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Multiplex Workers (Experimental Feature)

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This page describes multiplex workers, how to write multiplex-compatible rules, and workarounds for certain limitations.

Multiplex workers allow Bazel to handle multiple requests with a single worker process. For multi-threaded workers, Bazel can use fewer resources to achieve the same, or better performance. For example, instead of having one worker process per worker, Bazel can have four multiplexed workers talking to the same worker process, which can then handle requests in parallel. For languages like Java and Scala, this saves JVM warm-up time and JIT compilation time, and in general it allows using one shared cache between all workers of the same type.


There are two layers between the Bazel server and the worker process. For certain mnemonics that can run processes in parallel, Bazel gets a WorkerProxy from the worker pool. The WorkerProxy forwards requests to the worker process sequentially along with a request_id, the worker process processes the request and sends responses to the WorkerMultiplexer. When the WorkerMultiplexer receives a response, it parses the request_id and then forwards the responses back to the correct WorkerProxy. Just as with non-multiplexed workers, all communication is done over standard in/out, but the tool cannot just use stderr for user-visible output (see below).

Each worker has a key. Bazel uses the key's hash code (composed of environment variables, the execution root, and the mnemonic) to determine which WorkerMultiplexer to use. WorkerProxys communicate with the same WorkerMultiplexer if they have the same hash code. Therefore, assuming environment variables and the execution root are the same in a single Bazel invocation, each unique mnemonic can only have one WorkerMultiplexer and one worker process. The total number of workers, including regular workers and WorkerProxys, is still limited by --worker_max_instances.

Writing multiplex-compatible rules

The rule's worker process should be multi-threaded to take advantage of multiplex workers. Protobuf allows a ruleset to parse a single request even though there might be multiple requests piling up in the stream. Whenever the worker process parses a request from the stream, it should handle the request in a new thread. Because different thread could complete and write to the stream at the same time, the worker process needs to make sure the responses are written atomically (messages don't overlap). Responses must contain the request_id of the request they're handling.

Handling multiplex output

Multiplex workers need to be more careful about handling their output than singleplex workers. Anything sent to stderr will go into a single log file shared among all WorkerProxys of the same type, randomly interleaved between concurrent requests. While redirecting stdout into stderr is a good idea, do not collect that output into the output field of WorkResponse, as that could show the user mangled pieces of output. If your tool only sends user-oriented output to stdout or stderr, you will need to change that behaviour before you can enable multiplex workers.

Enabling multiplex workers

Multiplex workers are not enabled by default. A ruleset can turn on multiplex workers by using the supports-multiplex-workers tag in the execution_requirements of an action (just like the supports-workers tag enables regular workers). As is the case when using regular workers, a worker strategy needs to be specified, either at the ruleset level (for example, --strategy=[some_mnemonic]=worker) or generally at the strategy level (for example, --dynamic_local_strategy=worker,standalone.) No additional flags are necessary, and supports-multiplex-workers takes precedence over supports-workers, if both are set. You can turn off multiplex workers globally by passing --noexperimental_worker_multiplex.

A ruleset is encouraged to use multiplex workers if possible, to reduce memory pressure and improve performance. However, multiplex workers are not currently compatible with dynamic execution unless they implement multiplex sandboxing. Attempting to run non-sandboxed multiplex workers with dynamic execution will silently use sandboxed singleplex workers instead.

Multiplex sandboxing

Multiplex workers can be sandboxed by adding explicit support for it in the worker implementations. While singleplex worker sandboxing can be done by running each worker process in its own sandbox, multiplex workers share the process working directory between multiple parallel requests. To allow sandboxing of multiplex workers, the worker must support reading from and writing to a subdirectory specified in each request, instead of directly in its working directory.

To support multiplex sandboxing, the worker must use the sandbox_dir field from the WorkRequest and use that as a prefix for all file reads and writes. While the arguments and inputs fields remain unchanged from an unsandboxed request, the actual inputs are relative to the sandbox_dir. The worker must translate file paths found in arguments and inputs to read from this modified path, and must also write all outputs relative to the sandbox_dir. This includes paths such as '.', as well as paths found in files specified in the arguments (such as "argfile" arguments).

Once a worker supports multiplex sandboxing, the ruleset can declare this support by adding supports-multiplex-sandboxing to the execution_requirements of an action. Bazel will then use multiplex sandboxing if the --experimental_worker_multiplex_sandboxing flag is passed, or if the worker is used with dynamic execution.

The worker files of a sandboxed multiplex worker are still relative to the working directory of the worker process. Thus, if a file is used both for running the worker and as an input, it must be specified both as an input in the flagfile argument as well as in tools, executable, or runfiles.