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Bazel Common Lisp Build Rules


This project contains build rules and toolchain for building Common Lisp code with SBCL using Bazel.

These rules are intended to be compatible with the latest released version of Bazel, currently 4.2.1.

See also the full Stardoc generated documentation for lisp_library, lisp_binary, and lisp_test.

Build structure

The general structure of the actions for these build rules is:

  • LispCompile: All libraries are built in parallel, loading transitive Lisp source files (not FASL outputs) for their dependencies, producing a single combined FASL for each target's srcs.
  • LispCore: All the FASLs are loaded and a core file is written with save-lisp-and-die.
  • LispElfinate: The core is split into a file containing assembly code representing the compiled Lisp code and an object file containing the remainder of the Lisp image.
  • CppCompile: The assembly code is reassembled.
  • CppLink: Everything is linked together with any C++ dependencies (from lisp_*.cdeps) and the SBCL runtime to produce an ELF-format binary.


digraph {
  subgraph cluster_dep {
    LispDep [label="dep.lisp", shape="box"]
    LispCompileDep [label="LispCompile", group="dep"]
    DepFasl [label="dep.fasl", shape="box"]
  subgraph cluster_consumer {
    LispConsumer1 [label="consumer1.lisp", shape="box"]
    LispConsumer2 [label="consumer2.lisp", shape="box"]
    LispCompileConsumer1 [label="LispCompile"]
    LispCompileConsumer2 [label="LispCompile"]
    LispConcatFASLsConsumer [label="LispConcatFASLs"]
    ConsumerFasl [label="consumer.fasl", shape="box"]
  LispDep -> LispCompileDep
  LispDep -> LispCompileConsumer1
  LispDep -> LispCompileConsumer2
  LispConsumer1 -> LispCompileConsumer1
  LispConsumer2 -> LispCompileConsumer2
  LispCompileConsumer1 -> LispConcatFASLsConsumer
  LispCompileConsumer2 -> LispConcatFASLsConsumer
  LispCompileDep -> DepFasl
  LispConcatFASLsConsumer -> ConsumerFasl
  DepFasl -> LispCore
  ConsumerFasl -> LispCore

lisp_library, lisp_binary, and lisp_test generate LispCompile actions for each file in srcs.

Before compilation, the compilation image loads all of the srcs of the targets' transitive deps. Note that this means lisp_library targets do not depend on the output of their deps, so a lisp_library target and its deps may be compiled in parallel.

If a target has multiple files in srcs, other files in srcs may also be loaded, depending on the value of order:

  • "serial" (the default): Previous files in srcs are loaded in order. If multiple files must be loaded in order, it is recommended to add a comment noting this to the top of the target's srcs in the BUILD file, so that the order is not inadvertently changed by editors or automatic formatters. If files in srcs do not depend on one another, setting order to "parallel" avoids unnecessary work.
  • "parallel": No other files in srcs are loaded.
  • "multipass": All files in srcs are loaded. This can be necessary when there are circular compile-time dependencies between files, but should be avoided when possible.

Note that "parallel", "serial", and "multipass" describe dependency structure, not the parallelization of LispCompile actions. In all cases, the compilation actions for the files in srcs can be performed in parallel.

Prior to loading dependencies, symbols are added to *features* to represent some things about the build:

  • :bazel to distinguish this from other build systems
  • :opt if --compilation_mode (-c) is set to opt
  • :dbg if --compilation_mode is set to dbg
  • Features specified by the add_features attribute of the target and its Lisp dependencies

Dependencies are loaded with #'load-file with the optimize qualities:

speed debug safety space compilation-speed
1 1 1 1 3

After all dependencies are loaded, each compilation action compiles a file in srcs into a FASL file with #'compile-file, with optimize qualities depending on the setting of --compilation_mode (-c), which defaults to fastbuild:

-c speed debug safety space compilation-speed
fastbuild 1 2 3 1 1
opt 3 0 0 1 1
dbg 1 3 3 1 1

When run with the coverage command (or --collect_code_coverage), the optimize quality sb-c:store-coverage-data is also set to 3.

Default outputs and runfiles from a target's compile_data and the compile_data of its transitive Lisp dependencies are provided as additional inputs to the LispCompile action.

If there is at least one file in srcs, the FASLs are concatenated into [name].fasl, which is the default output for lisp_library. If there are multiple files in srcs, this requires an additional LispConcatFASLs action. A lisp_library with no srcs has no default outputs.

