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Visibility

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This page covers visibility specifications, best practices, and examples.

Visibility controls whether a target can be used (depended on) by targets in other packages. This helps other people distinguish between your library's public API and its implementation details, and is an important tool to help enforce structure as your workspace grows.

If you need to disable the visibility check (for example when experimenting), use --check_visibility=false.

For more details on package and subpackages, see Concepts and terminology.

Visibility specifications

All rule targets have a visibility attribute that takes a list of labels. One target is visible to another if they are in the same package, or if visibility is granted to the depending target's package.

Each label has one of the following forms. With the exception of the last form, these are just syntactic placeholders that do not correspond to any actual target.

  • "//visibility:public": Grants access to all packages. (May not be combined with any other specification.)

  • "//visibility:private": Does not grant any additional access; only targets in this package can use this target. (May not be combined with any other specification.)

  • "//foo/bar:__pkg__": Grants access to //foo/bar (but not its subpackages).

  • "//foo/bar:__subpackages__": Grants access //foo/bar and all of its direct and indirect subpackages.

  • "//some_pkg:my_package_group": Grants access to all of the packages that are part of the given package_group.

    • Package groups use a different syntax for specifying packages. Within a package group, the forms "//foo/bar:__pkg__" and "//foo/bar:__subpackages__" are respectively replaced by "//foo/bar" and "//foo/bar/...". Likewise, "//visibility:public" and "//visibility:private" are just "public" and "private".

For example, if //some/package:mytarget has its visibility set to [":__subpackages__", "//tests:__pkg__"], then it could be used by any target that is part of the //some/package/... source tree, as well as targets defined in //tests/BUILD, but not by targets defined in //tests/integration/BUILD.

As a special case, package_group targets themselves do not have a visibility attribute; they are always publicly visible.

Visibility cannot be set to specific non-package_group targets. That triggers a "Label does not refer to a package group" or "Cycle in dependency graph" error.

Visibility of a rule target

If a rule target does not set the visibility attribute, its visibility is given by the default_visibility that was specified in the package statement of the target's BUILD file. If there is no such default_visibility declaration, the visibility is //visibility:private.

config_setting visibility has historically not been enforced. --incompatible_enforce_config_setting_visibility and --incompatible_config_setting_private_default_visibility provide migration logic for converging with other rules.

If --incompatible_enforce_config_setting_visibility=false, every config_setting is unconditionally visible to all targets.

Else if --incompatible_config_setting_private_default_visibility=false, any config_setting that doesn't explicitly set visibility is //visibility:public (ignoring package default_visibility).

Else if --incompatible_config_setting_private_default_visibility=true, config_setting uses the same visibility logic as all other rules.

Best practice is to treat all config_setting targets like other rules: explicitly set visibility on any config_setting used anywhere outside its package.

Example

File //frobber/bin/BUILD:

# This target is visible to everyone
cc_binary(
    name = "executable",
    visibility = ["//visibility:public"],
    deps = [":library"],
)

# This target is visible only to targets declared in the same package
cc_library(
    name = "library",
    # No visibility -- defaults to private since no
    # package(default_visibility = ...) was used.
)

# This target is visible to targets in package //object and //noun
cc_library(
    name = "subject",
    visibility = [
        "//noun:__pkg__",
        "//object:__pkg__",
    ],
)

# See package group "//frobber:friends" (below) for who can
# access this target.
cc_library(
    name = "thingy",
    visibility = ["//frobber:friends"],
)

File //frobber/BUILD:

# This is the package group declaration to which target
# //frobber/bin:thingy refers.
#
# Our friends are packages //frobber, //fribber and any
# subpackage of //fribber.
package_group(
    name = "friends",
    packages = [
        "//fribber/...",
        "//frobber",
    ],
)

Visibility of a generated file target

A generated file target has the same visibility as the rule target that generates it.

Visibility of a source file target

By default, source file targets are visible only from the same package. To make a source file accessible from another package, use exports_files.

If the call to exports_files specifies the visibility attribute, that visibility applies. Otherwise, the file is public (the default_visibility is ignored).

When possible, prefer exposing a library or another type of rule instead of a source file. For example, declare a java_library instead of exporting a .java file. It's good form for a rule target to only directly include sources in its own package.

Example

File //frobber/data/BUILD:

exports_files(["readme.txt"])

File //frobber/bin/BUILD:

cc_binary(
  name = "my-program",
  data = ["//frobber/data:readme.txt"],
)

Legacy behavior

If the flag --incompatible_no_implicit_file_export is not set, a legacy behavior applies instead.

With the legacy behavior, files used by at least one rule target in the package are implicitly exported using the default_visibility specification. See the design proposal for more details.

Visibility of bzl files

BUILD and .bzl files, as processed by Bazel during loading, are not considered to be targets and therefore are not subject to visibility. It is therefore possible to load a .bzl file from anywhere in the workspace.

However, users may choose to run the Buildifier linter. The bzl-visibility check provides a warning if users load from beneath a subdirectory named internal or private.

Visibility of implicit dependencies

Some rules have implicit dependencies. For example, a C++ rule might implicitly depend on a C++ compiler.

Currently, implicit dependencies are treated like normal dependencies. They need to be visible by all instances of the rule. This behavior can be changed using --incompatible_visibility_private_attributes_at_definition.

Best practices

  • Avoid setting the default visibility to public. It may be convenient for prototyping or in small codebases, but it is discouraged in large codebases: try to be explicit about which targets are part of the public interface.

  • Use package_group to share the visibility specifications among multiple targets. This is especially useful when targets in many BUILD files should be exposed to the same set of packages.

  • Use fine-grained visibility specifications when deprecating a target. Restrict the visibility to the current users to avoid new dependencies.