The Chromium project has an general utility library referred to as libbase. Because it is standalone and does not depend on any other parts of Chromium, it has been been picked up by other Google related projects so people don't have to reinvent these things.

Along those lines, a package in Chromium OS is provided so that projects specific to us can share the code without having to bundle it multiple times over. Currently, there are over 20 such projects in Chromium OS. To keep people on their toes, the package is named libchrome as libbase by itself is too confusing. Granted, libchrome isn‘t exactly clear itself, but it’s a lose-lose situation, and we tried our best. Please still love us.

Using libchrome in Chromium OS

In an ebuild (non-platform2)

Note: If your package is integrated into the platform2 ebuild, then this is already handled for you in the common platform2 ebuild and you can skip this section.

There are 4 things to make sure the ebuild does when building a Chromium OS package that uses libchrome:

  1. inherit the cros-debug eclass
  2. inherit the libchrome-version eclass and depend on chromeos-base/libchrome:= with the right USE=cros-debug setting, or inherit the libchrome eclass.
  3. call cros-debug-add-NDEBUG in one of src_prepare, src_configure, or src_compile.
  4. make sure to have -DBASE_VER=${v} for C++ compile flag where local v="$(libchrome_ver)". Sometimes export BASE_VER=$(libchrome_ver) may also be used so makefile can use BASE_VER environment variable directly.

Below you can find copy & paste snippets that should work for any ebuild in the Chromium OS tree. All you should need to change is the 125070 as the number is updated.

inherit cros-debug libchrome-version
src_compile() {
  tc-export PKG_CONFIG
  export BASE_VER="$(libchrome_ver)"

In the platform2 build system

If your package has been upgraded to platform2 (if not, why not?), then it's simple.

In your package's, list libchrome as a dependency as needed (e.g. either in the project-common target_defaults or the target-specific section). For example, portier takes the former approach:

pkg_config("target_defaults") {
  pkg_deps = [

At time of writing, the platform2 build system automatically takes care of the rest for you.

In (deprecated)

In a standard Chromium OS platform project, you can use these snippets in your Makefile:

# If the build env has exported $PKG_CONFIG to a wrapper, use that, else use
# the default pkg-config wrapper (so we can "make" in place for testing).
PKG_CONFIG ?= pkg-config

# If the build env has exported $BASE_VER, use that. Else, use the installed
BASE_VER ?= $(shell cat /usr/share/libchrome/BASE_VER)

# You can add as many or as view pkg-config libraries to this PC_DEPS
# value. Here we just use a specific version of libbase.
PC_DEPS = libchrome

# Look up the compiler flags and linker settings via the pkg-config
# wrapper once. That is why we use a dedicated variable and the :=
# operator -- if we use =, then make will end up executing the
# pkg-config wrapper many times.
PC_CFLAGS := $(shell $(PKG_CONFIG) --cflags $(PC_DEPS))
PC_LIBS := $(shell $(PKG_CONFIG) --libs $(PC_DEPS))

In a package's source code

In your source, include files from base/ like normal. So if you want to use the string printf API, do:

#include <base/stringprintf.h>

Internal Details

Over time, we‘ve evolved how we package up the base source tree. Here we’ll cover the lessons we've learned, and why we do the things that we do. This way, future decisions can take into consideration all the factors without missing something.

For some more background (and specifics), see this thread.

Dynamic Libraries

We provide shared library (and for mojo, etc) instead of static library so the binary code can be reused among Chromium OS projects.

Exceptions: For unittest test related libraries, .a static library is provided instead.

The advantages here:

  1. There is only one copy of all libbase functions and state at runtime -- when we call a logging function, we know that function has one copy of its state, and know that everyone will be using that same function.
  2. We know exactly what version of libbase an application was linked with after it's been built (by looking at DT_NEEDED ELF tags).
  3. We can track down exactly what packages are implicitly using libbase without declaring it in its ebuild.

It's not all peaches and apple pie though -- there are some trade-offs here:

  1. All programs using libbase load all of libbase at runtime, even parts they don't use (functions and state).
    • Arguably, this overhead is small, but it is not zero.
  2. All third-party libraries that libbase needs get pulled in at runtime, even if they‘re only needed by parts of libbase the application doesn’t use (and those libraries could pull in other libraries!).
    • This overhead is much more noticeable than the previously-mentioned issue.
  3. The libchrome ebuild has to be complete in terms of what files it builds and links together as any undefined references will cause a shared library link error.
    • This is actually a good thing as it means we can be confident that when updating, our package has included all the objects we care about. Otherwise, we have to try compiling all the other projects and see if they all pass (without undefined references) before we know the new package built all the necessary files.
  4. Static libraries (other than project-specific ones -- e.g. convenience libraries) are no longer allowed to use libbase (e.g. a project provides libfoo.a which uses libbase and multiple other projects use libfoo.a) as this is hard to track, and leads to similar problems as slotted static libraries in terms of mismatch of ABI.
    • Not a big deal as we have few libraries in Chromium OS that use libbase, and making them all shared has been okay.
  5. Projects that link against a shared library that links against libbase must use the same version of libbase. Otherwise, at runtime, an application will load and, and will load, and both libbases will attempt to satisfy symbol references leading to runtime ABI conflicts and possibly random crashes.
    • To be safe, this improves the set of packages that need to be upgraded simultaneously from all consumers of libbase to consumers of a specific library. So anyone who links against libmetrics (which uses libbase) has to use the same version of libbase as libmetrics. When an upgrade occurs, they should all upgrade together. For standalone projects which don't link against any libraries that use libbase, they can safely upgrade/downgrade independently.

