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Hermetic actions

Goal & motivation

When defining a build action in any build system, it's important to correctly and fully specify what are the inputs and outputs of that action. Incremental builds (partial rebuilds following a small change to sources) rely on this information being present and correct in the build graph to correctly identify and execute rebuilds. If this information is incorrect or incomplete, rebuilds might produce wrong outcomes, or otherwise different outcomes from full clean builds.

Actions that only read from their declared inputs and only write to their declared outputs are hermetic to the build system. Today we don't have a fully hermetic build, but rather we have dozens of actions and tools that read/write files that are not in their declared inputs/outputs. This keeps us from ever fully relying on incremental rebuilds in production, forcing us to do full clean builds, which are ~10x slower.

Furthermore, these non-hermetic actions often manifest themselves as incoherent behavior from the build system that engineers run into and waste their time trying to troubleshoot.

The goal of this project is to investigate and fix all instances of non-hermetic build actions in our build graph.

Technical background

Familiarity with GN and files is important, particularly with the following target types:

In many cases you will also need to understand how depfiles work:

Additional important information can be found in this guide:

How to help

Picking a task

Pick any build target that is marked as non-hermetic. They look as follows:

action("foo") {
  # TODO( delete the line below and fix this
  hermetic_deps = false

Doing a task

Reproducing the issue

In order to understand why an action is non-hermetic, you need to build it with the action tracer tool enabled. This tool runs all build actions while tracing their filesystem accesses, then compares those accesses against the declared inputs / outputs / depfile of those actions.

To reproduce the issue locally, first remove hermetic_deps = false and then set up your build as follows:

fx set what --args=build_should_trace_actions=true

Running a build with the above setting should produce an error with actionable troubleshooting information.

CQ runs action tracing by default, so you can use it to get the same troubleshooting information.

If there's already a bug filed for the issue then the bug should include the information that's in the error. If there isn't a bug, please file one and record the information that you've gathered.


Fixing the issue

There are several common reasons for hermeticity issues. You can find some of them in this guide. If you run across an issue that's not covered in the guide, please consider improving the guide.

If you're able to remove hermetic_deps = false and still successfully build locally with tracing or the traced tryjob passed, then your change is ready for review.

Completing a task

Find reviewers by OWNERS and merge your change.



Reach out for questions or for status updates: