Migrating GYP to GN

Cobalt is currently in the process of migrating from our current build system which uses GYP to an updated one with Generate Ninja (GN). This allows us to remove our dependencies on Python 2.

Getting Started with GN

Getting the Binary

There are a few ways to get a binary. Follow the instructions for whichever way you prefer here.

Setup your workstation and developer tools

Some environment settings and tools have changed with the GN migration. Please go through the setup guide to make sure your development environment is properly configured.

Read the Docs

Most of the documentation for GN is located here.

  • For a hands-on example with GN, check out the Quick Start Guide and walk through the example.

  • To learn more about the language and coding in it, read through the Language page and the Style Guide.

  • For a full reference of the language, run gn help or use the Reference page.

If you're familiar with GYP but not with GN, it may be helpful to read Chromium's GYP->GN Conversion Cookbook. Keep in mind we don't want to follow everything that's recommended here—much of the advice is specific to Chromium. In particular:

  • Whenever possible, avoid using a source_set. Instead, use a static_library.
  • Many of the flags under Variable Mappings do not apply to Cobalt.
  • Cobalt code is not Chromium code by default, so you can ignore that section.

Know the Tools

The flow of GN is fairly similar to that of GYP: you'll configure a build then actually build it (using ninja). Here's how to build nplb target for stub_debug:

$ gn gen out/stub_debug --args='target_platform="stub" build_type="debug"'
$ ninja -C out/stub_debug nplb

You can change the directory argument to gn gen (out/stub_debug) if you'd like; unlike GYP, we can put the build root wherever we want.

There are some additional important tools: gn format, which is a code formatter for GN, and gn check, which checks that build dependencies are correctly set. See the documentation for gn format and gn check for how to use both. The full list of commands GN supports can be found on the reference page.

Migrating a Single Target

GYP and GN are very similar within the scope of a single target. The GYP->GN Conversion Cookbook is a good reference for this, particularly this section. The GYP syntax stays very similar in general, though configuration will differ: in GN, you should create a config targets and have your target add that to their list of configs:

config("foo_config") {
  cflags = ...

static_library("foo") {
  sources = ...
  deps = ...

  configs += [ ":foo_config" ]

You also may need to remove default configs. The default configs are listed in BUILDCONFIG.gn. You remove a config like so:

static_library("foo") {
  configs -= [ "//full/path/to/config:config_name" ]

Migrating a Platform

When porting your platform with GYP following the porting guide, we expected a few build files to be present under your starboard path:

  • gyp_configuration.py
  • gyp_configuration.gypi
  • starboard_platform.gyp

These contain your toolchain, your compilation flags, your platform-specific build variables, and your definition of the starboard_platform target. This maps to the GN files needed to port your platform:

  • Your toolchain: toolchain/BUILD.gn
  • Your compilation flags: platform_configuration/BUILD.gn
  • Your platform-specific build variables: platform_configuration/configuration.gni
  • Your definition of the starboard_platform target: BUILD.gn

Some of these files need to define certain targets:

  • toolchain/BUILD.gn

    The toolchain implementation is discussed in more detail below.

    toolchain("host") {
    toolchain("target") {
  • platform_configuration/BUILD.gn

    config("platform_configuration") {
      # Set the flags that were in gyp_configuration.gypi.
  • BUILD.gn

    static_library("starboard_platform") {
      # Largely the same as the current starboard_platform.gyp.

Adding Your Platform to Starboard

Instead of implicitly searching directories for certain files like GYP did, we explicitly enumerate our ports and their locations. platforms.gni contains all of this information, and you'll need to add your platform to that list following the same format.

Migrating a Family of Platforms

Cobalt's reference platforms when implemented in GYP mainly used variables to share sources and dependencies. In GN, we prefer putting shared sources and dependencies in a static_library that we depend on in the final starboard_platform static_library target. This means that configurations to particular files should be in the same static_library that files are in.

Migrating a Toolchain

Cobalt expects you to set a target and a host toolchain for your build like so:

toolchain("host") {

toolchain("target") {

You may define a toolchain from scratch following the reference, or you can use the gcc/clang templates provided. Almost all of the reference platforms use these templates, so look to those as examples for how to use it correctly. Here's the linux-x64x11 toolchain/BUILD.gn file.

When migrating a host toolchain, you'll need to set the toolchain_args within it. This should always set the current_os and current_cpu if the host_os and host_cpu differ from the target_os and target_cpu, respectively. V8 requires that 32 bit targets be compiled with 32 bit-compatible hosts (see here), so you should make sure the current_cpu set in the "host" toolchain is compatible with your target_cpu.

Checking Your Migration

There are a few different ways to ensure you've migrated a target successfully. You'll of course want to make sure you can build things after you've migrated them.

Validating a Target

If you're migrating a single target, it's simple to check: just configure the build using the necessary arguments then build that target with ninja, i.e.:

static_library("new_target") { ... }
$ gn gen out/stub_debug --args='target_platform="stub" build_type="debug"'
$ gn check out/stub_debug
$ ninja -C out/stub_debug new_target

If this was equivalent to a GYP target, you can compare the ninja compilation databases by using format_ninja.py and a comparison tool, i.e. meld. This will allow you to see any changes in commands, i.e. with flags or otherwise.

The following differences for ninja flags between GYP and GN don't cause any issues:

  1. The name of the intermediate .o, .d files is different in both cases: Here is an example while compiling the same source file


    GYP generates:


    GN generates:

  2. The -x flag for specifying language is not present in GN migration. For example GYP specifies -x c flag while building c language files for certain targets. This flag is not specified while building any GN targets.

Validating a Platform

Checking that an entire platform has been migrated successfully is slightly more involved. It can be easiest to start by copying provided stub implementation and continuously migrating it over, checking that it builds as you go along. If you don't go this route, you can instead start by building a small target (with few dependencies) then work your way up to building the all target.

You can use the same comparison method of using format_ninja.py as discussed in the section above.

Step by Step Stub to Your Platform Migration Guide

This document outlines a step by step process for converting the stub platform's GN files to GN files that will be able to be built for your platform.