the repository.
$ bazel build //...
$ bazel test //...

Any build artifacts produced by bazel build or bazel test will be found under //_bazel_bin.

Note that it‘s not necessary to bazel build a test target before bazel test-ing it. bazel test will automatically build the test target if it wasn’t built already (i.e. if it wasn't found in the Bazel cache).

More on bazel build here.

More on bazel test here.

Building and testing on RBE

By default, Bazel will build and test targets on the host system (aka a local build). To build on RBE, invoke Bazel with flag --config=remote, e.g.:

$ bazel build //go/util:util --config=remote
$ bazel test //go/util:util_test --config=remote

This repository contains some scripted actions that shell out to Bazel, such as certain make targets (e.g. make gazelle, make buildifier) and go generate actions. These actions use the “mayberemote” configuration via the --config=mayberemote flag, e.g.:

# //Makefile

	$(BAZEL) run --config=mayberemote //:gazelle -- update ./

By default, the “mayberemote” configuration does nothing. This is to support users that might not have RBE access, or when working offline (e.g. on a plane with no WiFi). To get the benefits of RBE when running scripted actions, please create a //bazel/user/bazelrc file with the following contents:

build:mayberemote --config=remote

To learn more about the mayberemote configuration:

Running Bazel-built binaries

Use command bazel run to run binary Bazel targets (such as go_binary, sh_binary, etc.), e.g.:

# Without command-line parameters.
$ bazel run //scripts/run_emulators:run_emulators

# With command-line parameters.
$ bazel run //scripts/run_emulators:run_emulators -- start

Alternatively, you can run the Bazel-built artifact directly, e.g.:

$ bazel build //scripts/run_emulators:run_emulators
$ _bazel_bin/scripts/run_emulators/run_emulators_/run_emulators start

The exact path of the binary under //_bazel_bin depends on the Bazel rule (go_binary, py_binary, etc.). As you can see, said path can be non-obvious, so it's generally recommended to use bazel run.

More on bazel run here.

Back-end development in Go

Our Go codebase is built and tested using Bazel rules from the rules_go repository. The go_test rule documentation is a great read to get started.

As mentioned in the Gazelle section, all Bazel targets for Go code are generated with Gazelle.

Read go/skia-infra-bazel-backend for the full details.

Invoking “go”, “gofmt” and other tools

On non-Bazel Go projects, developers typically use locally installed binaries such as go and gofmt for code generation and code formatting tasks. However, our Bazel build aims to be as hermetic as possible. To this end, rather than requiring the developer to install a Go SDK on their system, we provide convenience Bazel targets defined in //BUILD.bazel to invoke binaries in the Bazel-downloaded Go SDK and other Bazel-downloaded tools.

Example invocations:

# Equivalent to "go generate ./..."
$ bazel run //:go -- generate ./...

# Equivalent to "gofmt -s -w ."
$ bazel run //:gofmt -- -s -w .

# Equivalent to "errcheck"
$ bazel run //:errcheck --

# Equivalent to "protoc --go_out . myproto.proto"
$ bazel run //:protoc -- --go_out=. myproto.proto

Our CI tasks and Makefiles use these Bazel targets. This prevents diffs that might arise from using locally installed binaries, which might differ from system to system. Developers should always use Bazel-downloaded binaries for any tasks that produce changes in checked-in files.

Note that it might still be desirable to have a locally installed Go SDK. For example, Visual Studio Code‘s Go extension requires a locally installed Go SDK to enable autocompletion and debugging. It is the developer’s responsibility to ensure that their locally installed Go SDK matches the version used by the Bazel build, which is defined in the //WORKSPACE file.

Building Go code

Simply use bazel build (and optionally bazel run) as described earlier.

Testing Go code

Tip: Start by reading the General testing tips section.

Our setup differs slightly from typical Go + Bazel projects in that we use a wrapper macro around go_test to handle manual tests. Gazelle is configured to use this macro via a gazelle:map_kind directive in //BUILD.bazel. The macro is defined in //bazel/go/go_test.bzl. Read the macro's docstring for the full details.

Manual Go tests

To mark specific Go test cases as manual, extract them out into a separate file ending with _manual_test.go within the same directory.

The go_test macro in //bazel/go/go_test.bzl places files ending with _manual_test.go in a separate go_test target, which is tagged as manual.

More on manual tests here.

Passing flags to Go tests

The go test command supports flags such as -v to print verbose outputs, -run to run a specific test case, etc. Under Bazel, these flags can be passed to a go_test test target via --test_arg, but they need to be prefixed with -test., e.g.:

# Equivalent to "go test ./go/util -v".
$ bazel test //go/util:util_test --test_arg=-test.v

# Equivalent to "go test ./go/util -run=TestFoo"
$ bazel test //go/util:util_test

Example bazel test invocation for Go tests

The following example shows what a typical bazel test invocation might look like while debugging a go_test target locally.

