Porting Cobalt to your Platform with Starboard

This document provides step-by-step instructions for porting Cobalt to run on your platform. To do so, you'll use Starboard, which is Cobalt's porting layer and OS abstraction. Starboard encapsulates only the platform-specific functionality that Cobalt uses.

To complete a port, you need to add code to the Cobalt source tree. We recognize that many porters will not want to actually share details of their Starboard implementation with external users. These porters likely have their own source control and will fork Cobalt into their software configuration management (SCM) tools. These instructions take that use case into account and explain how to add your port in a way that will not conflict with future Cobalt source code changes.


To complete the instructions below, you first need to clone the Cobalt source code repository:

$ git clone https://cobalt.googlesource.com/cobalt

If you prefer, you can instead complete the instructions for setting up a Cobalt development environment on Linux. Checking out the Cobalt source code is one step in that process.

Porting steps

1. Enumerate and name your platform configurations

Your first step is to define canonical names for your set of platform configurations. You will later use these names to organize the code for your platforms.

A platform configuration has a one-to-one mapping to a production binary. As such, you will need to create a new platform configuration any time you need to produce a new binary.

A platform configuration name has two components:

  • The <family-name> is a name that encompasses a group of products that you are porting to Starboard.
  • The <binary-variant> is a string that uniquely describes specifics of the binary being produced for that configuration.

The recommended naming convention for a platform configuration is:


For example, suppose a company named BobCo produces a variety of BobBox devices. Some of the devices use big-endian ARM chips, while others use little-endian ARM chips. BobCo might define two platform configurations:

  • bobbox-armeb
  • bobbox-armel

In this example, bobbox is the family name and is used in both (all) of BobCo's platform configurations. The binary-variant for devices with big-endian ARM chips is armeb. For devices with little-endian ARM chips, the binary-variant is armel.

2. Add Source Tree Directories for your Starboard Port

Add the following directories to the source tree for the <family-name> that you selected in step 1:

  • third_party/starboard/<family-name>/

  • third_party/starboard/<family-name>/shared/

    This subdirectory contains code that is shared between architectures within a product family. For example, if BobBox devices run on many different platforms, then BobCo needs to define a different configuration for each platform. However, if all of the configurations can use the same Starboard function implementation, BobCo can put that function in the shared directory to make it accessible in every binary variant.

  • third_party/starboard/<family-name>/<binary-variant>/

    You should create one directory for each <binary-variant>. So, for example, BobCo could create the following directories:

    • third_party/starboard/bobbox/shared/
    • third_party/starboard/bobbox/armeb/
    • third_party/starboard/bobbox/armel/
    • third_party/starboard/bobbox/armel/gles/

Again, functions that work for all of the configurations would go in the shared directory. Functions that work for all little-endian devices would go in the armel directory. And functions specific to little-endian devices that use OpenGL ES would go in the armel/gles directory.

3. Add required binary-variant files

Each binary-variant directory that you created in step 2 must contain the following files:

  • atomic_public.h
  • BUILD.gn
  • configuration_public.h
  • platform_configuration/BUILD.gn
  • platform_configuration/configuration.gni
  • toolchain/BUILD.gn

We recommend that you copy the files from the Stub reference implementation, located at starboard/stub/ to your binary-variant directories. In this approach, you will essentially start with a clean slate of stub interfaces that need to be modified to work with your platform.

An alternate approach is to copy either the Desktop Linux or Raspberry Pi ports and then work backward to fix the things that don't compile or work on your platform.

If you are copying the Stub implementation, you would run the following command for each binary-variant directory:

cp -R starboard/stub

After copying these files, you should be able to compile Cobalt and link it with your toolchain even though the code itself will not yet work.

3a. Additional files in the stub implementation

The stub implementation contains three additional files that are not listed among the required files for each binary-variant directory:

  • application_stub.cc
  • application_stub.h
  • main.cc

The Starboard Application class is designed to do the following:

  • Integrate a generic task runner function with a system message pump that can deliver either input or application lifecycle events like suspend/resume.
  • Provide a place for graceful platform-specific initialization and teardown.
  • Provide a universally accessible place to store global platform-specific state, such as managed UI windows.

