The Chrome Component Build


Release builds are “static” builds which compile to one executable and zero-to-two shared libraries (depending on the platform). This is efficient at runtime, but can take a long time to link because so much code goes into a single binary.

In a component build, many smaller shared libraries will be generated. This speeds up link times, and means that many changes only require that the local shared library be linked rather than the full executable, but at the expense of program load-time performance.

The component build is currently the default for debug non-iOS builds (it doesn’t work for iOS). You can force it on for release builds using the GN build arg:

is_component_build = true

How to make a component

Defining a component just means using the GN “component” template instead of a shared library, static library, or source set. The template will generate a shared library when is_component_build is enabled, and a static library otherwise.

component("browser") {
  output_name = "chrome_browser"
  sources = ...

Shared libraries in GN must have globally unique output names. According to GN style, your target should be named something simple and convenient (often matching your directory name). If this is non-unique, override it with the output_name variable.

Note: for information about mojom_component targets, see Mojo documentation.

Dependencies between targets

When a component directly or indirectly depends on a static library or source set, it will be linked into this component. If other components do the same, the static library or source set’s code will be duplicated.

In a few cases (for defining some constants) this duplication is OK, but in general this is a bad idea. Globals and singletons will get duplicated which will wreak havoc. Therefore, you should normally ensure that components only depend on other components.

Component granularity

Creating lots of small components isn’t desirable. Some code can easily get duplicated, it takes extra time to create the shared libraries themselves, load time will get worse, and the build and code can get complicated. On the other extreme, very large components negate the benefits of the component build. A good rule of thumb is that components should be medium sized, somewhere in the range of several dozen to several hundred files.

Exporting and importing symbols

When a shared library or executable uses a symbol from a shared library, it is “imported” by the user of the symbol, and “exported” from the shared library that defines the symbol. Don’t confuse exported symbols with the public API of a component. For example, unit tests will often require implementation details to be exported. Export symbols to make the build link the way you need it, and use GN’s public headers and visibility restrictions to define your public API.

Component library headers can use the COMPONENT_EXPORT() macro defined in base/component_export.h to annotate symbols which should be exported by the component. This macro takes a globally unique component name as an argument:

#include "base/component_export.h"



When defining the target for your component, set:

defines = [ "IS_YOUR_COMPONENT_IMPL" ]

This ensures that the corresponding COMPONENT_EXPORT(YOUR_COMPONENT) invocations result in symbols being marked for export when compiling the component target. All other targets which include the component's headers will not have defined IS_YOUR_COMPONENT_IMPL, so they will have the same symbols marked for import instead.

Chrome’s deprecated pattern for exports

NOTE: This section is included for posterity, as many components in the tree still use this pattern for exports. New components should use base/component_export.h as described above.

Write a header with the name <component_name>_export.h. Copy an existing one and update the macro names. It will key off of two macros:

  • COMPONENT_BUILD: A globally defined preprocessor definition set when the component build is on.
  • <component_name>_IMPLEMENTATION: A macro you define for code inside your component, and leave undefined for code outside of your component. The naming should match your *_export.h header.

It will define a macro <component_name>_EXPORT. This will use the *_IMPLEMENTATION macro to know whether code is being compiled inside or outside of your component, and the *_EXPORT macro will set it to being exported or imported, respectively. You should copy an existing file and update the *_EXPORT macro naming for your component.

When defining the target for your component, set:

defines = [ "FOO_IMPLEMENTATION" ]

In your file. If you have source sets that also make up your component, set this on them also. A good way to share this is to put the definition in a GN config:

config("foo_implementation") {
  defines = [ "FOO_IMPLEMENTATION" ]

and set the config on the targets that use it:

configs += [ ":foo_implementation" ]

The component build is only reason to use the *_IMPLEMENTATION macros. If your code is not being compiled into a component, don’t define such a macro (sometimes people do this by copying other targets without understanding).