# Equivalent to "$ MY_ENV_VAR=foo go test ./go/my_pkg -v -logtostderr"
$ bazel test //go/my_pkg:my_pkg_test \
             --test_output=streamed \
             --nocache_test_results \
             --test_arg=-test.v \
             --test_arg=-logtostderr \

Go modules

Unlike normal Go projects, Bazel Go projects based on rules_go specify Go module dependencies via Gazelle's go_repository rule. In our repository, those rules are located in //go_repositories.bzl.

While a Bazel Go project does not need a go.mod file, absence of a go.mod file breaks common tooling such as VSCode's code completion. For this reason, our repository contains a //go.mod file which we treat as the source of truth for Go dependencies, and we automatically generate file //go_repositories.bzl from //go.mod via Gazelle.

Adding or updating Go modules

The process is similar to non-Bazel Go projects, but instead of running e.g. go get, we use the //:go Bazel wrapper mentioned earlier. This avoids potential differences in //go.mod and //go.sum that might be introduced by a local Go SDK whose version differs from the hermetic Go SDK downloaded by Bazel.

First, update the //go.mod file:

$ bazel run //:go -- get

Then run Gazelle, which will update //go_repositories.bzl:

$ make gazelle

Troubleshooting Go dependency changes

While the above steps work for most Go dependencies, we occasionally run into issues that require manual work to resolve.

For example:

  • Most Go modules do not include BUILD files, in which case the go_repository rule will generate BUILD files automatically using Gazelle. However, some Go modules are distributed with BUILD files, in which case the go_repository rule will not generate any BUILD files. This behavior can be customized to some extent via the go_repository rule's build_file_generation attribute (example).

  • For those Go modules that include BUILD files, sometimes the target names in those files will use the go_default_library naming convention. In such cases, we must explicitly tell the go_repository rule via the build_naming_convention attribute (example).

  • For Go modules that include .proto files, sometimes they also include pre-generated .pb.go files, in which case we need to tell the go_repository rule not to generate go_proto_library targets (example).

Another important aspect to keep in mind while debugging problematic Go modules is that the order in which we import external Bazel repositories in the //WORKSPACE file matters greatly. This is relevant to Go modules because the //go_repositories.bzl file is imported from //WORKSPACE.

As an example, on Q4 2023 we updated the Go module. This update was particularly challenging because it required:

  • Investigating and simplifying non-go_repository external Bazel repositories in //WORKSPACE.
  • Updating both rules_go and Gazelle.
  • Updating numerous transitive dependencies which required customizing the attributes of some go_repository rules in //go_repositories.bzl
  • Compatibility hacks for certain Go modules that assumed an older version of rules_go.

This bug tracks all the work that went into this update. We recommend reading through the CL descriptions; it might give you some ideas as to what to try next if you get stuck during a tricky Go module update.

Front-end development in TypeScript

Our front-end code is built and tested using a set of custom Bazel macros built on top of rules provided by the rules_js and rules_ts rulesets. All such macros are either defined in or re-exported from //infra-sk/index.bzl. This section uses the terms macro and rule interchangeably when referring to the macros exported from said file.

As mentioned in the Gazelle section, most Bazel targets for front-end code are generated with Gazelle.

Read go/skia-infra-bazel-frontend for the full details.

Building TypeScript code

Simply use bazel build (and optionally bazel run) as described earlier.

Working with demo pages

Demo pages are served via a Gazelle-generated sk_demo_page_server rule.

Use bazel run to serve a demo page via its sk_demo_page_server rule, e.g.:

$ bazel run //golden/modules/dots-sk:demo_page_server

Watching for changes

To rebuild the demo page automatically upon changes in the custom element‘s directory, use the script found in the repository’s root directory, e.g.:

$ ./ golden/modules/dots-sk

This script uses entr to watch for file changes and re-execute the bazel run command as needed. The above invocation is equivalent to:

$ ls golden/modules/dots-sk/* | entr -r bazel run //golden/modules/dots-sk:demo_page_server

Install entr on a gLinux workstation with sudo apt-get install entr.

In the future, we might replace this script with ibazel, which requires changes to the sk_demo_page_server rule.

Testing TypeScript code

Tip: Start by reading the General testing tips section.

Front-end code testing is done via three different Bazel rules:

  • karma_test for in-browser tests based on the Karma test runner.
  • sk_element_puppeteer_test for Puppeteer tests that require a running sk_demo_page_server.
  • nodejs_test for any other server-side TypeScript tests (i.e. NodeJS tests).