The last point here is the only real show stopper. Fortunately, two things work in our favor. Generally, the ABI is stable with libbase (across the version ranges we upgrade between), so the runtime “mostly works”. This means we can tolerate a period of time where we are upgrading to a newer version of libbase but some applications are actually (runtime) linked against multiple versions. By the time we actually release, the upgrade will have completed, so there will once again only be one version live at a time. Further, since we can detect exactly what versions of a library an ELF has been linked against, we can confidently detect the cases where a program uses one version of libbase, but links against a shared library which pulls in a different one and act appropriately (i.e. update all the packages).

At this point, we have a workable solution. But we can still do better. Onwards!

Using pkg-config

The advantages of providing a .pc file for projects to query are significant!

  1. We can hide all of libbases' dependencies from projects that just want to use libbase. Rather than having the projects manually specify -lrt or -lpthread or -I/usr/include/... or anything else, the .pc file declares everything it depends on. Projects then just ask for the CFLAGS and libraries that libbase needs, and it gets expanded as needed.
  2. If we want to make any library changes in the future (moving or renaming the files or the install paths), we only have to update the .pc file. No end projects need change.

For the nit-pickers out there, there are disadvantages:

  • You have to depend on the pkg-config package, and execute pkg-config at build time.
    • This is required by many other projects already (like glib), so not really unique to libbase problem.

So this cleans up the compiling/linking process nicely, and integrates with existing pkg-config framework that other libraries depend on.

Optimized Dynamic Libraries

The biggest disadvantage to shared libraries is that libbase isn‘t really one API, but rather a large collection of different APIs. Some require third party libraries to work (like pcre or glib or pthreads), while others require very little. So forcing one project that wants just the simple APIs (like string functions) to pull in more complicated APIs which pull in other third party libraries (like pcre) even though it won’t use them is a waste of runtime resources.

We can combat this though by leveraging some linker tricks. When you specify a library like -lfoo, it doesn't have to be just a static archive (libfoo.a) or a shared ELF (, it could even be a linker script! Combined with the useful AS_NEEDED directive, we can create an arbitrary number of smaller shared libraries (like libbase-core and libbase-pcre and libbase-foo) where each one has its own additional library requirements and provides different sets of APIs. Then when people link against -lbase, the linker will look at all of the smaller libbase shared libraries and only pull in the ones we actually use. This is all transparent to the user of the libbase API.

So we have all of the advantages of slotted dynamic libraries, and only one of the downsides: we still have possible runtime conflicts where a program uses one version, but a library it links against uses a different version. As noted previously, this is an acceptable trade off for now, and makes the upgrade situation significantly more manageable.

cros-debug and NDEBUG

Some of libbase's headers define structs or classes that include or exclude members based on whether the NDEBUG macro is defined or not. If libbase is built with NDEBUG defined, but then a program that dynamically links against libbase includes those headers with NDEBUG undefined (or vice versa), resulting in disagreements about the sizes of objects, hard-to-debug segfaults can occur. We define a cros-debug USE flag to try to ensure that NDEBUG is set or unset consistently across different packages.

Future Work

Here are some random thoughts that might be worth investigating to try and improve the current situation:

  • Put all of libbase into a version-specific C++ namespace.

Building libchrome

See the gn build recipe .

It maintains a list of all the files which go into a shared library fragment (such as ‘core’ and ‘glib’ and ‘event’). It's largely split along the lines of what third party libraries will get pulled in (so the ‘core’ only requires C libraries, ‘glib’ additionally requires glib, ‘event’ additionally requires libevent, etc...). The fragments could conceivably be split further, but the trade-offs in terms of runtime overhead were found to not warrant it (generally in the range of “system noise”).

This build file is also responsible for generating the pkg-config .pc file and linker script.

Upgrade/Release Plans

See Internal Doc.

Making changes locally

  • NOTE: This is intended for testing local changes only, not for changes intended to be committed (e.g. a patch or a cherry-pick).

  • NOTE: If the interface (ABI) is changed in any way, the entire image will need to be rebuilt.

To make local changes (for testing an update or adding debugging) you can do the following.

  1. Create a local branch in the libchrome repository.
    • cd src/aosp/external/libchrome
    • repo start ${branch_name}
  2. Locally modify the files, and create a local comit.
    • git commit -am "libchrome: {change description}"
  3. Find the git commit hash
    • git log -n 1
  4. Run cros_workon-${BAORD} start libchrome to use local HEAD.
  5. Build and deploy libchrome
    • emerge-${BOARD} libchrome {plus dependent workon packages, e.g. shill}
    • cros deploy ${IP} libchrome {other packages}

See also

libbase on Google Git