Executable generation

digraph {
  LispCompile1 [label="LispCompile 1"];
  LispCompileMore [label="LispCompile ..."];
  LispCompileN [label="LispCompile N"];
  SBCLRuntime [label="SBCL C++ Runtime", shape="box"];
  CDeps [label="C++ Dependencies", shape="box"];
  LispCompile1 -> LispCore
  LispCompileMore -> LispCore
  LispCompileN -> LispCore
  LispCore -> LispElfinate
  LispElfinate -> CppCompile
  LispElfinate -> CppLink
  SBCLRuntime -> CppLink
  CDeps -> CppLink
  CppCompile -> CppLink

For lisp_binary and lisp_test rules, the rule also generates an executable output, which is the default output for those rules. By default, that executable runs the function or code specified in the main attribute (which can be overridden by LISP_MAIN). That defaults to cl-user::main.

Executable generation happens in several actions. First, LispCore:

  • Loads all of the combined FASLs for each target in the target's transitive deps, as well as the one for the target itself.
  • Binds bazel.main::*entry-point* to the function specified in main (or a newly-generated function which executes the code specified in main, if main contains a snippet of code instead of a single symbol name).
  • Generates a Lisp core file with #'sb-ext:save-lisp-and-die, specifying the :toplevel function bazel.main::restart-image. That in turn runs the main function by default. If the environment variable LISP_MAIN is specified, it runs the function named by that (by default in the cl-user package) instead. LISP_MAIN=t or LISP_MAIN=nil starts the default REPL, as does setting LISP_MAIN to anything that does not name a defined function.

The core file is split up with in a LispElfinate action, then combined with the transitive C++ dependencies (the SBCL runtime and dependencies provided to the target and its transitive deps via cdeps) to generate an executable in a CppLink action.

By default, the LispElfinate action splits the core file into a .s file containing assembly for the compiled Lisp code and a .o file representing the remainder of the Lisp core. The former is compiled with a CppCompile action, then both are fed into CppLink.

The advantage of this approach is that the binary ends up in a standard ELF format. This allows tools which analyze the call-stack of C++ code to get human-readable stacktraces for combined C++ and Lisp code. While this obviously won't let a C++ debugger step through Lisp code, it's useful for CPU profiling and crash analysis.

The disadvantage of this approach is that the altered binary format is not understood by save-lisp-and-die. Thus, if the allow_save_lisp attribute is set to True, LispElfinate instead transforms the entire Lisp core into a binary blob in a .o file plus a linker script informing the CppLink action on how that should be linked. The result is technically ELF format, but the Lisp portion is opaque. SBCL can operate on that Lisp portion with save-lisp-and-die, making the executable suitable for use as a compilation image.

Legacy build variables

The rules provide a few legacy build variables, specified with --define, which control these rules' behavior.

LISP_COMPILATION_MODE overrides --compilation_mode (-c) for LispCompile and LispCore actions. For example, -c opt --define=LISP_COMPILATION_MODE=fastbuild would run the build in opt mode, except the LispCompile and LispCore actions would behave as they would in fastbuild mode.

LISP_BUILD_FORCE runs LispCompile and LispCore actions that try to proceed despite errors to the greatest extent possible.

VERBOSE_LISP_BUILD overrides the setting of the verbose attribute if set to a higher value.

Build debugging

When build steps fail, passing --verbose_failures at the Bazel CLI will result in the full command-line being printed for the failing actions. (Or --subcommands can be used to print all action command-lines.)

When rerunning the command for a LispCompile or LispCore action locally, the --verbose flag can be set to 3 to provide maximum debugging output. The --interactive flag can also be passed to the compilation image to enable the interactive debugger, which the compilation image disables by default.

Providers and outputs

These rules provide LispInfo (defined in provider.bzl) to propagate information about Lisp dependencies. LispInfo.cc_info contains a CcInfo providing information about transitive C++ dependencies. CcInfo is not provided directly, because the targets instantiated by these rules cannot be used as C++ dependencies.

These rules also provide OutputGroupInfo with a fasl field, containing the combined FASL file ([name].fasl) for the target's immediate srcs, if srcs is non-empty. That is also the default output (DefaultInfo.files) of lisp_library. For lisp_binary and lisp_test, the default output is the executable (same name as the target).

If the flag --//:additional_dynamic_load_outputs is passed, OutputGroupInfo has the following additional fields:

  • deps_manifest additionally contains a plaintext representation of the target's transitive Lisp features (prefixed with feature:) and transitive source files (prefixed with src:).
  • dynamic_library contains a shared object file with the target's transitive C++ dependencies.

Runfiles (DefaultInfo.default_runfiles) are propagated from all dependencies that provide either runtime dependencies or source files (image, deps, cdeps, data, compile_data, srcs) and further populated from the default outputs of data and compile_data.


Support for compiling Common Lisp code using







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