Gazelle decides which rule to generate for a given *_test.ts file based the following patterns:

  • karma_test is used for files matching //<app>/modules/<element>/<element>_test.ts.
  • sk_element_puppeteer_test is used for files matching //<app>/modules/<element>/<element>_puppeteer_test.ts.
  • nodejs_test is used for files matching *_nodejs_test.ts.

Karma tests (karma_test rule)

Use bazel test to run a Karma test in headless mode:

$ bazel test //golden/modules/dots-sk:dots-sk_test

To run a Karma test in the browser during development, use bazel run instead:

$ bazel run //golden/modules/dots-sk:dots-sk_test
Karma v4.4.1 server started at http://<hostname>:9876/
Watching for changes

As an alternative to bazel run when debugging tests in the browser, consider using the script found in the repository‘s root directory. Similarly to the script mentioned earlier, it watches for changes in the custom element’s directory, and relaunches the test runner when a file changes. Example usage:

$ ./ golden/modules/digest-details-sk

As with, this script depends on the entr command, which can be installed on a gLinux workstation with sudo apt-get install entr.

Puppeteer tests (sk_element_puppeteer_test rule)

Use bazel test to run a Puppeteer test, e.g.:

$ bazel test //golden/modules/dots-sk:dots-sk_puppeteer_test

To view the screenshots captured by a Puppeteer test, use the //:puppeteer_screenshot_server target:

$ bazel run //:puppeteer_screenshot_server
Serving Puppeteer screenshots viewer at: http://<hostname>:8000

To extract the screenshots captured by a Puppeteer test into a directory, use the //:extract_puppeteer_screenshots target:

$ mkdir /tmp/screenshots
$ bazel run //:extract_puppeteer_screenshots -- --output_dir /tmp/screenshots

To step through a Puppeteer test with a debugger, run your test with bazel run, and append _debug at the end of the target name, e.g.:

# Normal test execution (for reference).
$ bazel test //golden/modules/dots-sk:dots-sk_puppeteer_test

# Test execution in debug mode.
$ bazel run //golden/modules/dots-sk:dots-sk_puppeteer_test_debug

This will print a URL to stdout that you can use to attach a Node.js debugger (such as the VS Code Node.js debugger, or Chrome DevTools). Your test will wait until a debugger is attached before continuing.

Example debug session with Chrome DevTools:

  1. Add one or more debugger statements in your test code to set breakpoints, e.g.:
// //golden/modules/dots-sk/dots-sk_puppeteer_test.ts

describe('dots-sk', () => {
  it('should do something', () => {
  1. Run bazel run //golden/modules/dots-sk:dots-sk_puppeteer_test_debugger.
  2. Launch Chrome in the machine where the test is running, otherwise Chrome won't see the Node.js process associated to your test.
  3. Enter chrome://inspect in the URL bar, then press return.
  4. You should see an “inspect” link under the “Remote Target” heading.
  5. Click that link to launch a Chrome DevTools window attached to your Node.js process.
  6. Click the “Resume script execution” button (looks like a play/pause icon).
  7. Test execution should start, and eventually pause at your debugger statement.

By default, Puppeteer starts a Chromium instance in headless mode. If you would like to run your test in headful mode, invoke your test with bazel run, and append _debug_headful at the end of the target name, e.g.:

$ bazel run //golden/modules/dots-sk:dots-sk_puppeteer_test_debug_headful

Run your test in headful mode to visually inspect how your test interacts with the demo page under test as you step through your test code with the attached debugger.

NodeJS tests (nodejs_test rule)

Use bazel test to run a NodeJS test, e.g.:

$ bazel test //puppeteer-tests:util_nodejs_test

General testing tips

The below tips apply to all Bazel test targets (e.g. go_test, karma_test, etc.).

Test output

By default, Bazel omits the standard output of tests (e.g. fmt.Println("Hello")).

Use flag --test_output=all to see the full output of your tests:

$ bazel test //perf/... --test_output=all

Note that Bazel runs tests in parallel, so it will only print out their output once all tests have finished running.

Flag --test_output=errors can be used to only print out the output of failing tests.

To see the tests' output in real time, use flag --test_output=streamed. Note however that this forces serial execution of tests, so this can be significantly slower.


Bazel caches successful test runs, and reports (cached) PASSED on subsequent bazel test invocations, e.g.:

$ bazel test //go/util:util_test
//go/util:util_test                                                      PASSED in 0.1s

$ bazel test //go/util:util_test
//go/util:util_test                                             (cached) PASSED in 0.1s

To disable caching, use flag --nocache_test_results, e.g.

