User Action Guidelines

This document gives the best practices on how to use user actions in code and how to document them for the dashboard. User actions come with only a name and a timestamp. They are best used when you care about a sequence--which actions happen in what order. If you don't care about the order, you should be using histograms (likely enumerated histograms).

Often, you want both user actions and histogram logging in your code. They enable different analyses. They're complementary.

Coding (Emitting to User Actions)

Generally you'll want to call base::RecordAction(), which is defined in user_metrics.h.

Emit at a High-Level, not Deep in the Implementation

Prefer to emit at the highest level reasonable, closest to the code that handles the UI interaction. Emitting deep in implementation code can cause problems because that code may get reused (and thus called more times in more places) or may get called fewer times (due to caching for example). In cases like this, the logged user action will not longer correspond with a meaningful action by the user.

Don't Use Same String in Multiple Places

Generally a logged user action should correspond with a single, uh, action by the user. :-) As such, they should probably only appear in a single place in the code. If the same user action needs to be logged in multiple places, consider whether you should be using different user action names for these separate call paths.

That said, if you truly need to record the same user action in multiple places, that's okay. Use a compile-time constant of appropriate scope that can be referenced everywhere. Using inline strings in multiple places can lead to errors if you ever need to revise the name and you update one one location and forget another.


Due to the practices about when and how often to emit a user action, actions should not be emitted often enough to cause efficiency issues. (If actions are emitted often enough to cause a problem, they're not being emitted at appropriate times. See advice below.)

Emitting Strategies

Emit Once Per Action

A user action should be tied to an actual action taken by a user. Each meaningful unit of action should cause one emit.

Do Not Emit Redundantly

Generally a meaningful user action should cause only one emit. For example, if the browser already has a “Back” user action, it‘s poor practice to add a “BackViaKeyboardShortcut” user action. This is mostly redundant. (If you’re trying to determine the breakdown of keyboard-shortcut backs versus all backs, use a histogram.)

Do Not Emit Excessively

Again, choose an appropriately-sized meaningful unit. For example, emit “DragScrolled” for a whole scroll action. Don't emit this action every time the user pauses scrolling if the user remains in the process of scrolling (mouse button still down).

As another example, you may want to emit “FocusOmnibox” (upon focus), “OmniboxEditInProgress” (upon first keystroke), and “OmniboxUse” (upon going somwhere) but forswear “OmniboxKeystroke”. That's probably more detailed than you need.

Generally, Do Not Emit Impressions

It‘s okay to emit user actions such as “ShowTranslateInfobar” or “DisplayedImageLinkContextMenu”. However, more detailed impression information, especially those not caused by the user (as in the second example) and not as attention-grabbing (as in the first example), is often not useful for analyzing sequences of user actions. For example, don’t emit “ShowedSecureIconNextToOmnibox”.


Test your user actions using chrome://user-actions. Make sure they're being emitted when you expect and not emitted at other times.

If this is a general UI surface, please try to check every platform. In particular, check Windows (Views-based platforms), Mac (non-Views), Android phone (yet other UI wrapper code), Android tablet (often triggers lookalike but different menus), and iOS (yet more different UI wrapper code).

Also, check that your new user action is not mostly redundant with other user actions (see advice above) and not emitted excessively (see advice above).

In addition to testing interactively, you can have unit tests check the number of times a user action was emitted. See user_action_tester.h for details.

Interpreting the Resulting Data

The top of go/uma-guide has good advice on how to go about analyzing and interpreting the results of UMA data uploaded by users. If you‘re reading this page, you’ve probably just finished adding a user action to the Chromium source code and you‘re waiting for users to update their version of Chrome to a version that includes your code. In this case, the best advice is to remind you that users who update frequently / quickly are biased. Best take the initial statistics with a grain of salt; they’re probably mostly right but not entirely so.

Revising User Actions

When changing the semantics of a user action (when it's emitted), make it into a new user action with a new name. Otherwise the dashboard will be mixing two different interpretations of the data and make no sense.

Documenting User Actions

Document user actions in actions.xml. There is also a google-internal version of the file for the rare case when the user action is confidential (added only to Chrome code, not Chromium code; or, an accurate description about how to interpret the user action would reveal information about Google's plans).

Add User Actions and Documentation in the Same Changelist

If possible, please add the actions.xml description in the same changelist in which you add the user-action-emitting code. This has several benefits. One, it sometimes happens that the actions.xml reviewer has questions or concerns about the user action description that reveal problems with interpretation of the data and call for a different recording strategy. Two, it allows the user action reviewer to easily review the emission code to see if it comports with these best practices, and to look for other errors.

Understandable to Everyone

User actions descriptions should be understandable to someone not familiar with your feature. Please add a sentence or two of background if necessary.

It is good practice to note caveats associated with your user actions in this section, such as which platforms are supported (if the set of supported platforms is surprising). E.g., a desktop feature that happens not to be logged on Mac.

State When It Is Emitted

User action descriptions should clearly state when the action is emitted.


User actions need to have owners, who are the current experts on the metric. The owners are the contact points for any questions or maintenance tasks. It‘s a best practice to list multiple owners, so that there’s no single point of failure for such communication.

Being an owner means you are responsible for answering questions about the metric, handling the maintenance if there are functional changes, and deprecating the metric if it outlives its usefulness. If you are using a metric heavily and understand it intimately, feel free to add yourself as an owner. email addresses are preferred.

If an appropriate mailing list is available, it‘s a good idea to include the mailing list as a secondary owner. However, it’s always a best practice to list an individual as the primary owner. Listing an individual owner makes it clearer who is ultimately most responsible for maintaining the metric, which makes it less likely that such maintenance tasks will slip through the cracks.

Notably, owners are asked to evaluate whether user actions have outlived their usefulness. The metrics team may file a bug in Monorail. It's important that somebody familiar with the user action notices and triages such bugs!

Beware not_user_triggered="true"

actions.xml allows you to annotate an action as not_user_triggered="true". This feature should be used rarely. If you think you want to annotate your action thusly, please re-review the best practices above.

Cleaning Up User Action Entries

Do not delete actions from actions.xml. Instead, mark unused user actions as obsolete, annotating them with the associated date or milestone in the obsolete tag entry.

If the user action is being replaced by a new version:

  • Note in the <obsolete> message the name of the replacement action.

  • Make sure the descriptions of the original and replacement user actions are different. It's never appropriate for them to be identical. Either the old description was wrong, and it should be revised to explain what it actually measured, or the old user action was measuring something not as useful as the replacement, in which case the new user action is measuring something different and needs to have a new description.

A changelist that marks a user action as obsolete should be reviewed by all current owners.

Deleting user action entries would be bad if someone accidentally reused your old user action name and which therefore corrupts new data with whatever old data is still coming in. It‘s also useful to keep obsolete user action descriptions in actions.xml--that way, if someone is searching for a user action to answer a particular question, they can learn if there was a user action at some point that did so even if it isn’t active now.