This page covers Bazel's two visibility systems: target visibility and load visibility.
Both types of visibility help other developers distinguish between your library's public API and its implementation details, and help enforce structure as your workspace grows. You can also use visibility when deprecating a public API to allow current users while denying new ones.
Target visibility controls who may depend on your target — that is, who may
use your target's label inside an attribute such as
A is visible to a target
B if they are in the same package, or if
A grants visibility to
B's package. Thus, packages are the unit of
granularity for deciding whether or not to allow access. If
B depends on
A is not visible to
B, then any attempt to build
B fails during
Note that granting visibility to a package does not by itself grant visibility to its subpackages. For more details on package and subpackages, see Concepts and terminology.
For prototyping, you can disable target visibility enforcement by setting the
--check_visibility=false. This should not be done for production usage in
The primary way to control visibility is with the
visibility attribute on
rule targets. This section describes the format of this attribute, and how to
determine a target's visibility.
All rule targets have a
visibility attribute that takes a list of labels. 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/barand 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 groups use a
different syntax for
specifying packages. Within a package group, the forms
"//foo/bar:__subpackages__"are respectively replaced by
- Package groups use a different syntax for specifying packages. Within a package group, the forms
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
//tests/BUILD, but not by targets defined in
Best practice: To make several targets visible to the same set
of packages, use a
package_group instead of repeating the list in each
visibility attribute. This increases readability and prevents the
lists from getting out of sync.
Rule target visibility
A rule target's visibility is:
The value of its
visibilityattribute, if set; or else
The value of the
default_visibilityargument of the
packagestatement in the target's
BUILDfile, if such a declaration exists; or else
Best practice: Avoid setting
default_visibility to public. It may be
convenient for prototyping or in small codebases, but the risk of inadvertently
creating public targets increases as the codebase grows. It's better to be
explicit about which targets are part of a package's public interface.
# 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"], )
# 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", ], )
Generated file target visibility
A generated file target has the same visibility as the rule target that generates it.
Source file target visibility
You can explicitly set the visibility of a source file target by calling
exports_files. When no
argument is passed to
exports_files, it makes the visibility public.
exports_files may not be used to override the visibility of a generated file.
For source file targets that do not appear in a call to
visibility depends on the value of the flag
If the flag is set, the visibility is private.
Else, the legacy behavior applies: The visibility is the same as the
default_visibility, or private if a default visibility is not specified.
Avoid relying on the legacy behavior. Always write an
declaration whenever a source file target needs non-private visibility.
Best practice: When possible, prefer to expose a rule target rather than a
source file. For example, instead of calling
exports_files on a
wrap the file in a non-private
java_library target. Generally, rule targets
should only directly reference source files that live in the same package.
cc_binary( name = "my-program", data = ["//frobber/data:readme.txt"], )
Config setting visibility
Historically, Bazel has not enforced visibility for
config_setting targets that are
referenced in the keys of a
are two flags to remove this legacy behavior:
--incompatible_enforce_config_setting_visibilityenables visibility checking for these targets. To assist with migration, it also causes any
config_settingthat does not specify a
visibilityto be considered public (regardless of package-level
config_settings that do not specify a
visibilityto respect the package's
default_visibilityand to fallback on private visibility, just like any other rule target. It is a no-op if
--incompatible_enforce_config_setting_visibilityis not set.
Avoid relying on the legacy behavior. Any
config_setting that is intended to
be used outside the current package should have an explicit
visibility, if the
package does not already specify a suitable
Package group target visibility
package_group targets do not have a
visibility attribute. They are always
Visibility of implicit dependencies
Some rules have implicit dependencies —
dependencies that are not spelled out in a
BUILD file but are inherent to
every instance of that rule. For example, a
cc_library rule might create an
implicit dependency from each of its rule targets to an executable target
representing a C++ compiler.
Currently, for visibility purposes these implicit dependencies are treated like any other dependency. This means that the target being depended on (such as our C++ compiler) must be visible to every instance of the rule. In practice this usually means the target must have public visibility.
You can change this behavior by setting
--incompatible_visibility_private_attributes_at_definition. When enabled, the
target in question need only be visible to the rule declaring it an implicit
dependency. That is, it must be visible to the package containing the
file in which the rule is defined. In our example, the C++ compiler could be
private so long as it lives in the same package as the definition of the
Load visibility controls whether a
.bzl file may be loaded from other
.bzl files outside the current package.