$ bazel test //go/util:util_test
//go/util:util_test                                             (cached) PASSED in 0.1s

$ bazel test //go/util:util_test --nocache_test_results
//go/util:util_test                                                      PASSED in 0.1s

Flaky tests

Flaky tests can cause the CI to fail (see Bazel CI tasks).

Tests can be marked as flaky via the flaky argument, e.g.:

    name = "some_flaky_test",
    srcs = ["some_flaky_test.go"],
    flaky = True,

Bazel will execute tests marked as flaky up to three times, and report test failure only if the three attempts fail.

Using flaky is generally discouraged, but can be useful until the root cause of the flake is diagnosed (see Debugging flaky tests) and fixed.

As a last resort, consider marking your flaky test as manual (see Manual tests).

More on the flaky attribute here.

Debugging flaky tests

While --nocache_test_results can be useful for debugging flaky tests, flag --runs_per_test was specifically added for this purpose. Example:

$ bazel test //path/to:some_flaky_test --runs_per_test=10
//path/to:some_flaky_test                                             FAILED in 4 out of 10 in 0.1s

Manual tests

Manual tests are excluded from Bazel wildcards such as bazel test //....

To mark a test target as manual, use the manual tag, e.g.:

    name = "some_manual_nodejs_test",
    src = "some_manual_nodejs_test.ts",
    tags = ["manual"],

Note that the instructions to mark go_test targets as manual are different. See Manual Go tests for more.

Note that manual tests are excluded from the Bazel CI tasks.

More on manual tests and Bazel tags here.

Test timeouts

By default, Bazel will report TIMEOUT if the test does not finish within 5 minutes. This can be overridden via the --test_timeout flag, e.g.

$ bazel test //go/util:slow_test --test_timeout=20

This can also be overridden via the timeout and size arguments of the test target, e.g.

    name = "my_test",
    srcs = ["my_test.go"],
    timeout = "long",

More on how to handle timeouts and slow tests here.

Passing command-line flags to test binaries

Use flag --test_arg to pass flags to the binary produced by a test target.

For example, our go_test targets define custom command-line flags such as flag.Bool("logtostderr", ...). This flag can be enabled with --test_arg, e.g.:

$ bazel test //go/util:util_test --test_arg=-logtostderr

As an alternative, command-line flags can be specified via the args argument of the Bazel test target, as follows:

    name = "my_test",
    srcs = ["my_test.go],
    args = ["-logtostderr"],

More on test arguments here.

Overriding environment variables

By default, Bazel isolates test targets from the host system's environment variables, and sets the environment with a number of variables with Bazel-specific information that some *_test rules depend on (documented here).

Use flag --test_env to specify any environment variables, e.g.

$ bazel test //path/to:my_cockroachdb_test --test_env=COCKROACHDB_EMULATOR_STORE_DIR=/tmp/crdb

To pipe through an environment variable from the host's system:

$ bazel test //path/to:my_cockroachdb_test --test_env=COCKROACHDB_EMULATOR_STORE_DIR

More on the --test_env flag here.

Faster Sandboxing

By default, Bazel sandboxes every build step. Effectively, it runs the compile command with only the given source files for a particular rule and the specified dependencies visible, to force all dependencies to be properly listed.

For steps that have a lot of files, this can have a bit of I/O overhead. To speed this up, one can use tempfs (e.g. a RAM disk) for the sandbox by adding --sandbox_base=/dev/shm to the build command. When compiling Skia, for example, this reduces compile time by 2-3x.

Sandboxing can make diagnosing failing rules a bit harder. To see what command got run and to be able to view the sandbox after failure, add --subcommands --sandbox_debug to the command.

BUILD.bazel file debugging

Bazel builds fast and correct by making use of cached outputs and reusing them when the input file is identical. This can make it hard to debug a slow or non-deterministic build.

To get a detailed log of all the actions your build is taking:

  1. Add the following to your .bazelrc
# ensure there are no disk cache hits
build --disk_cache=/path/to/debugging/cache
# IMPORTANT Generate execution logs
build --experimental_execution_log_file=yourLogFile.log

  1. Run bazel clean --expunge. We want all actions to get executed, so nothing cached.
  2. Look at the yourLogFile.log, it will contain a record of every action bazel executed, environment variables, command line, input files, and output files of every action.


Bazel has a query feature that lets one extract information from the build graph.

There's a query and cquery variant that lets one query for the maximal set of information or the information in one specific case, respectively.

For example:

# Show all possible build flags (e.g. defines, copts) and other information about a label
bazel query 'kind("rule", //:skia_public)' --output xml

# Show the build flags for this specific build configuration (release)
bazel cquery 'kind("rule", //:skia_public)' --output jsonproto --config=release

This type of querying is used extensively to generate .gni and CMakefiles.