Build System Best Practices

Read only source tree

Never write to the source directory during the build, always write to $OUT_DIR. We expect to enforce this in the future.

If you want to verify / provide an update to a checked in generated source file, generate that file into $OUT_DIR during the build, fail the build asking the user to run a command (either a straight command, checked in script, generated script, etc) to explicitly copy that file from the output into the source tree.

Network access

Never access the network during the build. We expect to enforce this in the future, though there will be some level of exceptions for tools like distcc and goma.


Don‘t use absolute paths in Ninja files (with make’s $(abspath) or similar), as that could trigger extra rebuilds when a source directory is moved.

Assume that the source directory is $PWD. If a script is going to change directories and needs to convert an input from a relative to absolute path, prefer to do that in the script.

Don't encode absolute paths in build intermediates or outputs. This would make it difficult to reproduce builds on other machines.

Don't assume that $OUT_DIR is out. The source and output trees are very large these days, so some people put these on different disks. There are many other uses as well.

Don't assume that $OUT_DIR is under $PWD, users can set it to a relative path or an absolute path.

$(shell) use in files

Don't use $(shell) to write files, create symlinks, etc. We expect to enforce this in the future. Encode these as build rules in the build graph instead. This can be problematic in a number of ways:

  • $(shell) calls run at the beginning of every build, at minimum this slows down build startup, but it can also trigger more build steps to run than are necessary, since these files will change more often than necessary.
  • It‘s no longer possible for a stripped-down product configuration to opt-out of these created files. It’s better to have actual rules and dependencies set up so that space isn't wasted, but the files are there when necessary.


LOCAL_COPY_HEADERS is deprecated. Soong modules cannot use these headers, and when the VNDK is enabled, System modules in Make cannot declare or use them either.

The set of global include paths provided by the build system is also being removed. They've been switched from using -isystem to -I already, and are removed entirely in some environments (vendor code when the VNDK is enabled).

Instead, use LOCAL_EXPORT_C_INCLUDE_DIRS/export_include_dirs. These allow access to the headers automatically if you link to the associated code.

If your library uses LOCAL_EXPORT_C_INCLUDE_DIRS/export_include_dirs, and the exported headers reference a library that you link to, use LOCAL_EXPORT_SHARED_LIBRARY_HEADERS/LOCAL_EXPORT_STATIC_LIBRARY_HEADERS/LOCAL_EXPORT_HEADER_LIBRARY_HEADERS (export_shared_lib_headers/export_static_lib_headers/export_header_lib_headers) to re-export the necessary headers to your users.

Don't use non-local paths in your LOCAL_EXPORT_C_INCLUDE_DIRS, use one of the LOCAL_EXPORT_*_HEADERS instead. Non-local exported include dirs are not supported in Soong. You may need to either move your module definition up a directory (for example, if you have ./src/ and ./include/, you probably want to define the module in ./Android.bp, not ./src/Android.bp), define a header library and re-export it, or move the headers into a more appropriate location.

Prefer to use header libraries (BUILD_HEADER_LIBRARY/ cc_library_headers) only if the headers are actually standalone, and do not have associated code. Sometimes there are headers that have header-only sections, but also define interfaces to a library. Prefer to split those header-only sections out to a separate header-only library containing only the header-only sections, and re-export that header library from the existing library. This will prevent accidentally linking more code than you need (slower at build and/or runtime), or accidentally not linking to a library that's actually necessary.

Prefer LOCAL_EXPORT_C_INCLUDE_DIRS over LOCAL_C_INCLUDES as well. Eventually we‘d like to remove LOCAL_C_INCLUDES, though significant cleanup will be required first. This will be necessary to detect cases where modules are using headers that shouldn’t be available to them -- usually due to the lack of ABI/API guarantees, but for various other reasons as well: layering violations, planned deprecations, potential optimizations like C++ modules, etc.

Use defaults over variables

Soong supports variable definitions in Android.bp files, but in many cases, it's better to use defaults modules like cc_defaults, java_defaults, etc.

  • It moves more information next to the values -- that the array of strings will be used as a list of sources is useful, both for humans and automated tools. This is even more useful if it's used inside an architecture or target specific property.
  • It can collect multiple pieces of information together into logical inheritable groups that can be selected with a single property.

Custom build tools

If writing multiple files from a tool, declare them all in the build graph.

