Bazel Blog

Build without the Bytes is enabled by default in Bazel 7

After the many improvements made over past years, we have recently turned on Build without the Bytes by default - the first release to include this change will be the upcoming Bazel 7 LTS.

What is Build without the Bytes?

Remote execution and remote caching are two Bazel features that can be used to improve build performance.

Remote execution allows Bazel to execute build and test actions on remote machines instead of locally. This can improve build performance by allowing multiple machines to work on different parts of the build at the same time.

Remote caching allows Bazel to store the results of build and test actions on a remote server, to share the results of builds and tests across different machines.

In the past, Bazel’s default behaviour was to download every output file of an action after it had executed the action remotely, or hit a remote cache. However, the sum of all output files in a large build will often be in the tens or even hundreds of gigabytes. The benefits of remote execution and caching may be outweighed by the costs of this download, especially if the network connection is poor.

We know from experience that most of the time developers are only interested in a small subset of output files produced during a build, such as the final binary. In a CI build, for example, the output files are often irrelevant.

BwoB (Build without the Bytes) allows you to download only a subset of the output files, thus reducing the amount of data transferred between Bazel and the remote caching or execution system. You can enable BwoB by setting either --remote_download_minimal or --remote_download_toplevel.

What has been improved?

BwoB was first introduced as an experimental feature in Bazel 0.25. You needed to set --remote_download_outputs along with other flags to enable BwoB. We saw over 2x speed up in build performance from the initial implementation, but we also had many known issues.

BwoB was then marked as a stable feature in Bazel 1.0 and we added flags --remote_download_minimal and --remote_download_toplevel which expanded to --remote_download_outputs and other required flags so that you only needed to set one of them.

Since then, there were no significant improvements until Bazel 5, when we made BwoB work with Bazel's persistent action cache. Remote actions could now hit the persistent action cache in incremental builds across server restarts. We also introduced the --remote_download_regex flag to allow Bazel to download additional output files whose path matches the regex.

In Bazel 6, many improvements had landed, including:

  • We made --remote_download_minimal more intelligent so it can download a reasonable subset of output files for other commands, such as, run, test, coverage, and more.
  • We made --remote_download_toplevel work with aspects to support IDE integration.
  • We added support for remote cache eviction.
  • We added support for remote actions that produce symlinks.

On top of that, we made a massive refactor in Bazel@HEAD to make BwoB more reliable for edge cases. The refactor included the following changes:

  • We unified the code paths between all and toplevel/minimal. That is, no matter whether you are building with, or without bytes, Bazel is always running the same code. The removal of this divergence not only improved the code health, but also allowed for faster iterations in the future.
  • As a result of this unification, --remote_download_[minimal|toplevel] no longer expanded to multiple flags since the codebase was now robust enough that flags that BwoB expanded to became orthogonal to each other. This allows you to easily switch between different output modes without invalidating Bazel's internal cache.
  • We completely reworked the invalidation logic. BwoB could now correctly download "missing" files when you switched download modes, top level targets or regexes.
  • We also completely reworked the virtual file system used by BwoB. This allows BwoB to handle more edge cases that it couldn't handle before, such as tree artifacts with both local and remote children, symlinks across virtual and local filesystems, and so on.

Changes in Bazel 7

Starting from Bazel 7, the default download mode will be changed from --remote_download_all to --remote_download_toplevel. That is, Bazel will no longer download intermediate outputs of remote actions into the local output base. In return, your remote builds will be faster.

Decide Download Modes

--remote_download_minimal only downloads "necessary" output files, which includes inputs to local actions. For bazel run, it also downloads required files for the binary to run locally. We highly recommend using minimal if you are only interested in build/test results, not the artifacts, such as in a CI build.

--remote_download_toplevel will additionally download all outputs of top level targets, which includes outputs from output groups defined by aspects or requested by --output_groups. This will be the default mode. Use this mode if you are building interactively and need to consume the final build artifacts.

Furthermore, you can use --remote_download_regex to request Bazel to download additional outputs whose path matches the regexes.

If the above options don't work for you, use --remote_download_all to force Bazel to download all outputs, as in Bazel 6 and earlier.

Flag Bazel 7 Default Necessary Outputs Toplevel outputs All outputs Example usage
--remote_download_minimal CI builds
--remote_download_toplevel Interactive builds
--remote_download_all Fallback

Handle Remote Cache Eviction

Remote cache usually has limited storage space so it might have to evict entries based on some strategies. Bazel may throw a CacheNotFoundException and exit with code 39 if it tries to download blobs that are already evicted. In this case, just retry the build. Bazel will be able to recover from the error and continue.

You can retry the build manually, having a wrapper that detects the exit code 39 and retry, or setting flag --experimental_remote_cache_eviction_retries to let Bazel automatically retry.

If your remote cache evicts blobs based on a fixed TTL, you can tell Bazel the value of TTL by setting --experimental_remote_cache_ttl to reduce the chance of remote cache eviction errors.

If your remote cache uses an LRU strategy to evict blobs, you can set the --experimental_remote_cache_lease_extension flag to allow Bazel to periodically refresh the lease for blobs that are still referenced by Bazel to reduce the chance that these blobs are evicted.

No More Flag Expansions

As mentioned above, --remote_download_[minimal|toplevel] no longer expand to multiple flags.

--remote_download_toplevel was expanded to:

  • --experimental_inmemory_jdeps_files
  • --experimental_inmemory_dotd_files
  • --experimental_action_cache_store_output_metadata
  • --remote_download_outputs=toplevel

The first three flags have been flipped to true by default and we have also made BwoB work when they are false. So --remote_download_toplevel now is simply --remote_download_outputs=toplevel.

--remote_download_minimal was expanded to:

  • --nobuild_runfile_links
  • --experimental_inmemory_jdeps_files
  • --experimental_inmemory_dotd_files
  • --experimental_action_cache_store_output_metadata
  • --remote_download_outputs=minimal

We decided to not couple --[no]build_runfile_links with BwoB because it only affects local actions. In the future, we may make it false by default. Other flags are similar so --remote_download_minimal is now simply --remote_download_outputs=minimal.

Help us test!

These improvements are already landed in last_green or recent rolling releases. Please test them with your projects and report back any issues you encounter. Your help is appreciated!