Getting started

This page covers how to start contributing code to Bazel. It covers how to set up your coding environment, describes creating an IntelliJ project and takes you through compiling and debugging your project.

After you set up your environment, there is a quick overview of the structure of Bazel’s code base, how to search and navigate the code, and how to monitor your builds with Bazel’s continuous integration system.

Installing Bazel

Before you start developing, you’ll need to:

  1. Install the latest version of Bazel on your system. For instructions, see Compiling Bazel from source.

  2. Clone Bazel’s Git repository from GitHub:

    git clone
  3. Install any missing prerequisites.

  4. Try to build Bazel:

    • On Linux/macOS, in Bash/Terminal:

      cd bazel
      bazel build //src:bazel
    • On Windows, in the Command Prompt:

      cd bazel
      bazel --output_user_root=c:\tmp build //src:bazel.exe

      For faster iteration times (but larger binaries), use //src:bazel-dev.exe instead.

This produces a working Bazel binary in bazel-bin/src/bazel (or bazel-bin/src/bazel.exe on Windows).

Creating an IntelliJ project

The IDE that Bazel supports is IntelliJ.

To work with IntelliJ:

  1. Install Bazel’s IntelliJ plug-in.
  2. Set the path to the Bazel binary in the plugin preferences (Preferences > Other Settings > Bazel Settings).
  3. Import the Bazel workspace as a Bazel project (File > Import Bazel Project...) with the following settings:
    • Use existing Bazel workspace: choose your cloned Git repository.
    • Select Import from workspace and choose the scripts/ij.bazelproject file as the Project view.
  4. Download Google’s Java Code Style Scheme file for IntelliJ, import it (go to Preferences > Editor > Code Style > Java, click Manage, then Import) and use it when working on Bazel’s code.

Compiling Bazel

You need to compile Bazel in order to test it. To compile a development version of Bazel, you need the latest released version of Bazel, which can be compiled from source.

You can build the Bazel binary using bazel build //src:bazel, using bazel from your PATH. The resulting binary can be found at bazel-bin/src/bazel. This is the recommended way of rebuilding Bazel once you have bootstrapped it.

In addition to the Bazel binary, you might want to build the various tools Bazel uses. They are located in //src/java_tools/... and //src/tools/... and their directories contain README files describing their respective utility.

When modifying Bazel:

  1. Build a distribution archive with bazel build //:bazel-distfile.
  2. Unzip the archive in a new empty directory.
  3. Run bash all there.

This command rebuilds Bazel with ./, Bazel with and Bazel with the Bazel-built binary. It compares if the constructed Bazel builts are identical and then runs all Bazel tests with bazel test //src/... //third_party/ijar/.... This is also used internally to ensure that we don’t break Bazel when pushing new commits.

Debugging Bazel

To create a debug configuration for both C++ and Java in your .bazelrc use:

build:debug -c dbg
build:debug --javacopt="-g"
build:debug --copt="-g"
build:debug --strip="never"

Rebuild Bazel with bazel build --config debug //src:bazel and use your favorite debugger to start debugging.

To debug the C++ client, run it from gdbor lldb as usual. However, to debug Java code, attach to the server using the following:

  • Run Bazel with the debugging option --host_jvm_debug before the command (e.g., bazel --host_jvm_debug build //src:bazel).
  • Attach a debugger to the port 5005. For instance, with jdb
    • on Linux: run jdb -attach localhost:5005
    • on Windows: run jdb.exe -connect com.sun.jdi.SocketAttach:hostname=localhost,port=5005

Our IntelliJ plugin has built-in debugging support.

Using Bazel Continuous Integration

To get started with the Bazel CI system, see Bazel Continuous Integration. To monitor the tests and builds of your Bazel contributions, use the Bazel CI Dashboard.

Bazel’s code description

Bazel has a large codebase with code in multiple locations.

Bazel is organized as follows:

  • Client code is in src/main/cpp and provides the command-line interface.
  • Protocol buffers are in src/main/protobuf.
  • Server code is in src/main/java and src/test/java.
    • Core code which is mostly composed of SkyFrame and some utilities.
    • Built-in rules are in and in You might want to read about the Challenges of Writing Rules first.
  • Java native interfaces are in src/main/native.
  • Various tooling for language support are described in the list in the compiling Bazel section.

For a detailed description of the code base, read

Searching Bazel’s source code

To quickly search through Bazel’s source code, use Bazel Code Search. You can navigate Bazel’s repositories, branches, and files. You can also view history, diffs, and blame information. To learn more, see the Bazel Code Search User Guide.