  • Android.bp: Just add them to the out list in genrule
  • Custom Soong Plugin: Add to Outputs or ImplicitOutputs

Declare all files read by the tool, either with a dependency if you can, or by writing a dependency file. Ninja supports a fairly limited set of dependency file formats. You can verify that the dependencies are read correctly with:

NINJA_ARGS="-t deps <output_file>" m

Prefer to list input files on the command line, otherwise we may not know to re-run your command when a new input file is added. Ninja does not treat a change in dependencies as something that would invalidate an action -- the command line would need to change, or one of the inputs would need to be newer than the output file. If you don‘t include the inputs in your command line, you may need to add the the directories to your dependency list or dependency file, so that any additions or removals from those directories would trigger your tool to be re-run. That can be more expensive than necessary though, since many editors will write temporary files into the same directory, so changing a README could trigger the directory’s timestamp to be updated.

Only control output files based on the command line, not by an input file. We need to know which files will be created before any inputs are read, since we generate the entire build graph before reading source files, or running your tool. This comes up with Java based tools fairly often -- they‘ll generate different output files based on the classes declared in their input files. We’ve worked around these tools with the “srcjar” concept, which is just a jar file containing the generated sources. Our Java compilation tasks understand *.srcjar files, and will extract them before passing them on to the compiler.


Most libraries aren‘t necessary to include in PRODUCT_PACKAGES, unless they’re used dynamically via dlopen. If they're only used via LOCAL_SHARED_LIBRARIES / shared_libs, then those dependencies will trigger them to be installed when necessary. Adding unnecessary libraries into PRODUCT_PACKAGES will force them to always be installed, wasting space.

Removing conditionals

Over-use of conditionals in the build files results in an untestable number of build combinations, leading to more build breakages. It also makes the code less testable, as it must be built with each combination of flags to be tested.

Conditionally compiled module

Conditionally compiling a module can generally be replaced with conditional installation:

ifeq (some condition)
# body of the file
LOCAL_MODULE:= bt_logger


cc_binary {
    name: "bt_logger",
    // body of the module

And in a product Makefile somewhere (something included with $(call inherit-product, ...):

ifeq (some condition) # Or no condition

If the condition was on a type of board or product, it can often be dropped completely by putting the PRODUCT_PACKAGES entry in a product makefile that is included only by the correct products or boards.

Conditionally compiled module with multiple implementations

If there are multiple implementations of the same module with one selected for compilation via a conditional, the implementations can sometimes be renamed to unique values.

For example, the name of the gralloc HAL module can be overridden by the ro.hardware.gralloc system property:

# In hardware/acme/soc_a/gralloc/
LOCAL_MODULE := gralloc.acme

# In hardware/acme/soc_b/gralloc/
LOCAL_MODULE := gralloc.acme


# In hardware/acme/soc_a/gralloc/Android.bp:
cc_library {
    name: "gralloc.soc_a",

# In hardware/acme/soc_b/gralloc/Android.bp:
cc_library {
    name: "gralloc.soc_b",

Then to select the correct gralloc implementation, a product makefile inherited by products that use soc_a should contain:

PRODUCT_PACKAGES += gralloc.soc_a
PRODUCT_PROPERTY_OVERRIDES += ro.hardware.gralloc=soc_a

In cases where the names cannot be made unique a soong_namespace should be used to partition a set of modules so that they are built only when the namespace is listed in PRODUCT_SOONG_NAMESPACES. See the Referencing Modules section of the Soong for more on namespaces.

Module with name based on variable

HAL modules sometimes use variables like $(TARGET_BOARD_PLATFORM) in their module name. These can be renamed to a fixed name.

For example, the name of the gralloc HAL module can be overridden by the ro.hardware.gralloc system property:



cc_library {
    name: "gralloc.acme",

Then to select the correct gralloc implementation, a product makefile should contain:

PRODUCT_PACKAGES += gralloc.acme
PRODUCT_PROPERTY_OVERRIDES += ro.hardware.gralloc=acme

Conditionally used source files, libraries or flags

The preferred solution is to convert the conditional to runtime, either by autodetecting the correct value or loading the value from a system property or a configuration file.

As a last resort, if the conditional cannot be removed, a Soong plugin can be written in Go that can implement additional features for specific module types. Soong plugins are inherently tightly coupled to the build system and will require ongoing maintenance as the build system is changed; so plugins should be used only when absolutely required.

See art/build/art.go or external/llvm/soong/llvm.go for examples of more complex conditionals on product variables or environment variables.