Marking symbols for export

Use the *_EXPORT macros on function and class declarations (don’t annotate the implementations) as follows:

#include "yourcomponent/yourcomponent_export.h"

class YOURCOMPONENT_EXPORT YourClass { ... };


Creating components from multiple targets

Static library symbol export issues

Components can be made up of static libraries and GN source sets. A source set results in all object files from that compilation being linked into the component. But when code is in a static library, only those object files needed to define undefined symbols will be pulled in to the link. If an object file is not needed to link the component itself, it won’t be pulled into the link, even though it might have exported symbols needed by other components.

Therefore, all code with exported symbols should be either on the component target itself or in source sets it depends on.

Splitting targets differently in static and component builds

Sometimes you might have something consisting of multiple sub-targets. For example: a browser, a renderer, and a common directory, each with their own target. In the static build, they would all be linked into different places. In the component build, you may want to have these be in a single component for performance and sanity reasons. Content is such an example.

The important thing is that the sub-projects not be depended on directly from outside of the component in the component build. This will duplicate the code and the import/export of symbols will get confused (see “Common mistakes” below).

Generally the way to do this is to create browser and renderer group targets that forward to the right place. In static builds these would forward to internal targets with the actual code in them. In component builds, these would forward to the component.

In the static build the structure will be: //external/thing//foo:browser//foo:browser_impl

In the component build the structure will be: //external/thing//foo:browser//foo:mycomponent//foo:browser_impl

Set GN visibility so that the targets with the code can only be depended on by targets inside your component.

if (is_component_build) {
  component("mycomponent") {
    public_deps = [ ":browser_impl", ":renderer_impl" ]

# External targets always depend on this or the equivalent “renderer” target.
group("browser") {
  if (is_component_build) {
    public_deps = [ ":mycomponent" ]
  } else {
    public_deps = [ ":browser_impl" ]

source_set("browser_impl") {
  visibility = [ ":*" ]  # Prevent accidental dependencies.
  defines = [ "IS_MYCOMPONENT_IMPL" ]
  sources = [ ... ]

Common mistakes

Forgetting or misspelling COMPONENT_EXPORT(*)

If a function is not marked with your COMPONENT_EXPORT(FOO) annotation or the component name (FOO) is misspelled, other components won’t see the symbol when linking and you’ll get undefined symbols during linking:

some_file.obj : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol <some definition>

This will only happen on Windows component builds, which makes the error more difficult to debug. However, if you see such an error only for Windows component builds, you know it’s this problem.

Not defining IS_*_IMPL for code in your component

When code is compiled that sees a symbol marked with __declspec(dllimport), it will expect to find that symbol in another shared library. If that symbol ends up in the same shared library, you’ll see the error:

some_file.obj : warning LNK4217: locally defined symbol
<horrendous mangled name> imported in function <some definition>

The solution is to make sure your IS_*_IMPL define is set consistently for all code in the component. If your component links in source sets or static libraries, the IS_*_IMPL macro must be set on those as well.

Defining IS_*_IMPL for code outside your component

If your IS_*_IMPL macro is set for code compiled outside of the component, that code will expect the symbol to be in the current shared library, but it won’t be found. It won’t even go looking in other libraries and the result will be an undefined symbol:

some_file.obj : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol <some definition>

Depending on a source set or static library from both inside and outside a component

If the source set or static library has any *_EXPORT macros and ends up both inside and outside of the component boundary, those symbols will fall under the cases above where IS_*_IMPL is inappropriately defined or inappropriately undefined. Use GN visibility to make sure callers don’t screw up.

Putting exported symbols in static libraries

As discussed above, exported symbols should not be in static libraries because the object file might not be brought into the link. Even if it is brought in today, it might not be brought in due to completely unrelated changes in the future. The result will be undefined symbol errors from other components. Use source sets if your component is made up of more than one target.

Exporting functions and classes implemented in headers

When you implement a symbol in a header the compiler will put that in every necessary translation unit and the linker will pick one. If the symbol is never referenced by code in the shared library it's supposed exported from, it will never be instantiated and never exported. The result will be undefined external symbol errors when linking. Exported symbols should be declared in a header but always implemented in a .cc file.