The MB (Meta-Build wrapper) design spec


MB is intended to address two major aspects of the GYP -> GN transition for Chromium:

  1. “bot toggling” - make it so that we can easily flip a given bot back and forth between GN and GYP.

  2. “bot configuration” - provide a single source of truth for all of the different configurations (os/arch/gyp_define combinations) of Chromium that are supported.

MB must handle at least the gen and analyze steps on the bots, i.e., we need to wrap both the gyp_chromium invocation to generate the Ninja files, and the analyze step that takes a list of modified files and a list of targets to build and returns which targets are affected by the files.

For more information on how to actually use MB, see the user guide.


MB is intended to be as simple as possible, and to defer as much work as possible to GN or GYP. It should live as a very simple Python wrapper that offers little in the way of surprises.

Command line

It is structured as a single binary that supports a list of subcommands:

  • mb gen -c linux_rel_bot //out/Release
  • mb analyze -m tryserver.chromium.linux -b linux_rel /tmp/input.json /tmp/output.json


mb looks in the //tools/mb/mb_config.pyl config file to determine whether to use GYP or GN for a particular build directory, and what set of flags (GYP_DEFINES or gn args) to use.

A config can either be specified directly (useful for testing) or by specifying the master name and builder name (useful on the bots so that they do not need to specify a config directly and can be hidden from the details).

See the user guide for details.

Handling the analyze step

The interface to mb analyze is described in the user_guide.

Since the interface basically mirrors the way the “analyze” step on the bots invokes gyp_chromium today, when the config is found to be a gyp config, the arguments are passed straight through.

It implements the equivalent functionality in GN by calling 'gn refs [list of files] --type=executable --all --as=output and filtering the output to match the list of targets.

Detailed Design Requirements and Rationale

This section is collection of semi-organized notes on why MB is the way it is ...

in-tree or out-of-tree

The first issue is whether or not this should exist as a script in Chromium at all; an alternative would be to simply change the bot configurations to know whether to use GYP or GN, and which flags to pass.

That would certainly work, but experience over the past two years suggests a few things:

  • we should push as much logic as we can into the source repositories so that they can be versioned and changed atomically with changes to the product code; having to coordinate changes between src/ and build/ is at best annoying and can lead to weird errors.
  • the infra team would really like to move to providing product-independent services (i.e., not have to do one thing for Chromium, another for NaCl, a third for V8, etc.).
  • we found that during the SVN->GIT migration the ability to flip bot configurations between the two via changes to a file in chromium was very useful.

All of this suggests that the interface between bots and Chromium should be a simple one, hiding as much of the chromium logic as possible.

Why not have MB be smarter about de-duping flags?

This just adds complexity to the MB implementation, and duplicates logic that GYP and GN already have to support anyway; in particular, it might require MB to know how to parse GYP and GN values. The belief is that if MB does not do this, it will lead to fewer surprises.

It will not be hard to change this if need be.

Integration w/ gclient runhooks

On the bots, we will disable gyp_chromium as part of runhooks (using GYP_CHROMIUM_NO_ACTION=1), so that mb shows up as a separate step.

At the moment, we expect most developers to either continue to use gyp_chromium in runhooks or to disable at as above if they have no use for GYP at all. We may revisit how this works once we encourage more people to use GN full-time (i.e., we might take gyp_chromium out of runhooks altogether).

Config per flag set or config per (os/arch/flag set)?

Currently, mb_config.pyl does not specify the host_os, target_os, host_cpu, or target_cpu values for every config that Chromium runs on, it only specifies them for when the values need to be explicitly set on the command line.

Instead, we have one config per unique combination of flags only.

In other words, rather than having linux_rel_bot, win_rel_bot, and mac_rel_bot, we just have rel_bot.

This design allows us to determine easily all of the different sets of flags that we need to support, but not which flags are used on which host/target combinations.

It may be that we should really track the latter. Doing so is just a config file change, however.


  • MB is not intended to replace direct invocation of GN or GYP for complicated build scenarios (aka ChromeOS), where multiple flags need to be set to user-defined paths for specific toolchains (e.g., where ChromeOS needs to specify specific board types and compilers).

  • MB is not intended at this time to be something developers use frequently, or to add a lot of features to. We hope to be able to get rid of it once the GYP->GN migration is done, and so we should not add things for developers that can't easily be added to GN itself.

  • MB is not intended to replace the CR tool. Not only is it only intended to replace the gyp_chromium part of 'gclient runhooks', it is not really meant as a developer-facing tool.

Open issues

  • Some common flags (goma_dir being the obvious one) may need to be specified via the user, and it's unclear how to integrate this with the concept of build_configs.

    Right now, MB has hard-coded support for a few flags (i.e., you can pass the --goma-dir flag, and it will know to expand “${goma_dir}” in the string before calling out to the tool. We may want to generalize this to a common key/value approach (perhaps then meeting the ChromeOS non-goal, above), or we may want to keep this very strictly limited for simplicity.