Thus, these files provide a framework for fulfilling Starboard's event dispatching requirements, even though they don't implement any specific Starboard interface and aren't strictly necessary for any given port. Even so, anyone who is porting Cobalt will likely need to adapt a copy of application_stub.cc and application_stub.h to their platforms needs.

The application files do not necessarily need to be per-variant files. Even if you have multiple variants, it's still possible that you only need one copy of these files in your shared directory. Similarly, you might have a shared base class along with variant-specific subclasses.

4. Make required file modifications

To port your code, you must add your platform to starboard/build/platforms.py then make the following modifications to the files that you copied in step 3:

  1. atomic_public.h - Ensure that this file points at the appropriate shared or custom implementation.

  2. configuration_public.h - Adjust all of the configuration values as appropriate for your platform.

  3. platform_configuration/BUILD.gn

    1. Update your platform command-line flags and libraries. Ensure that you do not assume a particular workstation layout since that layout may vary from user to user.
  4. platform_configuration/configuration.gni

    1. Update the following variables in the file from their default in starboard/build/config/base_configuration.gni if necessary:
      • gl_type - Set to system_gles2 if you are using the system EGL + GLES2 implementation and otherwise set the value to none.
      • enable_in_app_dial - Enables (or disables) the DIAL server that runs inside Cobalt. (This server only runs when Cobalt is running.) The DIAL protocol enables second-screen devices (like tablets and phones) to discover, launch, and interface with applications on first-screen devices (like televisions, set-top boxes, and Blu-ray players).
        • Set this value to false if you already have system-wide DIAL support. In that case, a DIAL server running inside Cobalt would be redundant.
        • Set this value to true if you want Cobalt to run a DIAL server whenever it is running. That server could only be used to connect with the current Cobalt application (e.g. YouTube).
  5. toolchain/BUILD.gn

    1. If your platform uses a simple clang toolchain, simply pass the path to the toolchain to the clang_toolchain template. This template will assume names for each of the tools, i.e. the clang++ executable should be at ${clang_base_path}/clang++.

      Modify the host's toolchain_args to pass the correct OS and CPU for your host platform.

      If your toolchain uses GCC or has tool names that differ from what the clang_toolchain template assumes, use the gcc_toolchain template (also provided in "//build/toolchain/gcc_toolchain.gni"). To use this template, pass full paths to each of the required tools (ar, cc, cxx, and ld), as well as any optional tools you want to use. If your toolchain uses clang, make sure you pass is_clang = true in toolchain_args.

    2. Update your toolchain command-line flags and libraries. Ensure that you do not assume a particular workstation layout since that layout may vary from user to user.

5. Port modules to work on your platform

The BUILD.gn file points to all of the source files included in your new Starboard implementation. If you are starting with a copy of the Stub implementation, then that file will initially include a lot of files from the starboard/shared/stub/ directory. Similarly, if you are starting starting with a copy of the Desktop Linux port, then that file will initially point to files in the starboard/shared/posix directory.

The modules are defined so that each one has a set of functions, and each function is defined in its own file with a consistent naming convention. For example, the SbSystemBreakIntoDebugger() function is defined in the system_break_into_debugger.cc file. The list of files in the starboard/shared/stub/ directory represents an authoritative list of supported functions.

Function-by-function and module-by-module, you can now replace stub implementations with either custom implementations or with other ported implementations from the starboard/shared/ directory until you have gone through all of the modules. As you do, update the BUILD.gn file to identify the appropriate source files.

Due to dependencies between modules, you will find it easier to get some modules to pass the NPLB tests before other modules. We recommend porting modules in the following order to account for such dependencies:

  1. Configuration
  2. main(), Application, and Event Pump - This is the call into SbEventHandle.
  3. Memory
  4. Byte Swap
  5. Time
  6. String/Character/Double
  7. Log
  8. File
  9. Directory
  10. System
  11. Atomic
  12. Thread & Thread Types
  13. Mutex
  14. Condition Variable
  15. Once
  16. Socket
  17. SocketWaiter
  18. Window
  19. Input
  20. Blitter (if applicable)
  21. Audio Sink
  22. Media & Player
  23. DRM
  24. TimeZone
  25. User
  26. Storage