In the same way that target visibility protects source code that is encapsulated
by targets, load visibility protects build logic that is encapsulated by
files. For instance, a
BUILD file author might wish to factor some repetitive
target definitions into a macro in a
.bzl file. Without the protection of load
visibility, they might find their macro reused by other collaborators in the
same workspace, so that modifying the macro breaks other teams' builds.
Note that a
.bzl file may or may not have a corresponding source file target.
If it does, there is no guarantee that the load visibility and the target
visibility coincide. That is, the same
BUILD file might be able to load the
.bzl file but not list it in the
srcs of a
or vice versa. This can sometimes cause problems for rules that wish to consume
.bzl files as source code, such as for documentation generation or testing.
For prototyping, you may disable load visibility enforcement by setting
--check_bzl_visibility=false. As with
--check_visibility=false, this should
not be done for submitted code.
Load visibility is available as of Bazel 6.0.
Declaring load visibility
To set the load visibility of a
.bzl file, call the
visibility() function from within the file.
The argument to
visibility() is a list of package specifications, just like
packages attribute of
visibility() does not accept negative package
The call to
visibility() must only occur once per file, at the top level (not
inside a function), and ideally immediately following the
Unlike target visibility, the default load visibility is always public. Files
that do not call
visibility() are always loadable from anywhere in the
workspace. It is a good idea to add
visibility("private") to the top of any
.bzl file that is not specifically intended for use outside the package.
# //mylib/internal_defs.bzl # Available to subpackages and to mylib's tests. visibility(["//mylib/...", "//tests/mylib/..."]) def helper(...): ...
# //mylib/rules.bzl load(":internal_defs.bzl", "helper") # Set visibility explicitly, even though public is the default. # Note the  can be omitted when there's only one entry. visibility("public") myrule = rule( ... )
# //someclient/BUILD load("//mylib:rules.bzl", "myrule") # ok load("//mylib:internal_defs.bzl", "helper") # error ...
Load visibility practices
This section describes tips for managing load visibility declarations.
.bzl files should have the same visibility, it can be helpful to
factor their package specifications into a common list. For example:
# //mylib/internal_defs.bzl visibility("private") clients = [ "//foo", "//bar/baz/...", ... ]
# //mylib/feature_A.bzl load(":internal_defs.bzl", "clients") visibility(clients) ...
# //mylib/feature_B.bzl load(":internal_defs.bzl", "clients") visibility(clients) ...
This helps prevent accidental skew between the various
visibilities. It also is more readable when the
clients list is large.
.bzl file might need to be visible to an allowlist that is
composed of multiple smaller allowlists. This is analogous to how a
package_group can incorporate other
package_groups via its
Suppose you are deprecating a widely used macro. You want it to be visible only to existing users and to the packages owned by your own team. You might write:
# //mylib/macros.bzl load(":internal_defs.bzl", "our_packages") load("//some_big_client:defs.bzl", "their_remaining_uses") # List concatenation. Duplicates are fine. visibility(our_packages + their_remaining_uses)
Deduplicating with package groups
Unlike target visibility, you cannot define a load visibility in terms of a
package_group. If you want to reuse the same allowlist for both target
visibility and load visibility, it's best to move the list of package
specifications into a .bzl file, where both kinds of declarations may refer to
it. Building off the example in Factoring visibilities
above, you might write:
# //mylib/BUILD load(":internal_defs", "clients") package_group( name = "my_pkg_grp", packages = clients, )
This only works if the list does not contain any negative package specifications.
Protecting individual symbols
Any Starlark symbol whose name begins with an underscore cannot be loaded from
another file. This makes it easy to create private symbols, but does not allow
you to share these symbols with a limited set of trusted files. On the other
hand, load visibility gives you control over what other packages may see your
.bzl file, but does not allow you to prevent any non-underscored symbol from
Luckily, you can combine these two features to get fine-grained control.
# //mylib/internal_defs.bzl # Can't be public, because internal_helper shouldn't be exposed to the world. visibility("private") # Can't be underscore-prefixed, because this is # needed by other .bzl files in mylib. def internal_helper(...): ... def public_util(...): ...
# //mylib/defs.bzl load(":internal_defs", "internal_helper", _public_util="public_util") visibility("public") # internal_helper, as a loaded symbol, is available for use in this file but # can't be imported by clients who load this file. ... # Re-export public_util from this file by assigning it to a global variable. # We needed to import it under a different name ("_public_util") in order for # this assignment to be legal. public_util = _public_util
bzl-visibility Buildifier lint
There is a Buildifier lint
that provides a warning if users load a file from a directory named
private, when the user's file is not itself underneath the parent of that
directory. This lint predates the load visibility feature and is unnecessary in
.bzl files declare visibilities.